Antony and Cleopatra

Antony and Cleopatra

Overview
Antony and Cleopatra is a tragedy
Tragedy
Tragedy is a form of art based on human suffering that offers its audience pleasure. While most cultures have developed forms that provoke this paradoxical response, tragedy refers to a specific tradition of drama that has played a unique and important role historically in the self-definition of...

 by William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

, believed to have been written sometime between 1603 and 1607. It was first printed in the First Folio
First Folio
Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies. is the 1623 published collection of William Shakespeare's plays. Modern scholars commonly refer to it as the First Folio....

 of 1623. The plot is based on Thomas North
Thomas North
Sir Thomas North was an English translator of Plutarch, second son of the 1st Baron North.-Life:He is supposed to have been a student of Peterhouse, Cambridge, and was entered at Lincoln's Inn in 1557. In 1574 he accompanied his brother, Lord North, on a visit to the French court. He served as...

's translation of Plutarch
Plutarch
Plutarch then named, on his becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus , c. 46 – 120 AD, was a Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia...

's Lives and follows the relationship between Cleopatra and Mark Antony
Mark Antony
Marcus Antonius , known in English as Mark Antony, was a Roman politician and general. As a military commander and administrator, he was an important supporter and loyal friend of his mother's cousin Julius Caesar...

 from the time of the Parthian War
Roman-Persian Wars
The Roman–Persian Wars were a series of conflicts between states of the Greco-Roman world and two successive Iranic empires: the Parthian and the Sassanid. Contact between the Parthian Empire and the Roman Republic began in 92 BC; wars began under the late Republic, and continued...

 to Cleopatra's suicide. The major antagonist is Octavius Caesar
Augustus
Augustus ;23 September 63 BC – 19 August AD 14) is considered the first emperor of the Roman Empire, which he ruled alone from 27 BC until his death in 14 AD.The dates of his rule are contemporary dates; Augustus lived under two calendars, the Roman Republican until 45 BC, and the Julian...

, one of Antony's fellow triumviri
Triumvirate
A triumvirate is a political regime dominated by three powerful individuals, each a triumvir . The arrangement can be formal or informal, and though the three are usually equal on paper, in reality this is rarely the case...

 and the future first emperor of Rome.
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Unanswered Questions
Quotations

Nay, but this dotage of our general'sO'erflows the measure.

Philo, scene i

There's beggary in the love that can be reckon'd.

Antony, scene i

In nature's infinite book of secrecyA little I can read.

Soothsayer, scene ii

He was dispos'd to mirth; but on the suddenA Roman thought hath struck him.

Cleopatra, scene ii

This grief is crowned with consolation.

Enobarbus, scene ii

Eternity was in our lips and eyes.

Cleopatra, scene iii

Give me to drink mandragora.

Cleopatra, scene v

Where’s my serpent of old Nile?For so he calls me.

Cleopatra, speaking of Antony, scene v

I wasA morsel for a monarch.

Cleopatra, scene v

My salad days,When I was green in judgment, cold in blood,To say as I said then!

Cleopatra, scene v
Encyclopedia
Antony and Cleopatra is a tragedy
Tragedy
Tragedy is a form of art based on human suffering that offers its audience pleasure. While most cultures have developed forms that provoke this paradoxical response, tragedy refers to a specific tradition of drama that has played a unique and important role historically in the self-definition of...

 by William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

, believed to have been written sometime between 1603 and 1607. It was first printed in the First Folio
First Folio
Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies. is the 1623 published collection of William Shakespeare's plays. Modern scholars commonly refer to it as the First Folio....

 of 1623. The plot is based on Thomas North
Thomas North
Sir Thomas North was an English translator of Plutarch, second son of the 1st Baron North.-Life:He is supposed to have been a student of Peterhouse, Cambridge, and was entered at Lincoln's Inn in 1557. In 1574 he accompanied his brother, Lord North, on a visit to the French court. He served as...

's translation of Plutarch
Plutarch
Plutarch then named, on his becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus , c. 46 – 120 AD, was a Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia...

's Lives and follows the relationship between Cleopatra and Mark Antony
Mark Antony
Marcus Antonius , known in English as Mark Antony, was a Roman politician and general. As a military commander and administrator, he was an important supporter and loyal friend of his mother's cousin Julius Caesar...

 from the time of the Parthian War
Roman-Persian Wars
The Roman–Persian Wars were a series of conflicts between states of the Greco-Roman world and two successive Iranic empires: the Parthian and the Sassanid. Contact between the Parthian Empire and the Roman Republic began in 92 BC; wars began under the late Republic, and continued...

 to Cleopatra's suicide. The major antagonist is Octavius Caesar
Augustus
Augustus ;23 September 63 BC – 19 August AD 14) is considered the first emperor of the Roman Empire, which he ruled alone from 27 BC until his death in 14 AD.The dates of his rule are contemporary dates; Augustus lived under two calendars, the Roman Republican until 45 BC, and the Julian...

