Antony was a leading follower of Julius Caesar and supporter of Popular Monarchy over both Republicanism and tyrannical Imperialism. Supported Caesar's egalitarian wealth redistribution laws.
Cleopatra was a Hellenic Egyptian Queen who resisted Roman Imperialism and wanted to preserve Egyptian independence, and restore its ancient traditions.
Formed an alliance (as lovers), after the murder of Caesar, and hoped to create a 'new world order', with Antony declaring himself an avatar of Dionysos (as Alexander the Great had done) and Cleo declaring herself an avatar of Isis, thus forming an Osirian marriage.
They were both popular with the common people and won victories, but were eventually defeated by Rome. Cleopatra killing herself with the help a poisonous asp. Antony soon followed.

Their story was dramatised by Shakespeare.

Written around 1606, William Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra is set many years on from Julius Caesar. Following Caesar's assasination at the hands of Brutus and Cassius a civil war has ensued, with Caesar's friend Mark Antony, his grand nephew Octavian and the general Lepidus forming the second triumvirate and dividing Rome and its empire between them in an uneasy truce. Whilst the young Caeser is ambitious, Antony is softening in his old age and Lepidus basically craves stability.

Antony is reputedly one of the best soldiers in the world, but Antony and Cleopatra opens with Philo, a soldier of Antony's, lamenting the degeneration of his master and complaining that Antony is spending too much time with Cleopatra instead of focusing on politics. Though Cleopatra is still renowned for her beauty and wit she is aging and highly concious of this, but she nevertheless has managed to seduce Antony as she did Julius Caesar. When Antony must return to Rome he finds it very difficult to leave her, and there it becomes apparent that young Octavius Caesar is intent on becoming sole ruler of the Empire, drawing Antony unwillingly into battle. Eventually he is succesful in this and both Antony and Cleopatra commit suicide.

Although the play is a tragedy it has many genuinely funny moments. It is very intricate and involving and the characters are superbly constructed, detailed and convincing. There is so much more to it than what I have written above.

Shakespeare based the play on Plutarch's version of the story, but of course changed much of it to suit himself.


Dramatis Personae (by type)

Triumvirs:

Antony's followers: Caesar's followers: Pompey's followers: Cleopatra's followers: Cleopatra's maids: Others:
The text

The version which has been noded is not one of those found on the Project Gutenberg website (http://promo.net/pg/).

NOTE: Act III Scene xi is as far as has been noded to date (26/09/02)


The Complete Works of William Shakespeare

Antony’s character is rooted in his sense of himself, principally in his heroism and virtus. Antony prides himself in his honor, remarking that “if I lose mine honour/I lose myself” (4.3.22-23), thus virtus represents what Antony wants to stand for and what he wants his character to reflect. This is even more apparent in his desire to be a true Roman, comparing himself to Octavius, a leader and cunning fighter. However Antony was once “The triple pillar of the world transformed” but has turned “Into a strumpet’s fool” (1.1.12-13). Antony struggles between these two sides of Rome and Egypt. On one hand, Antony fears his loss of virtus and power from his Roman side but on the other he is trapped by an obsession with Cleopatra on the Egyptian side. Antony’s downfall coincides with his loss of virtus. The contrasting obsessions work against each other so that Antony fails in his attempts to regain his virtus and ultimately defeats himself.

The opposing sides Antony is faced with, Cleopatra and Caesar, representing the west and the east, passion versus power and reason is a main contribution to Antony’s weakening. This theme of opposing sides can be seen distinctly as having effects on Antony’s sense of self since he has responsibilities to each side. These sides are made distinct even at the beginning of the play and continue as important theme to effect Antony’s actions. For example, at the beginning Antony is so wrapped up with Cleopatra that he basically denounces Roman politics saying “Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide arch/Of the ranged empire fall! Here is my space” (1.1.54-55). Antony has abandoned Rome in favor of his desire, Cleopatra, or as Octavius bluntly states Antony “hath given his empire/Up to a whore” (3.6.67-68). This choice catalyzes his downfall since it is wholly connected to his relationships between the triumvirs, mainly Octavius, therefore his position in Rome.

