Love's Edge
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AbstractGiven the conference theme, this paper aims to explore the notion of the ’edge’ in relation to love in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. In Shakespeare’s time, the word edge could refer, as it does today, to a boundary location, as in Love’s Labour’s Lost: “Hereby, upon the edge of yonder coppice,/A stand where you may make the fairest shoot” (4.1.11-12). Yet the primary meaning of the term relates to the edge of a cutting instrument such as a knife or axe or, especially, a sword. This meaning of ‘edge’ also lends itself to the idea of what is referred to today as the ‘cutting edge,’ a metaphor referencing the keenest capacities of human innovation and mental sharpness.

In Antony and Cleopatra, when Octavius uses the word, he combines all three of these meanings: “Yet if I knew/What hoop should hold us staunch, from edge to edge/O' the world I would pursue it” (2.2.119-121). The primary reference here is to the edge of the world as a physical location, but Octavius’s language also conveys his powerful desire to subdue that world, pursuing and attaining his goals through the powerful edge of the Roman sword. Octavius’s language also conveys the third sense of edge as the qualities of imaginative and aspirational greatness that allow one person to triumph over others.

As the play demonstrates, however, finding a sufficiently sharp edge is never easy. The marriage between Antony and Octavius’s sister cannot provide one; Antony desires Cleopatra too much, and perhaps Octavius too desires Antony more intensely than merely as a brother-in-law. In the play, it is Cleopatra who provides this edge in her ever-changing mutability, echoing Shakespeare’s Sonnet 56 and its reference to the continual “return of love” made possible by love’s ever-sharpened “edge.” The play suggests, in the end, that only this mode of extraordinarily versatile sexual appeal –- and of course Cleopatra is also a boy – can constitute a sufficient edge to motivate human achievement in the early seventeenth century
All Author(s) ListJason Gleckman
Name of ConferenceAustralia & New Zealand Shakespeare Association (ANZSA) International Biennial Conference
Start Date of Conference17/11/2016
End Date of Conference19/11/2016
Place of ConferenceUniversity of Waikato (Hamilton)
Country/Region of ConferenceNew Zealand
LanguagesEnglish-United States
KeywordsShakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra, Reformation, love

Last updated on 2018-04-07 at 12:14