, one of Antony's fellow triumviri
Triumvirate
A triumvirate is a political regime dominated by three powerful individuals, each a triumvir . The arrangement can be formal or informal, and though the three are usually equal on paper, in reality this is rarely the case...

 and the future first emperor of Rome. The tragedy is a Roman play characterised by swift, panoramic shifts in geographical locations and in registers, alternating between sensual, imaginative Alexandria
Alexandria
Alexandria is the second-largest city of Egypt, with a population of 4.1 million, extending about along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the north central part of the country; it is also the largest city lying directly on the Mediterranean coast. It is Egypt's largest seaport, serving...

 and the more pragmatic, austere Rome.

Many consider the role of Cleopatra in this play one of the most complex female roles in Shakespeare's work. She is frequently vain and histrionic, provoking an audience almost to scorn; at the same time, Shakespeare's efforts invest both her and Antony with tragic grandeur. These contradictory features have led to famously divided critical responses.

Characters



  • Mark Antony
    Mark Antony
    Marcus Antonius , known in English as Mark Antony, was a Roman politician and general. As a military commander and administrator, he was an important supporter and loyal friend of his mother's cousin Julius Caesar...

    , Roman general and one of the three men (triumvirs) who rule Rome after the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 B.C.
  • Octavian, one of the three men (triumvirs) who rule Rome after the assassination of Julius Caesar.
  • Marcus Aemilius Lepidus
    Marcus Aemilius Lepidus (triumvir)
    Marcus Aemilius Lepidus , was a Roman patrician who rose to become a member of the Second Triumvirate and Pontifex Maximus. His father, Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, had been involved in a rebellion against the Roman Republic.Lepidus was among Julius Caesar's greatest supporters...

     – one of the three men (triumvirs) who rule Rome after the assassination of Julius Caesar.
  • Cleopatra VII, Queen of Egypt
  • Sextus Pompey – Son of the late Pompey the Great.

Antony's Party
  • Canidius, Lieutenant-general of Antony.
  • Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus
    Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus (consul 32 BC)
    Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus was a general and politician of ancient Rome in the 1st century BC.-Life:Ahenobarbus was captured with his father, Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, at Corfinium in 49 BC, and was present at the Battle of Pharsalus in 48 BC, but did not take any further part in the war...

    , Follower of Antony
  • Ventidius,
  • Eros,
  • Scarus,
  • Dercetas,
  • Demetrius,
  • Philo: Friends of Antony.

Octavian's Party
  • Octavia the Younger, Octavian's sister.
  • Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa
    Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa
    Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa was a Roman statesman and general. He was a close friend, son-in-law, lieutenant and defense minister to Octavian, the future Emperor Caesar Augustus...

    , Military commander and advisor of Octavian.

  • Publius Cornelius Dolabella
    Publius Cornelius Dolabella
    Publius Cornelius Dolabella was a Roman general, by far the most important of the Dolabellae. He arranged for himself to be adopted by a plebeian so that he could become a Tribune.. He married Cicero's daughter Tullia Ciceronis...

    , Friend and attendant of Octavian.
  • Gaius Maecenas
    Gaius Maecenas
    Gaius Cilnius Maecenas was a confidant and political advisor to Octavian as well as an important patron for the new generation of Augustan poets...

    , Friend of Octavian.
  • Thyreus, Gallus, Proculeius, Friends of Octavian
  • Taurus, Lieutenant-general of Caesar.
  • Silius, Officer in Ventidius's army.


Friends of Sextus Pompey.
  • Menecrates, Menas, Varrius,


Cleopatra's party
  • Alexas, Mardian the Eunuch, Seleucus, Diomedes, Cleopatra's attendants.
  • Charmian, Iras, Maids of honour attending Cleopatra.

  • Euphronius, Ambassador from Antony to Caesar.
  • Soothsayer
  • Clown
  • Officers, Soldiers, Messengers, and other Attendants

Synopsis


This synopsis uses the characters' historical names instead of their Shakespearean names. For instance, in the actual play, Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus's name is changed to Domitius Enobarbus.

Mark Antony – one of the Triumvirs of Rome along with Octavian
Augustus
Augustus ;23 September 63 BC – 19 August AD 14) is considered the first emperor of the Roman Empire, which he ruled alone from 27 BC until his death in 14 AD.The dates of his rule are contemporary dates; Augustus lived under two calendars, the Roman Republican until 45 BC, and the Julian...

 and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus
Marcus Aemilius Lepidus (triumvir)
Marcus Aemilius Lepidus , was a Roman patrician who rose to become a member of the Second Triumvirate and Pontifex Maximus. His father, Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, had been involved in a rebellion against the Roman Republic.Lepidus was among Julius Caesar's greatest supporters...

 – has neglected his soldierly duties after being beguiled by Egypt's Queen, Cleopatra VII. He ignores Rome's domestic problems, including the fact that his third wife Fulvia
Fulvia
Fulvia Flacca Bambula , commonly referred to as simply Fulvia, was an aristocratic Roman woman who lived during the Late Roman Republic. Through her marriage to three of the most promising Roman men of her generation, Publius Clodius Pulcher, Gaius Scribonius Curio and Mark Antony, she gained...

 rebelled against Octavian and then died.

