Antony and Cleopatra


William Shakespeare

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Antony and Cleopatra: Hyperbole 3 key examples

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Definition of Hyperbole
Hyperbole is a figure of speech in which a writer or speaker exaggerates for the sake of emphasis. Hyperbolic statements are usually quite obvious exaggerations intended to emphasize a point... read full definition
Hyperbole is a figure of speech in which a writer or speaker exaggerates for the sake of emphasis. Hyperbolic statements are usually quite obvious exaggerations... read full definition
Hyperbole is a figure of speech in which a writer or speaker exaggerates for the sake of emphasis. Hyperbolic statements... read full definition
Act 1, Scene 3
Explanation and Analysis—Betrayal of Cleopatra:

In the following passage from Act 1, Scene 3, Cleopatra reacts with anger to the news that Antony is returning to Rome, especially given that this involves a return to his wife, Fulvia. She utilizes a fair amount of hyperbole in her speech:

CLEOPATRA: O, never was there queen
So mightily betrayed! Yet at the first
I saw the treasons planted.

ANTONY: Cleopatra—

CLEOPATRA: Why should I think you can be mine, and true—
Though you in swearing shake the thronèd gods—
Who have been false to Fulvia? Riotous madness,
To be entangled with those mouth-made vows
Which break themselves in swearing!

Cleopatra makes the hyperbolic statement that no other queen has been as "mightily betrayed" as she has been by Antony, who announces his return to Rome upon hearing news of Fulvia's death. It is unlikely that Cleopatra has actually experienced the most poignant betrayal of any queen; in her mind, however, the emotions produced are that extreme. This passage highlights the extremity of Cleopatra's shifting mood, juxtaposing her with a more "Roman" practicality and reason. It is important to note that the binary opposition of emotion and reason in this manner—common to many literary and philosophical texts—frequently (and, of course, problematically) aligns female characters with emotional extremes and aligns male characters with rational extremes.

Act 2, Scene 2
Explanation and Analysis—Cleopatra's Influence:

In Act 2, Scene 2, Enobarbus goes to extremes in his use of hyperbole, describing the supernatural events that seemingly took place at the time of Antony and Cleopatra's first meeting:

ENOBARBUS: The city cast
Her people out upon her; and Antony,
Enthroned i’ th’ market-place, did sit alone,
Whistling to th’ air, which but for vacancy
Had gone to gaze on Cleopatra too
And made a gap in nature.

The air, in this passage, stands still under the influence of Cleopatra's presence. Obviously Enobarbus's use of language here is hyperbolic: Cleopatra does not literally have the power to stop the air or make "a gap in nature," as he claims. These statements exist in the play to emphasize the extent of Cleopatra's beauty, both to Maecenas and Agrippa, the in-narrative audience, as well as to the audience members watching the play itself. Furthermore, Enobarbus's use of hyperbole in this passage serves to emphasize the unnatural—or even supernatural—nature of Cleopatra's influence on the world around her. Like a goddess might, she bends the laws of nature to her will, forcing all those in proximity to focus on her as she becomes the central feature of the landscape.

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Explanation and Analysis—Beauty as Power:

In the following passage from Act 2, Scene 2, Enobarbus describes Antony and Cleopatra's meeting to Agrippa and Maecenas, making use of hyperbolic language to emphasize Cleopatra's timeless beauty:

ENOBARBUS: Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale
Her infinite variety. Other women cloy
The appetites they feed, but she makes hungry
Where most she satisfies. For vilest things
Become themselves in her, that the holy priests
Bless her when she is riggish.

In this famous and oft-quoted passage, Enobarbus's use of hyperbole functions as a tool intended to elevate Cleopatra in the minds of both Maecenas and Agrippa, as well as the audience members. Many of the statements Enobarbus makes are undoubtedly exaggerated: for instance, it is impossible for Cleopatra to literally avoid the human process of aging. It is also unlikely that every vile thing becomes pleasing in the context of her person; and while her charms may be manifold, undoubtedly there are priests somewhere who would not condone her behavior. This is, however, the power of her beauty; she can stop time, alter the fabric of reality, change the hearts and habits of men. Though Cleopatra is not literally a goddess, she is almost goddess-like in her power.

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