Throughout the play, Antony and Cleopatra’s relationship transgresses the bounds of traditional gender roles. Cleopatra is powerful and manipulative, and Antony seems to become weaker and less decisive as he spends more time under her sway. His men worry that he is under the control of Cleopatra and his soldier Canidius tells a fellow soldier that because of this they are “women’s men.” In Act 2, Scene 5, Cleopatra mentions a time that she got Antony drunk and they wore each other’s clothes for amusement. This exchange of clothes symbolizes the exchange of traditionally male and female roles that occurs in their relationship. This reversal comes to a disastrous head at the important battle of Actium, where Cleopatra insists on fighting in the battle, like a man, and Antony ends up fleeing in an unmanly way.
The transgression of gender roles in Antony and Cleopatra’s relationship is made even clearer by the behavior of other characters, in particular Octavius and his sister Octavia. Octavius is restrained (he doesn’t drink too much on Pompey’s boat, for example), strong, and brave; he is an exemplar of traditional masculinity and, as such, a foil for Antony. Likewise, Octavia can be seen as a kind of foil for Cleopatra, with her demure obedience to the men in her life. These figures of traditional gender roles are ultimately victorious. As Octavius defeats Antony and Cleopatra, one may see the conclusion of the play as dramatizing the reestablishment of both political stability and traditional gender roles. However, Cleopatra and Antony have noble deaths, eliciting sympathy and respect even from Octavius himself. While the dangerously powerful Cleopatra is defeated, the play perhaps represents her death less as a necessary return of power into male hands and more as a lamentable consequence of her having power in a world not ready for women to wield it.
Gender Roles ThemeTracker
Gender Roles Quotes in Antony and Cleopatra
Nay, but this dotage of our general's
O'erflows the measure: those his goodly eyes,
That o'er the files and musters of the war
Have glow'd like plated Mars, now bend, now turn,
The office and devotion of their view
Upon a tawny front: his captain's heart,
Which in the scuffles of great fights hath burst
The buckles on his breast, reneges all temper,
And is become the bellows and the fan
To cool a gipsy's lust.
This is the news: he fishes, drinks, and wastes
The lamps of night in revel; is not more man-like
Than Cleopatra; nor the queen of Ptolemy
More womanly than he; hardly gave audience, or
Vouchsafed to think he had partners: you shall find there
A man who is the abstract of all faults
That all men follow.
To hold you in perpetual amity,
To make you brothers, and to knit your hearts
With an unslipping knot, take Antony
Octavia to his wife; whose beauty claims
No worse a husband than the best of men;
Whose virtue and whose general graces speak
That which none else can utter. By this marriage,
All little jealousies, which now seem great,
And all great fears, which now import their dangers,
Would then be nothing: truths would be tales,
Where now half tales be truths: her love to both
Would, each to other and all loves to both,
Draw after her.
Upon her landing, Antony sent to her,
Invited her to supper: she replied,
It should be better he became her guest;
Which she entreated: our courteous Antony,
Whom ne'er the word of 'No' woman heard speak,
Being barber'd ten times o'er, goes to the feast,
And for his ordinary pays his heart
For what his eyes eat only.
A more unhappy lady,
If this division chance, ne'er stood between,
Praying for both parts:
The good gods me presently,
When I shall pray, 'O bless my lord and husband!'
Undo that prayer, by crying out as loud,
'O, bless my brother!' Husband win, win brother,
Prays, and destroys the prayer; no midway
'Twixt these extremes at all.
She once being loof'd,
The noble ruin of her magic, Antony,
Claps on his sea-wing, and, like a doting mallard,
Leaving the fight in height, flies after her:
I never saw an action of such shame;
Experience, manhood, honour, ne'er before
Did violate so itself.
From Antony win Cleopatra: promise,
And in our name, what she requires; add more,
From thine invention, offers: women are not
In their best fortunes strong; but want will perjure
The ne’er touch’d vestal: try thy cunning, Thidias;
Make thine own edict for thy pains, which we
Will answer as a law.
I will be treble-sinew'd, hearted, breathed,
And fight maliciously: for when mine hours
Were nice and lucky, men did ransom lives
Of me for jests; but now I'll set my teeth,
And send to darkness all that stop me. Come,
Let's have one other gaudy night: call to me
All my sad captains; fill our bowls once more;
Let's mock the midnight bell.
Sole sir o' the world,
I cannot project mine own cause so well
To make it clear; but do confess I have
Been laden with like frailties which before
Have often shamed our sex.