Octavian calls Antony back to Rome from Alexandria
Alexandria
Alexandria is the second-largest city of Egypt, with a population of 4.1 million, extending about along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the north central part of the country; it is also the largest city lying directly on the Mediterranean coast. It is Egypt's largest seaport, serving...

 in order to help him fight against Sextus Pompey, Menecrates
Menecrates
Menecrates is the name of:*Menecrates of Ephesus, ancient Greek poet*Menecrates of Syracuse, physician to Philip of Macedon*Menecrates of Xanthus, ancient Greek historian*Menecrates , ancient Greek sculptor...

, and Menas
Menas (admiral)
Menas, also known as Menodorus, was an admiral who served under Sextus Pompey during the 1st Century BC Roman Civil Wars.Menas was a freedman of Pompey the Great and when Pompey's son, Sextus, set himself up as ruler of Sicily in the late 40's BC Menas became one of his leading admirals...

, three notorious pirates of the Mediterranean. At Alexandria, Cleopatra begs Antony not to go, and though he repeatedly affirms his love for her, he eventually leaves.

Back in Rome, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa
Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa
Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa was a Roman statesman and general. He was a close friend, son-in-law, lieutenant and defense minister to Octavian, the future Emperor Caesar Augustus...

 brings forward the idea that Antony should marry Octavian's sister, Octavia the Younger, in order to cement the bond between the two men. Antony's lieutenant Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus
Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus (consul 32 BC)
Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus was a general and politician of ancient Rome in the 1st century BC.-Life:Ahenobarbus was captured with his father, Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, at Corfinium in 49 BC, and was present at the Battle of Pharsalus in 48 BC, but did not take any further part in the war...

, though, knows that Octavia can never satisfy him after Cleopatra. In a famous passage, he delineates Cleopatra's charms in paradoxical terms (rhetorical antithesis): "Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale / Her infinite variety: other women cloy / The appetites they feed, but she makes hungry / Where most she satisfies."

A soothsayer warns Antony that he is sure to lose if he ever tries to fight Octavian.

In Egypt, Cleopatra learns of Antony's marriage to Octavia and takes furious revenge upon the messenger that brings her the news. She grows content only when her courtiers assure her that Octavia is homely by Elizabethan standards: short, low-browed, round-faced and with bad hair.

At a confrontation, the triumvirs parley with Sextus Pompey, and offer him a truce. He can retain Sicily
Sicily
Sicily is a region of Italy, and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the surrounding minor islands, it constitutes an autonomous region of Italy, the Regione Autonoma Siciliana Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature,...

 and Sardinia
Sardinia
Sardinia is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea . It is an autonomous region of Italy, and the nearest land masses are the French island of Corsica, the Italian Peninsula, Sicily, Tunisia and the Spanish Balearic Islands.The name Sardinia is from the pre-Roman noun *sard[],...

, but he must help them "rid the sea of pirates" and send them tributes. After some hesitation Pompey accedes. They engage in a drunken celebration on Pompey's galley. Menas suggests to Pompey that he kill the three triumvirs and make himself ruler of Rome, but he refuses, finding it dishonorable. Later, Octavian and Lepidus break their truce with Pompey and war against him. This is unapproved by Antony, and he is furious.

Antony returns to Alexandria, Egypt, and crowns Cleopatra and himself as rulers of Egypt and the eastern third of the Roman Empire (which was Antony's share as one of the triumvirs). He accuses Octavian of not giving him his fair share of Pompey's lands, and is angry that Lepidus, whom Octavian has imprisoned, is out of the triumvirate. Octavian agrees to the former demand, but otherwise is very displeased with what Antony has done.

Antony prepares to battle Octavian. Ahenobarbus urges Antony to fight on land, where he has the advantage, instead of by sea, where the navy of Octavius is lighter, more mobile and better manned. Antony refuses, since Octavian has dared him to fight at sea. Cleopatra pledges her fleet to aid Antony. However, in the middle of the Battle of Actium
Battle of Actium
The Battle of Actium was the decisive confrontation of the Final War of the Roman Republic. It was fought between the forces of Octavian and the combined forces of Mark Antony and Cleopatra VII. The battle took place on 2 September 31 BC, on the Ionian Sea near the city of Actium, at the Roman...

, Cleopatra flees with her sixty ships, and Antony follows her, leaving his army to ruin. Ashamed of what he has done for the love of Cleopatra, Antony reproaches her for making him a coward, but also sets this love above all else, saying "Give me a kiss; even this repays me."

Octavian sends a messenger to ask Cleopatra to give up Antony and come over to his side. She hesitates, and flirts with the messenger, when Antony walks in and angrily denounces her behaviour. He sends the messenger to be whipped. Eventually, he forgives Cleopatra and pledges to fight another battle for her, this time on land.

On the eve of the battle, Antony's soldiers hear strange portents, which they interpret as the god Hercules
Hercules
Hercules is the Roman name for Greek demigod Heracles, son of Zeus , and the mortal Alcmene...

 abandoning his protection of Antony. Furthermore, Ahenobarbus, Antony's long-serving lieutenant, deserts him and goes over to Octavian's side. Rather than confiscating Ahenobarbus's goods, which he did not take with him when he fled to Octavian, Antony orders them to be sent to Ahenobarbus. Ahenobarbus is so overwhelmed by Antony's generosity, and so ashamed of his own disloyalty, that he dies from a broken heart.

