The Question of Culpability in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra

Revealing Cleopatra’s Humanity

in Critical Survey
Sali SaidPhD Student, Doctoral School of Literary Studies, Eötvös Loránd University, Hungary

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‘Is Antony or we in fault for this?’ Cleopatra asks Enobarbus, who is responsible for the loss at the Battle of Actium. Critics who find Cleopatra guilty take her supposed involvement in decision-making about the battlefield and escape from Actium as evidence of her culpability. Taking into consideration Antony’s strong belief in Fate, this article proposes that Antony tacitly exculpates Cleopatra for his vanquishment in Actium and that Cleopatra’s ‘flight’ is actually a tactical retreat rather than an action performed out of fear. This article also focuses on Cleopatra’s relationship with her servants, which has received almost no critical attention. Drawing on the politeness and the speech act theories, I demonstrate how democratic, humble and grateful Cleopatra is in her treatment of her attendants.

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