This tragedy posed an interesting problem : who is the hero or heroine and what is their flaw? As promised by the title, one could assume that it was Cleopatra, and other versions of this story have certainly treated it this way, notably Cleopâtre captive. But Isaac de Benserade introduces some ambiguity to the plot by placing the death of Marc Antony onstage two full acts before the death of Cleopatra. If an audience was to watch the first three acts, Antony would be the clear tragic hero. Although he isn’t the only hero vying for the title. One could just as easily argue for Cesar, who lives at the end of the play after the deaths of both Antony and Cleopatra who have vanquished him with the dignity and freedom of their deaths. Cesar’s shame at allowing his prisoners to escape him on their own terms brings eternal shame unto him, as he asks himself “Will I ever be able to return to Rome?” One of the interesting themes that I see throughout tragedies of this period is that suicide as an escape is framed as an honorable solution, whereas the shame of living is the true punishment. If one thinks of a tragedy as a fall from grace, Antony and Cleopatra have retained their honor, whereas it is Cesar who has been shamed.
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M.A. French Literature Florida State University