The battle goes well for Antony, until Octavian shifts it to a sea-fight. Once again, Antony loses when Cleopatra's ships break off action and flee – his own fleet surrenders, and he denounces Cleopatra: "This foul Egyptian hath betrayed me." He resolves to kill her for the treachery. Cleopatra decides that the only way to win back Antony's love is to send him word that she killed herself, dying with his name on her lips. She locks herself in her monument, and awaits Antony's return.

Her plan fails: rather than rushing back in remorse to see the "dead" Cleopatra, Antony decides that his own life is no longer worth living. He begs one of his aides, Eros, to run him through with a sword, but Eros cannot bear to do it, and kills himself. Antony admires Eros' courage and attempts to do the same, but only succeeds in wounding himself. In great pain, he learns that Cleopatra is indeed alive. He is hoisted up to her in her monument, and dies in her arms.

Octavian goes to Cleopatra, trying to persuade her to surrender. She angrily refuses, since she can imagine nothing worse than being led in triumph through the streets of Rome, proclaimed a villain for the ages. She imagines that "the quick comedians / Extemporally will stage us, and present / Our Alexandrian revels: Antony / Shall be brought drunken forth, and I shall see / Some squeaking Cleopatra boy my greatness / I' th' posture of a whore." This speech is full of dramatic irony, because in Shakespeare's time Cleopatra really was played by a "squeaking boy", and Shakespeare's play does depict Antony's drunken revels.

Cleopatra is betrayed and taken into custody by the Romans. She gives Octavian what she claims is a complete account of her wealth, but is betrayed by her treasurer, who claims she is holding treasure back. Octavian reassures her that he is not interested in her wealth, but Dolabella warns her that he intends to parade her at his triumph.

Cleopatra resolves to kill herself, using the poison of an asp
Asp (reptile)
Asp is the modern Anglicisation of the word aspis, which in antiquity referred to any one of several venomous snake species found in the Nile region. It is believed that the aspis referred to in Egyptian mythology is the modern Egyptian cobra....

. She dies calmly and ecstatically, imagining how she will meet Antony again in the afterlife. Her serving maids, Iras and Charmian, also kill themselves. Octavian discovers the dead bodies and experiences conflicting emotions. Antony's and Cleopatra's deaths leave him free to become the first Roman Emperor
Roman Emperor
The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman State during the imperial period . The Romans had no single term for the office although at any given time, a given title was associated with the emperor...

, but he also feels some kind of sympathy for them: "She shall be buried by her Antony. / No grave upon the earth shall clip in it / A pair so famous..." He orders a public military funeral.

Source


The principal source for the story is Plutarch
Plutarch
Plutarch then named, on his becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus , c. 46 – 120 AD, was a Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia...

's "Life of Mark Antony" from Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans Compared Together
Parallel Lives
Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, commonly called Parallel Lives or Plutarch's Lives, is a series of biographies of famous men, arranged in tandem to illuminate their common moral virtues or failings, written in the late 1st century...

, in the translation made by Sir Thomas North
Thomas North
Sir Thomas North was an English translator of Plutarch, second son of the 1st Baron North.-Life:He is supposed to have been a student of Peterhouse, Cambridge, and was entered at Lincoln's Inn in 1557. In 1574 he accompanied his brother, Lord North, on a visit to the French court. He served as...

 in 1579. A large number of phrases within Shakespeare's play are taken directly from North's prose, including Ahenobarbus's famous description of Cleopatra's barge, beginning "The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne/Burned on the water." However, Shakespeare also adds scenes, including many of the ones portraying Cleopatra's domestic life, and the role of Enobarbus is greatly developed. Historical facts are also sometimes changed: in Plutarch Antony's final defeat was many weeks after the battle of Actium, and Octavia lived with Antony for several years and bore him two children: Antonia Major
Antonia Major
Antonia Major , also known as Antonia the Elder, was a daughter of Mark Antony and Octavia Minor and a relative of the first Roman Emperors of the Julio-Claudian dynasty...

, paternal grandmother of the Emperor Nero
Nero
Nero , was Roman Emperor from 54 to 68, and the last in the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Nero was adopted by his great-uncle Claudius to become his heir and successor, and succeeded to the throne in 54 following Claudius' death....

 and maternal grandmother of the Empress Valeria Messalina, and Antonia Minor
Antonia Minor
Antonia Minor , also known as Antonia the Younger or simply Antonia was the younger of two daughters of Roman politician Mark Antony and Octavia Minor. Tacitus Ann. 4.44.2 and 12.54.2 may have confused the two Antonia sisters...

, the sister-in-law of the Emperor Tiberius
Tiberius
Tiberius , was Roman Emperor from 14 AD to 37 AD. Tiberius was by birth a Claudian, son of Tiberius Claudius Nero and Livia Drusilla. His mother divorced Nero and married Augustus in 39 BC, making him a step-son of Octavian...

, mother of the Emperor Claudius
Claudius
Claudius , was Roman Emperor from 41 to 54. A member of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, he was the son of Drusus and Antonia Minor. He was born at Lugdunum in Gaul and was the first Roman Emperor to be born outside Italy...