Antony is obsessed with Cleopatra leading Antony further away from his virtus. Though Cleopatra is still renowned for her beauty and wit, she is aging and highly conscious of this; she nevertheless has managed to seduce Antony as she did Julius Caesar. Maecenas comments that “if beauty, wisdom, modesty, can settle/The heart of Antony, Octavia is/A blessèd lottery to him” (2.3.246-48). Since Octavia does not, in fact, settle Antony’s heart, it is ascertained that Antony requires something further to do so: Cleopatra. What Cleopatra offers Antony is the feeling of a desire met not beauty, wisdom, or modesty. “I will to Egypt;” Antony remarks, “And though I make this marriage to Octavia for my peace, /I’th’East my pleasure lies” (2.3.39-41). Antony is searching simply for a life of pleasure, to fill his need to feel desired. This presents a rather pathetic character inclined to be controlled by these feelings.

Enobarbus’s description of Cleopatra reflects an account of her behavior that they “cannot call/her winds and waters sighs and tears; they are greater/storms and tempests than almanacs can report” (1.2.148-50), implying that Cleopatra’s behavior is exaggerated and artificial. Cleopatra’s unrestrained emotions that trap Antony in, reflected by Enobarbus’s continuing comment that “Other women cloy/The appetites they feed, but she makes hungry/Where she most satisfies;” (2.3.241-2). Cleopatra is not like any other woman. This not only an image of a powerful seductress who can control whom she pleases, but that Cleopatra’s power comes from the fact that Antony must feed his obsession. Antony is trapped by Cleopatra and loses all control as he is satisfied only briefly and is left longing for more.

An important moment in Antony’s downfall can be seen as Antony fails to take power back from Cleopatra. At first he unmistakably decides that he should leave Cleopatra to attend to his duties in Rome saying, “I must from this enchanting queen break off. /Ten thousand harms, more than the ills I know, /My idleness doth hatch” (1.2.129-31). This statement implies that he realizes Cleopatra is dangerous and that his relationship with her will only end up causing harm. Even with this realization, he is unable to break free from her hold on him, declaring himself her “soldier-servant, making peace or war/As thou affects” (1.3.70-71). Antony is concerned with his virtus and the effect of Cleopatra on him yet he is trapped by his obsession with her. Cleopatra taunts Antony about his love for him and is able to do so effectively so that she gets the reassurance she wants that he loves her. Antony, however, is unsuccessful with that which Cleopatra is. He attempts to taunt her the same way, striving for reassurances that she loves him. He exclaims “Let Cleopatra know’t—/To the boy Caesar send this grizzled head, /And he will fill thy wishes to the brim/With principalities” suggesting that Antony is offering her his own head (3.13.18-21). Antony he wants her to respond with an assertion of her love for him however she responds “That head, my lord? (3.13.22). This leaves Antony in a weak position since he is unable to assert power over Cleopatra or is able to receive reassurances that her love is still discernible. Now that he is not receiving positive feedback from her, Antony is left with an obsession that is slipping away. Antony bases most of his actions on his relationship with Cleopatra. His running after Cleopatra and fleeing the battlefield against Octavius marks a specific decline in his virtus. Scarus comments that he “never saw an action of such shame. /Experience, manhood, honour, ner’er before/Did violate so itself” (3.10.21-23). This exemplifies Antony’s captivity by Cleopatra, that his honor and experience, characteristics that Antony prides have been abandoned and replaced by shameful manners. Antony thus loses his virtue as he loses power over his circumstances and actions, since his actions are now controlled by his desire for Cleopatra. Though Antony pursues his obsession, the fact that he does not receive the reassurances that his actions are rewarding puts him in an unfavorable position. Antony does not know how to deal with this loss of security and attempts to make up for it by asserting his authority. Antony fears his lose of power and authority “Authority melts from me” (3.13.90). By deciding to fight Octavius by sea, a strategy strongly advised against by Enobarbus, and declaring that he will go against Caesar one on one, Antony overcompensates for his loss of authority, attempting to assert his heroism. Antony struggles to reestablish a pride he has lost to regain his virtus. Instead of acting nobly as a Roman strategist, Antony attempts everything in his power to win and be heroic. He wants to think that what used to be his virtus is always with him and that he will regain it if he just fights Octavius. However, with these actions and subsequent failure his virtus does not, in fact, return to him rather is further taken away.

