The Ambiguity of Antony and Cleopatra: Interrupting Phallocentric Schemes of Objectification through the Mutual Gaze
Date of Award
Bachelor of Arts
male gaze, objectification, voyeurism
This thesis proposes an alternative to the male gaze, using Simone de Beauvoir’s theory of ambiguity in order to understand the subversive sexual politics underlying Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra. The concept of the male gaze was first identified in feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey’s article “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” which explains how film is explicitly constructed around the male gaze. Since the publication of Mulvey’s article, feminist theorists such as Linda Williams and Mary Ann Doane have attempted to construct a feminine counterpart to the male gaze. Unfortunately, these theorists have typically concluded that such a gaze is possible by merely reversing the male gaze, substituting female desire for male. Although the female operating within such a theoretical scheme of male objectification gains prominence over the male, this is merely reversing the gender of power without reconstructing the system itself. I propose that there is an alternative, nonpossessive gaze, which I define as the “mutual gaze”, and identify in William Shakespeare’s play The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra. My thesis explicates this gaze by applying Beauvoir’s theory of ambiguity to Antony and Cleopatra, showing how the play enables the subject to become both spectacle and spectator. Although Shakespeare’s entire body of work provide opportunities for women to reclaim their ambiguity and freedom, Antony and Cleopatra has been chosen for this thesis as it provides a plethora of these opportunities. This is because the Greco-Roman couple in Shakespeare’s retelling are enacting what Beauvoir defines as an ideal relationship in her conclusion to The Second Sex. Since in original practice productions Cleopatra is able to be performed as one who “posits herself for herself” while “nonetheless continue[ing] to exist for him [Antony] as well”, both halves of the original power couple are able to “recognize each Other as subject [and] remain an Other for the other” (Beauvoir, The Second Sex 766).
Paluch, Sydney, "The Ambiguity of Antony and Cleopatra: Interrupting Phallocentric Schemes of Objectification through the Mutual Gaze" (2017). Honors Theses. 66.
English Language and Literature Commons, Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Commons