, and paternal grandmother of the Emperor Caligula
Caligula
Caligula , also known as Gaius, was Roman Emperor from 37 AD to 41 AD. Caligula was a member of the house of rulers conventionally known as the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Caligula's father Germanicus, the nephew and adopted son of Emperor Tiberius, was a very successful general and one of Rome's most...

 and Empress Agrippina the Younger
Agrippina the Younger
Julia Agrippina, most commonly referred to as Agrippina Minor or Agrippina the Younger, and after 50 known as Julia Augusta Agrippina was a Roman Empress and one of the more prominent women in the Julio-Claudian dynasty...

.

Date and Text


Many scholars believe it was written in 1606–07, although some researchers argue for an earlier dating, around 1603–04.Antony and Cleopatra was entered in the Stationers' Register
Stationers' Register
The Stationers' Register was a record book maintained by the Stationers' Company of London. The company is a trade guild given a royal charter in 1557 to regulate the various professions associated with the publishing industry, including printers, bookbinders, booksellers, and publishers in England...

 (an early form of copyright
Copyright
Copyright is a legal concept, enacted by most governments, giving the creator of an original work exclusive rights to it, usually for a limited time...

 for printed works) in May of 1608, but it does not seem to have been actually printed until the publication of the First Folio
First Folio
Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies. is the 1623 published collection of William Shakespeare's plays. Modern scholars commonly refer to it as the First Folio....

 in 1623. The Folio is therefore the only authoritative text we have today. Some Shakespeare scholars speculate that it derives from Shakespeare's own draft, or "foul papers," since it contains minor errors in speech labels and stage directions that are thought to be characteristic of the author in the process of composition.

Modern editions divide the play into a conventional five act structure, but as in most of his earlier plays, Shakespeare did not create these act divisions. His play is articulated in forty separate 'scenes', more than he used for any other play. Even the word 'scenes' may be inappropriate as a description, as the scene changes are often very fluid, almost montage-like. The large number of scenes are necessary because the action frequently switches between Alexandria
Alexandria
Alexandria is the second-largest city of Egypt, with a population of 4.1 million, extending about along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the north central part of the country; it is also the largest city lying directly on the Mediterranean coast. It is Egypt's largest seaport, serving...

, Italy, Messina in Sicily, Syria, Athens
Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

 and other parts of Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

 and the Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

. The play contains thirty-four speaking characters, fairly typical for a Shakespeare play on such an epic scale.

Themes and motives


Many scholars of the play attempt to come to conclusions about the ambivalent nature of many of the characters. Are Antony and Cleopatra true tragic heroes, or are they too fault-ridden and laughable to be tragic? Is their relationship one of love or lust
Lust
Lust is an emotional force that is directly associated with the thinking or fantasizing about one's desire, usually in a sexual way.-Etymology:The word lust is phonetically similar to the ancient Roman lustrum, which literally meant "purification"...

? Is their passion wholly destructive, or does it also show elements of transcendence? Does Cleopatra kill herself out of love for Antony, or because she has lost political power? In the play, Octavian is another ambivalent character, who can be seen as either a noble and good ruler, only wanting what is right for Rome, or as a cruel and ruthless politician.

One of the major themes running throughout the play is opposition, the main being: Rome/Egypt, Love/Lust, and Male/Female. One of Shakespeare's most famous speeches, drawn almost verbatim from North's translation of Plutarch, Ahenobarbus's description of Cleopatra on her barge, is full of opposites. Cleopatra herself sees Antony as both the Gorgon
Gorgon
In Greek mythology, the Gorgon was a terrifying female creature. The name derives from the Greek word gorgós, which means "dreadful." While descriptions of Gorgons vary across Greek literature, the term commonly refers to any of three sisters who had hair of living, venomous snakes, and a...

 and Mars
Mars (mythology)
Mars was the Roman god of war and also an agricultural guardian, a combination characteristic of early Rome. He was second in importance only to Jupiter, and he was the most prominent of the military gods worshipped by the Roman legions...

 (Act 2 Scene 5, lines 118-19)

Selected stage productions

  • 1931, John Gielgud
    John Gielgud
    Sir Arthur John Gielgud, OM, CH was an English actor, director, and producer. A descendant of the renowned Terry acting family, he achieved early international acclaim for his youthful, emotionally expressive Hamlet which broke box office records on Broadway in 1937...

     as Antony and Ralph Richardson
    Ralph Richardson
    Sir Ralph David Richardson was an English actor, one of a group of theatrical knights of the mid-20th century who, though more closely associated with the stage, also appeared in several classic films....

     as Enobarbus at the Old Vic Theatre.
  • 1947, Katharine Cornell
    Katharine Cornell
    Katharine Cornell was an American stage actress, writer, theater owner and producer. She was born to American parents and raised in Buffalo, New York.Cornell is known as the greatest American stage actress of the 20th century...

     won a Tony Award
    Tony Award
    The Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Theatre, more commonly known as a Tony Award, recognizes achievement in live Broadway theatre. The awards are presented by the American Theatre Wing and The Broadway League at an annual ceremony in New York City. The awards are given for Broadway...

     for her Broadway performance of Cleopatra opposite the Antony of Godfrey Tearle
    Godfrey Tearle
    Sir Godfrey Seymour Tearle was a British actor who portrayed the quintessential Englishman on stage and in both English and US films.-Biography:...

