Contrast Cleopatra with Octavia. How is each representative of her civilization?

Cleopatra and Octavia represent rival civilizations. Cleopatra’s beauty and seductiveness are without question. Even Enobarbus, who resents the queen’s command over Antony, acknowledges the undeniable strength of her powers. In fact, his description of Cleopatra in Act II, scene ii offers the play’s most complete picture of her beauty and charms. In a world devoted to visual spectacles, Cleopatra’s command over her physical appearance lends her a kind of power that the plainer Octavia lacks. A single tear from Cleopatra can turn Antony’s anger into fawning devotion, whereas nothing that Octavia does can bring him back from Alexandria. Octavia’s unheralded arrival in Rome symbolizes her near invisibility to her husband. Described by Cleopatra’s messenger as physically unimpressive, Octavia possesses a temperament that, when compared to the queen’s, is equally unimpressive. When betrayed by Antony, Octavia summons none of the rage or indignation or sorrow that one could easily imagine might come from Cleopatra. In her ability to shift from one extreme emotion to another, the queen embodies the unfettered passions that Caesar and the other disciplined Romans view as a threat to their Western order. Octavia, who in contrast seems rather passionless—after all, Antony’s abandonment brings only the meekest tears—represents an easily contained and easily controlled type of female sexuality that does not threaten men’s reason or rule. Thus, she becomes, as Maecenas notes, the “love and pity” of every Roman heart.

One thought on “Contrast Cleopatra with Octavia. How is each representative of her civilization?

Comments are closed.