Antony’s relationship with Octavius is based on Antony’s obsession to prove equally honorable to him. Such a feeling is clearly important to Antony since his character wants to embody virtus. Antony asks the Soothsayer “whose fortunes shall rise higher,/Caesar’s, or mine?” to which the Soothsayer replies “Caesar’s./Therefore, O Antony, stay not by his side./Thy daemon – that thy spirit which keep thee – is/Noble, courageous, high, unmatchable,/Where Caesar’s is not. But near him they angel/Becomes afeared, as being o’erpowered.” (2.3.16-23). Antony’s pathetic and desperate attempt to prove equal to Caesar is also shown in Caesar’s remark that “He calls me boy, and chides he had the power/To beat me out of Egypt” (4.1.1-2). Antony insists on fighting Octavius by sea even though Enobarbus explains logically why it would be unwise. Enobarbus says that Antony will “throw away/The absolute soldiership he has by land” if he fights by sea (3.7.41-42). The fact that Antony is not trying for the “soldiership” he has by land, but to match the power Octavius has gained by succeeding on sea. Enobarbus furthermore observes that Antony will now “outstare the lightning. To be furious/Is to be frighted out of fear, /…/and I see still/A diminution in our captain’s brain/Restores his heart.” (3.13.194-198). This demonstrates the connection between Antony’s actions and restoring “his heart,” or rather his feeling of power. Antony even takes the idea of honor to the death. Eros and supposedly Cleopatra have killed themselves to which Antony responds “My queen and Eros/Have by their brave instruction got upon me/A nobleness in record” (4.14.98-99). Antony therefore attempts, and fails, to kill himself to achieve the nobleness he perceives has been reached by the others, however he is yet again unsuccessful at regaining his virtus.

Antony spirals downward from power and virtus. Though Antony fears this downfall, he is conflicted with an obsession that contrasts and overpowers his attempts to maintain his virtus. With this loss Antony ultimately defeats himself: “So it should be, that none but Antony/Should conquer Antony, but woe ‘tis so!” (4.15.16-17). Antony is represented by an obsession to prove powerful, reflected in his relationship between Cleopatra and Octavius. Therefore, with these obsessions, Antony is caught up with and loses his virtus.

A Slightly More Optimistic Look or

Why Everyone Else is Wrong about the Play


Love is arguably the most written about topic that exists, but there probably isn’t an author who wrote about it more successfully than Shakespeare. In his play, Antony and Cleopatra, he makes a very bold statement about love and its effect on people, the way that an emotion as powerful as that can change lives, for better or for worse. The two lovers may be seen by some to be little more than poor leaders, but if one remembers their former success as generals and royalty, they will see that it isn’t some flaw within them that leads to their demise, but an overriding emotion that they hopelessly dedicate their lives to. They are not thoughtless people, they are strong people who are caught in a force much stronger than them, but caught at a very bad time. Shakespeare’s play tells us that sometimes there is no choice between public welfare and a personal life; when love comes along, no one has a choice but to submit to it.

The play isn’t necessarily about the battle between private and public, or passion and reason, but the triumph of one over the other. The victory is an incomplete one, but it is nothing less than inevitable. These two people, Antony and Cleopatra, are supremely powerful individuals, and though both have shown a dedication to a separate life, it is all thrown aside as love enters. We can see how their emotions overcome both of them, more and more each day, until they finally are so clouded that they can’t continue to keep their public and personal lives apart. As the play comes to an end we see that it’s not just their lives that are dominated by passion, but even their deaths. We all like to think that we have the fortitude to choose reason over emotion, but ‘love conquers all’ is the lesson to be learned.

Cleopatra begins the play as a symbol of detachment and free will. The queen waltzes through her servants, Antony in tow, commanding him to conform to her. “If it be loved indeed, tell me how much,” she tells her lover, expecting him to prove his worth for her. She is a woman who has probably lived her life able to drop one thing or another without a second thought – she survived the loss of Julius Caesar, one of the most powerful men to ever exist, how much more could there be? Further into the play, we see that she is put into anxiety if there are more than a few feet between her and her lover. As Antony leaves for Rome, she can’t help but exclaim to her servant, “O, Charmian, / Where think’st thou he is now? Stands he, or sits he?” And she goes even further to imply that she is jealous of Antony’s horse, simply because it bears him. Nothing shows the obsession greater than the queen of a third of the known world being jealous of a farm animal. Even further, we begin to see genuine rage as she nearly kills a messenger because she believes him to be bearing bad news. She promises him gold and jewels if he brings good news of her love, but if he brings news of his death, she swears that “The gold I give thee will I melt and pour / Down thy ill-uttering throat.” Her great mood swings and total release in front of her servants, and even a messenger from Rome, show that she has completely given in to her emotions now. Cleopatra, who once went to great lengths to make a constant show of her power and control in front of her servants, has melted away to how she is actually feeling. The most powerful woman in the world is now at the sway of love.