    . It ran for 126 performances, the longest run of the play in Broadway history.
  • 1951, Laurence Olivier
    Laurence Olivier
    Laurence Kerr Olivier, Baron Olivier, OM was an English actor, director, and producer. He was one of the most famous and revered actors of the 20th century. He married three times, to fellow actors Jill Esmond, Vivien Leigh, and Joan Plowright...

     as Antony and Vivien Leigh
    Vivien Leigh
    Vivien Leigh, Lady Olivier was an English actress. She won the Best Actress Academy Award for her portrayal of Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire , a role she also played on stage in London's West End, as well as for her portrayal of the southern belle Scarlett O'Hara, alongside Clark...

     as Cleopatra in a production that played in repertory with George Bernard Shaw
    George Bernard Shaw
    George Bernard Shaw was an Irish playwright and a co-founder of the London School of Economics. Although his first profitable writing was music and literary criticism, in which capacity he wrote many highly articulate pieces of journalism, his main talent was for drama, and he wrote more than 60...

    's Caesar and Cleopatra
    Caesar and Cleopatra (play)
    Caesar and Cleopatra, a play written in 1898 by George Bernard Shaw, was first staged in 1901 and first published with Captain Brassbound's Conversion and The Devil's Disciple in his 1901 collection, Three Plays for Puritans. It was first performed at Newcastle-on-Tyne on March 15, 1899...

    at the St James's Theatre
    St James's Theatre
    The St James's Theatre was a 1,200-seat theatre located in King Street, at Duke Street, St James's, London. The elaborate theatre was designed with a neo-classical exterior and a Louis XIV style interior by Samuel Beazley and built by the partnership of Peto & Grissell for the tenor and theatre...

     and later on Broadway.
  • 1953, Michael Redgrave
    Michael Redgrave
    Sir Michael Scudamore Redgrave, CBE was an English stage and film actor, director, manager and author.-Youth and education:...

     played Antony and Peggy Ashcroft
    Peggy Ashcroft
    Dame Peggy Ashcroft, DBE was an English actress.-Early years:Born as Edith Margaret Emily Ashcroft in Croydon, Ashcroft attended the Woodford School, Croydon and the Central School of Speech and Drama...

     played Cleopatra at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre.
  • 1972, Janet Suzman
    Janet Suzman
    Dame Janet Suzman, DBE is a South African-born-British actress and director.-Early life:Janet Suzman was born in Johannesburg to a Jewish family, the daughter of Betty and Saul Suzman, a wealthy importer of tobacco....

     and Richard Johnson
    Richard Johnson
    Richard Johnson may refer to:* Richard Johnson , romance writer* Richard Johnson , English actor* Richard Johnson , Australian architect...

     in Trevor Nunn
    Trevor Nunn
    Sir Trevor Robert Nunn, CBE is an English theatre, film and television director. Nunn has been the Artistic Director for the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal National Theatre, and, currently, the Theatre Royal, Haymarket. He has directed musicals and dramas for the stage, as well as opera...

    's production for the Royal Shakespeare Company
    Royal Shakespeare Company
    The Royal Shakespeare Company is a major British theatre company, based in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. The company employs 700 staff and produces around 20 productions a year from its home in Stratford-upon-Avon and plays regularly in London, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and on tour across...

  • 1981, Timothy Dalton
    Timothy Dalton
    Timothy Peter Dalton ) is a Welsh actor of film and television. He is known for portraying James Bond in The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill , as well as Rhett Butler in the television miniseries Scarlett , an original sequel to Gone with the Wind...

     played Antony and Carmen Du Sautoy
    Carmen du Sautoy
    Carmen Du Sautoy is an award-winning leading actress who has worked extensively in theatre, television and film...

     played Cleopatra at the Mermaid Theatre
    Mermaid Theatre
    The Mermaid Theatre was a theatre at Puddle Dock, in Blackfriars, in the City of London and the first built there since the time of Shakespeare...

    .
  • 1986, Timothy Dalton
    Timothy Dalton
    Timothy Peter Dalton ) is a Welsh actor of film and television. He is known for portraying James Bond in The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill , as well as Rhett Butler in the television miniseries Scarlett , an original sequel to Gone with the Wind...

     and Vanessa Redgrave
    Vanessa Redgrave
    Vanessa Redgrave, CBE is an English actress of stage, screen and television, as well as a political activist.She rose to prominence in 1961 playing Rosalind in As You Like It with the Royal Shakespeare Company and has since made more than 35 appearances on London's West End and Broadway, winning...

     in the title roles at Clwyd Theatr Cymru
    Clwyd Theatr Cymru
    Clwyd Theatr Cymru , known until 1998 as Theatr Clwyd, is a regional arts centre located 1 mile from Mold, Flintshire, in north-east Wales.The complex contains five auditoria:*The Anthony Hopkins Theatre ....

     and Haymarket Theatre
    Haymarket Theatre
    The Theatre Royal Haymarket is a West End theatre in the Haymarket in the City of Westminster which dates back to 1720, making it the third-oldest London playhouse still in use...

