Essay on The Contrast of Character Between Cleopatra and Octavia

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Abstract

Between the characters of Octavia and Cleopatra there exists a "moral contrast" (Bree 110) -a conflict of Roman ideals and Cleopatra's foreignness. Throughout the tradition of Cleopatra, authors, including Plutarch, Shakespeare, Dryden, and Fielding, as well as filmmakers such as Mankiewicz, have separated Cleopatra from Rome and Octavia because of her combination of political power and sexuality: "The notion of Cleopatra that we have inherited identifies her primarily as being the adversary, the Other. Her otherness is twofold. She is an Oriental, and she is a woman…" (Hughes-Hallett 4). If Cleopatra represents the 'Other', then Octavia exemplifies Rome itself. She embodies all of the characteristics of a proper Roman wife:
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To exercise this negative influence, Plutarch believes that Cleopatra holds special, mysterious charms and magic by which she seduces Antony. "Cleopatra has brought him beside himself by her charms and amorous poisons" (344). The Romans, including Plutarch, refuse to believe that Antony would turn against them unless he was under a spell of sorts and therefore Cleopatra must hold a mystical power over him. Associating magic or special charms with Egyptian woman is a common misconception held by the Romans, and Cleopatra suffers because of their prejudice. Plutarch portrays Cleopatra as a type of a witch who lures Antony away from Rome and seduces him to carry out her desires.

Plutarch's Octavia is in every way the ideal Roman woman and wife. She obeys Antony's decisions and does not control him or influence him in any way. Whereas Cleopatra represents a negative influence on Antony, Octavia has a purely positive impact on his character. Plutarch celebrates their marriage, hoping that Octavia's presence will straighten Antony out:

Thereupon every many did set forward this marriage, hoping thereby that this lady Octavia, having and excellent grace, wisdom, and honesty, joined unto so rare a beauty, that when she were with Antonius she should be a good mean to keep good love and amity betwixt her brother and

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