I need a hero (part one: Antony)

Tragic hero. This is a concept that I’ve discussed for plays past (and with not a little doubt in Julius Caesar and Troilus and Cressida). The doubt remains here in Antony and Cleopatra.

If we look at the concepts of reversal of fortune, hamartia (or “error in judgment”) and anagnorisis (or realization or revelation about his situation and his position in the world/universe), how do our characters stack up?

[this is the first in a three-part series…]


He begins the play seemingly on top of the world–at least in Egypt. Triumvir. In love and loved. But the end of the play (or at least his portion of it), however, he’s no longer in power, in either the military or amorous realms. He’s on the run, cornered, and feels abandoned and betrayed both militarily and emotionally by Cleopatra.

His “error in judgment”? I’m not sure. Is it his decision to leave Rome, leave Athens, leave Octavia (and by extension Octavian and his duties), and return to Cleopatra? This may very well be the case. Up until this point, he’s able to undo any damage at home that his absence abroad has caused. When he decides to return to Cleopatra–and worse (for him), to trust her (and her 60 ships) militarily–his fall becomes inevitable. He says his “pleasure lies” (II.iii.39) in the East with Cleopatra. Is it love that spurs this error? Lust? The simple desire for “pleasure”? Is it the subordination of reason for lust?

When introducing his initial state in the play, I said he’s seemingly on top, but is he? He’s a triumvir, sure, but one whose very power and influence is questioned by Octavian, Pompey, even his own men. Is he in love? Or is he just playing at it? (Is there a difference?) If his exalted position at the beginning of the play is illusory, then his hamartia might have already occurred before the play itself. Could the error have been then his decision to take over Caesar’s control of Egypt? Obviously, he’s not Caesar; are his differences such that he’s not able to replace Caesar either militarily or amorously?

Does Antony achieve some kind of anagnorisis, a moment of revelatory epiphany? I don’t think he does. His final speeches (both soliloquies and those in the presence of others) don’t really move beyond a simple recognition of his situation to a deeper understanding of it.

He might come to some self-knowledge earlier in the play, however. Following his defeat at Actium, he tells his followers,

I have myself resolved upon a course
Which has no need of you. …
I followed that I blush to look upon!
My very hairs do mutiny, for the white
Reprove the brown for rashness, and they them
For fear and doting.
  • III.xi.9-10, 12-15

He says he’s resolved; this might be because of a realization, an epiphany of some kind. He admits his shame. His maturity (his white hairs) denounce his “rashness;” the remainder of his youth and vitality (his brown hairs) denounce his old-man’s “fear and doting.” This might work as anagnorisis…but it feels weak.

More tomorrow…


but because I can’t resist:

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