    .
  • 1999, Alan Bates
    Alan Bates
    Sir Alan Arthur Bates CBE was an English actor, who came to prominence in the 1960s, a time of high creativity in British cinema, when he demonstrated his versatility in films ranging from the popular children’s story Whistle Down the Wind to the "kitchen sink" drama A Kind of Loving...

     and Frances de la Tour
    Frances de la Tour
    Frances de la Tour is an English actress perhaps best known for her role as Miss Ruth Jones in the British sitcom Rising Damp, and as Madame Olympe Maxime in the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1.-Early life and family:De la...

     in title roles, Guy Henry as Octavius (also David Oyelowo
    David Oyelowo
    - Background :Oyelowo was born in Oxford, England of Nigerian descent. He is married to actress Jessica Oyelowo and they have three sons.Oyelowo first attended a youth theatre after being invited by a girl to whom he was attracted. He then studied Theatre Studies for A level and his teacher...

     and Owen Oakeshott) at the Royal Shakespeare Company
    Royal Shakespeare Company
    The Royal Shakespeare Company is a major British theatre company, based in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. The company employs 700 staff and produces around 20 productions a year from its home in Stratford-upon-Avon and plays regularly in London, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and on tour across...

    .
  • 1999, Paul Shelley
    Paul Shelley
    Paul Shelley is an English actor.Shelley trained at RADA and has mainly worked in the theatre as a classical actor...

     as Antony and Mark Rylance
    Mark Rylance
    Mark Rylance is an English actor, theatre director and playwright.As an actor, Rylance found success on stage and screen. For his work in theatre he has won Olivier and Tony Awards among others, and a BAFTA TV Award...

     as Cleopatra in an all male cast production at Shakespeare's Globe
    Shakespeare's Globe
    Shakespeare's Globe is a reconstruction of the Globe Theatre, an Elizabethan playhouse in the London Borough of Southwark, located on the south bank of the River Thames, but destroyed by fire in 1613, rebuilt 1614 then demolished in 1644. The modern reconstruction is an academic best guess, based...

     Theatre in London.
  • 2006, Patrick Stewart
    Patrick Stewart
    Sir Patrick Hewes Stewart, OBE is an English film, television and stage actor, who has had a distinguished career in theatre and television for around half a century...

     and Harriet Walter
    Harriet Walter
    Dame Harriet Mary Walter, DBE is a British actress.-Personal life:She is the niece of renowned British actor Sir Christopher Lee, as the daughter of his elder sister Xandra Lee. On her father's side she is a great-great-great-granddaughter of John Walter, founder of The TimesShe was educated at...

     in the title roles at the Royal Shakespeare Company
    Royal Shakespeare Company
    The Royal Shakespeare Company is a major British theatre company, based in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. The company employs 700 staff and produces around 20 productions a year from its home in Stratford-upon-Avon and plays regularly in London, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and on tour across...

    .
  • 2010, Kim Cattrall
    Kim Cattrall
    Kim Victoria Cattrall is an English actress. She is known for her role as Samantha Jones in the HBO comedy/romance series Sex and the City, and for her leading roles in the 1980s films Police Academy, Big Trouble in Little China, Mannequin, and Porky's...

     and Jeffery Kissoon in the title roles at the Liverpool Playhouse
    Liverpool Playhouse
    The Liverpool Playhouse is a theatre in Williamson Square in the city of Liverpool, Merseyside, England. It originated in 1866 as a music hall, and in 1911 developed into a repertory theatre. As such it nurtured the early careers of many actors and actresses, some of which went on to achieve...

    .
  • 2010, Kate Mulgrew
    Kate Mulgrew
    Katherine Kiernan Maria "Kate" Mulgrew is an American actress, most noted for her roles on Star Trek: Voyager as Captain Kathryn Janeway and Ryan's Hope as Mary Ryan...

     and John Douglas Thompson
    John Douglas Thompson
    John Douglas Thompson is an OBIE Award-winning Canadian-American actor of Jamaican descent.-Early life and education:Thompson was born in Bath, England in 1964 to Jamaican parents and was raised in Montreal. He graduated from LeMoyne College in Syracuse, New York in 1985, where he studied...

     in a production directed by Tina Landau
    Tina Landau
    Tina Landau is an American playwright and theatre director.Born in New York City to film and television producers Edie and Ely Landau, Landau moved with her family to Beverly Hills, California, where she graduated from Beverly Hills High School before attending Yale University, where she directed...

     at Hartford Stage
    Hartford Stage
    Hartford Stage, located in Hartford, Connecticut, is one of the leading resident theatres in the United States, known internationally for entertaining and enlightening audiences with a wide range of the best of world drama, from classics to provocative new plays and musicals and neglected works...

    .
  • 2010, Kathryn Hunter
    Kathryn Hunter
    Kathryn Hunter is an award-winning English actress and theatre director.Hunter was born in New York to Greek parents but brought up in the UK...

     and Darrell D'Silva in the title roles at the Royal Shakespeare Company
    Royal Shakespeare Company
    The Royal Shakespeare Company is a major British theatre company, based in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. The company employs 700 staff and produces around 20 productions a year from its home in Stratford-upon-Avon and plays regularly in London, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and on tour across...

