Briefly discuss the character portrayal of Cleopatra in “All for Love”
In Dryden’s All for love, the governing passion of Cleopatra is her love for Antony. She lives only for the sake of Antony and Antony alone. Power, authority, pomp and show- these do not matter to her at all. By virtue of her passion alone and by the self-sacrifice which she proves herself to be capable of, she attains the stature of tragic heroine. There is something noble, exalted and sublime about her love; and by virtue of the quality of this love, she wins our admiration and respect. She, indeed, proves to be very far from being a serpent of the old Nile.
At the very beginning of the play, though Alexas speaks in somewhat disparaging terms, but we are able to realise the profound quality of Cleopatra’s love. Alexas says that Cleopatra “dotes on this vanquished man” (namely Antony), and “winds herself about his mighty ruins”. She is not prepared to listen to the advice of Alexas who has suggested she surrender Antony as a prisoner to Octavius and preserve her life and country. Instead, Cleopatra has ordered Alexas to use all possible means to keep Antony in Alexandria. Ignoring her own birthday, Cleopatra has also commanded the people of Alexandria to celebrate Antony’s birthday with the greatest pomp and show. Thus, it is clear, event at the very of the play, Cleopatra’s love for Antony is an all-absorbing passion.
Ventidius, a man of reason, is also not impressed by Cleopatra’s sincerity and intensity of passion. He judges this passion by its effect on the career of Antony. According to Ventidius, Cleopatra’s passion has played havoc with Antony and has left him “the blank” of what he used to be. Addressing Alexas, he says: ” I tell thee, eunuch, she has quite unmanned him,” and that he has now been made “a woman’s toy” and has shrunk from the vast extent of all his honours. However, Ventidius does not ret realise that if Antony’s career has been ruined the fault is not Cleopatra’s alone. Antony is himself as much to blame as her.
When Antony under Ventidius’s pressure, decides to leave Cleopatra and go with him. Cleopatra feels gest distressed, Antony’s departure from Alexandria would be the greatest Possible disaster for her, she says to Alexas. If she loses Antony, She would be losing everything because her love for Antony is a “noble madness” and “transcendent passion.”
Cleopatra also strikes us as being a highly intelligent woman with a great presence of mind. When in Act II, Antony justifies his decision to leave her on the ground that she has ruined him, she almost disarms Antony by saying that, as he has already passed a judgement against her, there would be no point in pleading her cause. She is therefore prepared to admit her guilt. And then, turning the tables upon him, she says that she had never thought that a large-hearted and magnanimous man like him would probe her faults with such searching eyes. Similarly, when Octavia asks her if she is not ashamed of possessing those charms which make sinful love so pleasing, she replies that she is proud of her charms because Heaven has blessed her with those charms by means of which she has been able to please the bravest man (Antony).
Cleopatra’s capacity for self-sacrifice is revealed when she turns down Octavious’s offer of two kingdoms, Egypt and Syria, as the price of her forsaking Antony and joining him (Octavius) as an ally. Cleopatra’s love for Antony meant much more to her than any number of kingdoms. In fact, her love is genuine and so is her grief at the prospect of Antony’s departure from Alexandria when he is reconciled with his wife Octavia. Her reaction to the news brought by Alexas again shows how deeply she is in love with Antony:
“What tellest thou me of Egypt?
Why life, my soul is lost! Octavia has him —
Oh, fatal name to Cleopatra’s love!
In Dryden’s play, Cleopatra employs no deception at all except on one occasion, and then too, contrary to her own wishes in the matter when Alexas urges her to try to arouse Antony’s jealousy by pretending to have fallen in love with Dollabella, her reply clearly shows that she is incapable of putting on a pose. When she does put up a pretence of being in love with Dollabella, she does so in a rather feeble manner. she certainly does not appear to be a coquette or a flirt. It is her misfortune that her pretence of having fallen in love is misunderstood by Ventidious and Octavia. And when they inform Antony about what they have seen, and when Alexas seems to support their version of the incident; Antony begins to suspect her of infidelity. Cleopatra now does her best to clear herself of accusation, but Antony is not convinced.
Cleopatra, however, is faithful to Antony till the end of the play. She drives away Alexas for trying to betray Antony. Thus even now, when she has been discarded by Antony, she would not betray him, Nor is any was responsible for the treachery of her fleet, though Antony suspects her to be behind it. Rather, after Antony’s death, she gets ready to perform a Roman wife’s duty by ending her life on account of loving the Roman, Antony. Cleopatra shows plenty of bravery in the manner in which she commits suicide. When the asp is brought to her, after the initial hesitation, she stretches forth her arm and gets bitten by it. Her dying words to Octavious raises her to the status of a true heroine:
“Caesar, thy worst.
Now part us if thou canst”
Thus, Cleopatra in Dryden’s play appears as a true tragic heroine, despite Ventidius’s sustained criticism of her character throughout. Dryden’s Cleopatra may not appear as charming as Shakespeare’s Cleopatra, but even in Dryden play, Cleopatra proves to be a heroic woman, worthy of Antony, not because she is a queen and a woman infinite in variety but because she suffers and deserves our fullest sympathy.