Antony and Cleopatra

Act 1 Scene 1

This opens with the major issues being addressed straight away; Antony's "dotage" is causing a conflict between his military, political, Roman self and his personal, Egyptian self. Cleopatra is the cause of this and the problem is encapsulated in the lines

"you shall see in him
The triple pillar of the world transformed
Into a strumpet's fool"

As if to prove the truth of Philo's assertion, A & C enter talking about love, with C exercising her manipulative powers over A, causing him to renounce and disown his political and Roman affiliations-

"Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide arch
Of the ranged empire fall! Here is my space."-

and claim that true "nobleness of life" lies in personal relationships.

The issue of Antony's "self" arises here; C. claims that "Antony will be himself" and Philo analyses the situation thus:

"sometimes, when he is not Antony,
He comes too short of that great property
Which still should go with Antony."

This issue of who exactly Antony is will recur throughout the play.

Act 1 Scene 2

We see the luxurious and decadent aspect of Egypt, and the conflict between what Egypt represents and what Rome stands for can be seen in C's line

"He was disposed to mirth, but on the sudden
A Roman thought hath struck him."

It becomes clear that A is aware of the problems caused by his stay in Egypt and regrets them. We get the sense, however, that he is as much a victim as an instigator of this situation. He perceives himself as a man imprisoned and in danger of losing his identity. The key lines here are

"These strong Egyptian fetters I must break,
Or lose myself in dotage."

Again with the dotage!

The news of Fulvia's death brings the seriousness of the situation even closer to home, and he insists, maybe to himself, "I must from this enchanting queen break off." The notion of C as an enchantress, binding A with fetters, will also recur.

A seems aware of C's manipulative nature - "She is cunning past man's thought"- and regrets being brought into her sphere of influence - "Would I had never seen her!" The scene ends with A moving into Roman, political mode. The efficient, purposeful language contrasts sharply with the languor of his earlier speech with C.

Act 1 Scene 3

C's manipulative nature is revealed further, but we get the sense that this may be borne of desperation to maintain her grip on A. Do we hear a sense of panic in the line "What should I do, I do not" C is certainly a mistress of the art of man management. I love the stichomythic (!) way that A is not allowed to get a word in edgeways between lines 16 & 39. C is playing the wronged woman card for all it is worth, but A's Roman-ness(?) is just able to hold out against her. His language moves between determined formality : "Hear me, Queen"; passionate frustration: "You'll heat my blood - no more!" and tenderness:

"Our separation so abides and flies
That thou, residing here, goes yet with me;
And I, hence fleeting, here remain with thee."

Despite my well documented cynicism about A, I actually respond well to him here; he is presented as a rounded and therefore torn personality, and in this, perhaps, lies his tragedy.

Act 1 Scene 4

We're in political, scheming Rome now, and the weakness of A is under discussion. The idea of A's fatal flaw is introduced by Lepidus, who refers to A's faults as

"Rather - what he cannot change
Than what he chooses."

This would certainly fit with the idea of fetters, enchantment and dotage.

Caesar's complaints against A are both personal and political. He feels A's personal behaviour is demeaning, but even if it weren't, it means A is neglecting his duty, a very Roman concept:

"yet must Antony
No way excuse his foils, when we do bear
So great a weight in his lightness."

His analogy of A to a boy choosing immediate gratification over wisdom is an encapsulation of A's Egyptian/Roman dilemma. Nevertheless, we see Caesar's admiration of the Roman A. who was able to undergo hardships in battle

"so like a soldier that (his) cheek
So much as lanked not."

Act 1 Scene 5

C. is thoroughly OTT in this scene, but her genuine affection, nay, passion for A. is effectively conveyed. The scene is very sexual in its references, indicating perhaps the source of C's power over A..

Act 2 Scene 1

We're back in the Roman world and the language is much more formal and structured than in the previous, Egyptian scene. The vocabulary focuses on "justice" rather than passion. Pompey's political analysis, however, is wrong, and Pompey's response to the fact that A. is on the move demonstrates his respect fro A's military greatness:

"his soldiership / is twice the other twain."