Antony struggled longer against the tempest of emotion that he felt, but even his force of will wasn’t enough to defend against it. In public he was a renowned statesmen and general, respected and feared by enemies and friends, a disciplined war hero, but in the end he was powerless against the love that he felt in his private life. At first it looks like he had given in far too easily, following Cleopatra around like a puppy, proclaiming his love in any way that he can. His ranks and medals define him in public, but they mean nothing to them now; “Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide arch / Of the ranged empire fall!” is his pledge. But, Antony’s progression doesn’t follow the same track as Cleopatra’s. Egypt’s queen has a steady descent into her submission, but Antony thrashes violently against it. He knows what is happening, speaking quietly to himself that “These strong Egyptian fetters I must break / Or lose myself in dotage.” He leaves Egypt and returns to his homeland, regaining a portion of his self-control and marrying Octavia, but his heart leads him back to Cleopatra. Eventually he realizes that, even though the marriage is the only chance for peace between him and Caesar, he cannot keep it up. Releasing Octavia from the marriage, he can only hope for the best.

He finally loses himself totally as the war arrives. No doubt Antony has commanded similar numbers before, and no doubt he has faced greater odds, but in this war he makes a tactically unsound decision and makes his troops fight at sea, upon the urgings of Cleopatra. His reason is now all but completely overpowered by his passion, and he proves that his public life means nothing to him when he turns from the great sea battle and follows his love as she retreats. Now he too has lost power over himself.

Enobarbus is the third character who believes that reason can beat passion as he painfully tries to convince himself that leaving his friend and general, Antony, is really the best thing for him. Like Antony, his soldiership allows him the discipline to push back his emotions, and he finally convinces himself that, in this case, being a traitor is warranted. But the victory is short lived. Thoughts of his former friend and shattered honor torment him quietly until Antony shows his continuing love for friendship by sending all of Enobarbus’ abandoned treasure. This act of love to a traitor takes all of the quietness out of Enobarbus’ torture and forces him to yell at himself, “I am alone the villain of the earth, / and feel I am so most.” This is his passion catching up to him, and it seems that the more emotions are repressed, the more violently they break through. Enobarbus waits until the night, and then walks out of the Roman encampment by himself. Staring up at the moon, he begs the Gods to take his life, which is “a very rebel to {his} will.” The Gods answer his pleas and he dies, the last word upon his lips being a passionate cry - “O, Antony.”

Antony and Cleopatra regain control once more though, as the shock of defeat pulls them out of their dream state. Antony’s only thought as reason once again runs his body is to kill himself, and in that way to save what is left of his honor. But even then, the one thing that he thinks will keep him safe from passion is an act of passion in itself. In his decision to commit suicide, he is using reason to make himself commit a passionate act, once again showing that, in the end, passion rules over reason. And, one mustn’t overlook the fact that he kills himself along with one of his last remaining friends, a man who shares the name Eros with the Greek god of love. Cleopatra dies in a similarly regal fashion, killing herself in quite a calculated way, and taking great lengths to assure the quickest and most painless death. Pushing the asp to her breast is her last act of passion. She asks of Charmian, “Dost thou not see my baby at my breast / That sucks the nurse asleep?”, showing that subconsciously she still thinks of her lover and children she could have had. After seeing the heartless actions of Octavius against Lepidus and Pompey, one would expect him to be almost infuriated to see that Antony and Cleopatra had escaped from his grasp, both of them escaping their punishment. But it seems that even he understands. He doesn’t disparage Antony for misleading his troops, he doesn’t condemn Cleopatra for causing the defeat of her country. He knows that there is nothing without love, and that a personal life with love takes precedence over a mere public existence. “High events as these / Strike those that make them; and their story is / No less in pity, than his glory which / Brought them to be lamented,” is what the ruler of the world says to those around him as he stares at the corpses. He doesn’t pity them or their story because there was no other choice; if he were put in the same situation he would probably act similarly. And so, Shakespeare’s message is this: no matter how powerful one is, or how much control they have, they can never overcome the pull of love - they can only hope that it comes at a more convenient time.

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