The Importance of Wealth in Antony and Cleopatra and The Tempest
Wealth and it’s relationship to poverty figures in heavily in two of the plays we have read thus far in class. In both Antony and Cleopatra and The Tempest we are treated to characters and situations that deal with wealth and poverty. Specifically however, both plays have visions of an abundance of wealth that seems at times both corruptible and foolish. In Antony and Cleopatra we have their excessive behavior and flaunting, which proves to be a vice that grips them much to tightly. In The Tempest, characters stranded on a deserted island have their own unique versions of achieving that said abundance. Shakespeare ...view middle of the document...
Antony is a soldier foremost, and his actions at the moment, that of wealth and slack are not becoming of a soldier or, Shakespeare thinks, even a man. This point is made even more solid when Antony himself says it; “O, my fortunes have/Corrupted honest men!”(IV.v.16-17). It hardly gets any plainer than that.
The Tempest by virtue of plot seems and even more direct attack on wealth and abundance. In the play, characters are stripped of their “real world” places and placed in an area where everything is quite different. The “abundance” here becomes for some characters, the so-called hope for the New World that we have discussed in class. But for others, Caliban in specific, his view is corrupted by these new elements and he begins to crave riches as well. Both of these wants, however, do turn on to be negative.
For example, early in the play, Gonzalo speaks and says:
I’th’ commonwealth I would by contraries
Execute all things, for no kind of traffic
Would I admit; no name of magistrate;
Letters should not be known; riches, poverty
And use of service, none; contract, succession,
Bourn, bound of land, tilth, vineyard, none;
No use of metal, corn, or wine, or oil;
No occupation, all men idle, all,
And women too, but innocent and pure;
No sovereignty- (II.1.145-155)
This speech appears to be hopeful, and dispensing with all wealth and abundance. However, carefully reading it, and especially with the line that comes directly after, it becomes quite different. Gonazalo speaks of “men being idle”, having “no occupation”. In a way this sounds curiously much like Antony. He too “fishes, drinks, and wastes”. That in itself is abundance. This carefree life style that Gonzalo is describing is on par with the empty rich life of Antony and Cleopatra. There’s both hedonistic and offer nothing in true return.
Another example in The Tempest of the corrupting element of wealth is...