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AS English Literature – Section A – ‘Read the following extract from Act 1 scene 2. In what ways does this passage show the conflict of Rome and Egypt?’ Throughout Shakespeare’s Antony & Cleopatra, location plays an important role in the development of the play. It is one of few plays to have such a frequent interchange between locations and at the heart of this are the two contrasting worlds of Egypt and Rome. The two countries seem to differ completely to each other and this is reflected by the different attitudes of their respective people. Act 1 scene 2 is a pivotal scene in the play as the ladies-in-waiting of Cleopatra’s court have their fortunes told by a soothsayer, this turns out to foreshadow the later events of the play.

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The passage is one of the most accurate at showing the substantial differences between the people and life of Rome and Egypt. It begins with the soothsayer telling the fortune of Charmian and Iras however, the two joke about the predictions and it is in this part that Shakespeare instils the passage full of sexual innuendo between the women to show the nature of the Egyptian women. Shakespeare’s famous wit with wordplay is seen clearly as Charmian hints at the sexual meaning behind the word ‘inch’ while Iras clearly confirms both their intentions with the statement that were she to have an extra inch it would ‘Not [go] in my husband’s nose’. Charmian acknowledges and in some way gloats in their ‘worser thoughts’. Charmian follows to get her own back on Alexas who questioned her virtue previous to the passage and both her and Iras seem to take great joy in doing so.

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The conflict in the two societies is amplified by the Court’s responses to Cleopatra’s entrance and exit. Enorbarbus seems to make a subtle pun as he mistakes Cleopatra for Antony, this seems to be done on purpose by him to show how both have almost merged into one another. Charmian’s short and direct response is also one of less respect as he responds ‘Not he. The queen.’ To contrast this with the response to Antony’s entrance where Alexas pays his respects to his leader, ‘My lord approaches’ demonstrates the professionalism in the Roman ranks which contrasts greatly with the lazy almost forced upon duty that the Egyptians hold.

To contrast this with the response to Antony’s entrance where Alexas pays his respects to his leader, ‘My lord approaches’ demonstrates the professionalism in the Roman ranks which contrasts greatly with the lazy almost forced upon duty that the Egyptians hold. To contrast this with the response to Antony’s entrance where Alexas pays his respects to his leader, ‘My lord approaches’ demonstrates the professionalism in the Roman ranks which contrasts greatly with the lazy almost forced upon duty that the Egyptians hold.

As Antony enters the scene, the tone of the whole passage changed from the previously joking side of the Egyptians to the stern behaviour of the Romans and particularly Antony and the messenger. Antony’s dives into business straight from the start of his appearance and is so deeply involved in discussions with the messenger about Rome that he fails to even realise Cleopatra’s exit from the stage.

Antony’s dives into business straight from the start of his appearance and is so deeply involved in discussions with the messenger about Rome that he fails to even realise Cleopatra’s exit from the stage. Antony’s dives into business straight from the start of his appearance and is so deeply involved in discussions with the messenger about Rome that he fails to even realise Cleopatra’s exit from the stage. This shows a decline in the strong relationship that was apparent between the two in Act 1 scene 1. Not only this but the fact that Antony is so concerned about Fulvia’s death rather than Cleopatra is a significant sign on his true feelings subconsciously as the worry in his language is apparent with his demand for the messenger to speak directly and bluntly and ‘mince not the general tongue’.

One of the more powerful and subtle comments from the messenger comes as he is telling Antony of the land he has lost, he almost hints at the feelings that the whole of Rome are feeling by suggesting that Antony’s lack of presence is to blame. Overall, there is a significant and apparent shift of tone as Antony enters, all talk is related to serious matters and is not interrupted with any sort of witty banter that was so evident previously. In conclusion, the conflicting worlds of Egypt and Rome, with their attendant values of love and duty, create the changing moods and the comings and goings of this passage. Even the slightest differences in moods, moves, entrances and exits show the conflicting cultures and highlight the peculiarity of Antony and Cleopatra’s relationship.

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Kylie Garcia

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