    .

Films and TV

  • Antony and Cleopatra
    Antony and Cleopatra (1908 film)
    Antony and Cleopatra is a 1908 film starring Maurice Costello and Florence Lawrence in the title roles, based on William Shakespeare's play of the same name. Dramatizing the ill-fated romance between Mark Antony and Cleopatra VII of Egypt, it was the earliest Cleopatra-related motion picture ever...

    , 1908
  • Antony and Cleopatra
    Antony and Cleopatra (1972 film)
    Antony and Cleopatra is a 1972 film adaptation of the play of the same name by William Shakespeare made by the Rank Organisation. It was directed by Charlton Heston and produced by Peter Snell from a screenplay by Federico De Urrutia and the director....

    , 1972, directed by and starring Charlton Heston
    Charlton Heston
    Charlton Heston was an American actor of film, theatre and television. Heston is known for heroic roles in films such as The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor, El Cid, and Planet of the Apes...

     as Antony, Hildegarde Neil
    Hildegarde Neil
    Hildegarde Neil is an English actress.She first appeared on television in a BBC schools' television production of Julius Caesar in 1963 and after that appeared mostly as a guest artiste in a variety of TV series over the last 40 years...

     as Cleopatra and also featuring Eric Porter
    Eric Porter
    Eric Richard Porter was an English actor of stage, film and television.-Early life:Porter was born in Shepherd's Bush, London, to Richard John Porter and Phoebe Elizabeth Spall...

     as Enobarbus.
  • Antony & Cleopatra, 1974, a television production of Trevor Nunn
    Trevor Nunn
    Sir Trevor Robert Nunn, CBE is an English theatre, film and television director. Nunn has been the Artistic Director for the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal National Theatre, and, currently, the Theatre Royal, Haymarket. He has directed musicals and dramas for the stage, as well as opera...

    's stage version performed by London's Royal Shakespeare Company. This version was shown in the United States to great acclaim in 1975. It stars Janet Suzman
    Janet Suzman
    Dame Janet Suzman, DBE is a South African-born-British actress and director.-Early life:Janet Suzman was born in Johannesburg to a Jewish family, the daughter of Betty and Saul Suzman, a wealthy importer of tobacco....

     (Cleopatra), Richard Johnson
    Richard Johnson (actor)
    Richard Johnson is an English actor, writer and producer, who starred in several British films of the 1960s and has also had a distinguished stage career. He most recently appeared in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.-Life and career:...

     (Antony), and Patrick Stewart
    Patrick Stewart
    Sir Patrick Hewes Stewart, OBE is an English film, television and stage actor, who has had a distinguished career in theatre and television for around half a century...

     (Enobarbus).
  • Antony & Cleopatra, 1981, a TV production made as part of the BBC Television Shakespeare
    BBC Television Shakespeare
    The BBC Television Shakespeare was a set of television adaptations of the plays of William Shakespeare, produced by the BBC between 1978 and 1985.-Origins:...

     series. It stars Colin Blakely
    Colin Blakely
    Colin George Blakely was a Northern Irish character actor. He was considered an actor of great range.-Early life:...

     (Antony), Jane Lapotaire
    Jane Lapotaire
    Jane Lapotaire is a British actress.She studied at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in the 1960s. Her role in the title role of Marie Curie first brought her to wide attention...

     (Cleopatra), and Ian Charleson
    Ian Charleson
    Ian Charleson was a Scottish stage and film actor. He is best known internationally for his starring role as Olympic athlete and missionary Eric Liddell, in the Oscar-winning 1981 film Chariots of Fire. He is also well known for his portrayal of Rev...

     (Octavius).
  • Antony and Cleopatra, a 1983 TV movie. It stars Timothy Dalton
    Timothy Dalton
    Timothy Peter Dalton ) is a Welsh actor of film and television. He is known for portraying James Bond in The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill , as well as Rhett Butler in the television miniseries Scarlett , an original sequel to Gone with the Wind...

     (Antony) and Lynn Redgrave
    Lynn Redgrave
    Lynn Rachel Redgrave, OBE was an English actress.A member of the well-known British family of actors, Redgrave trained in London before making her theatrical debut in 1962...

     (Cleopatra).

Musical adaptations

  • Samuel Barber
    Samuel Barber
    Samuel Osborne Barber II was an American composer of orchestral, opera, choral, and piano music. His Adagio for Strings is his most popular composition and widely considered a masterpiece of modern classical music...

    's operatic version of the play
    Antony and Cleopatra (opera)
    Antony and Cleopatra is an opera in three acts by American composer Samuel Barber. The libretto was prepared by Franco Zeffirelli based on the play Antony and Cleopatra by Shakespeare...

     was premièred in 1966.

Influence

  • John Dryden
    John Dryden
    John Dryden was an influential English poet, literary critic, translator, and playwright who dominated the literary life of Restoration England to such a point that the period came to be known in literary circles as the Age of Dryden.Walter Scott called him "Glorious John." He was made Poet...

    's play All for Love was deeply influenced by Shakespeare's treatment of the subject.

External links