The final exchange between Menas and Pompey reminds us that the rapprochement between Caesar and A. may not hold :

"they have entertained cause enough / To draw their swords."

Act 2 Scene 2

We're back to the question, who is Antony? What brings us there is Enobarbus' response to Lepidus ,"I shall entreat him / To answer like himself." Enobarbus clearly sees A's real self as the powerful, military one:

"If Caesar move him,
Let Antony look over Caesar's head
And speak as loud as Mars."

Lepidus, despite being, technically, one of the "triple pillars", is merely a go-between in the power struggle between A & Caesar. This paves the way for his later elimination by Caesar.

(Caesar and A. enter from different points on the stage, thus dramatically signalling their opposition.)

His placatory speech to the other two is packed with contrasts - "great/leaner"; "gently/loud"; "murder/healing"; "sourest/sweetest" - again indicating the fundamental , and maybe irreconcilable, nature of their opposition.

Though A. and Caesar speak formally and courteously to one another, the stichomythic (got that word in again!) exchange which takes place on line 28 is, in fact, another power struggle, reminiscent of Yasser Arafat and the Israeli PM (can't remember his name) trying each to be last through the door at the peace talks. It's what's called a power tell. Ask me and I'll tell you all about it. Clinton used to do it all the time, even beating Tony Blair on home soil! Anyway, Caesar proceeds to lay allegations at the feet of A. which seem rather trumped up to start with- "Of this, my letters/ Before did satisfy you" - but become more serious when we see that A's obsession is at the heart of them; Caeasr accuses A. of breaking an oath to help him in need. A. replies that he did not deny, but

"Neglected, rather,
And then when poisoned hours had bound me up
From mine own knowledge."

This is interesting because it both revisits the idea of A's identity and shows his awareness of C's deleterious effect on him; we can add "poisoned hours" to "enchanting queen" and "strong Egyptian fetters".

Antony and Caesar patch up their quarrel, but Enobarbus' words - "you shall have time / to wrangle in when you have nothing else to do" show an awareness of political realities which even Caesar has to accept -

"for't cannot be
We shall remain in friendship, our conditions
So differing in their acts."

Caesar accepts the fundamental opposition of his and A's characters, and sees that this will inevitably end in conflict. Given this understanding, his acceptance of Agrippa's suggestion that Octavia should be the "hoop should hold (them) staunch" seems even more the cynical action of a politician than that of a loving brother. (It would be fun, one day, to write something on brother/sister relationships in Shakespeare's plays. Well, I think so, anyway!)

Note how little a role Lepidus has had to play in all this. When he is next mentioned it's almost as an afterthought, as though A. just remembers in time that he exists. If I were staging this, they'd already be almost offstage before A. turned and spoke these lines. The fact that Caesar doesn't say them might indicate that Lepidus is already a non-player from Caesar's point of view.

The conversation which follows, between Enobarbus and Maecenas, contains the famous barge speech and sharply reminds the audience of what temptations lie behind in Egypt which might so easily derail this new found peace between A and Caesar. The language is sensual and exotic and we feel, like Enobarbus, that A. must remain enslaved to C., especially when all Octavia can offer is "beauty, wisdom, modesty". If that's what A. wanted, he'd never have fallen for C in the first place.

Act 2 Scene 3

This exchange between A and Octavia establishes that the marriage has been made. The tone between them is considerably more formal than that between A and C, and when the soothsayer predicts that Caesar will always best A, in any contest, the die is cast in favour of C. A's lines

"I will to Egypt;
And though I make this marriage for my peace,
I - the East my pleasure lies"

show that his mind is made up. We have to ask ourselves whether, had the soothsayer spoken otherwise, A's Roman identity would have won out; does he only choose to be his Egyptian self when he sees no prospect of being dominant as his Roman self?

Act 2 Scene 4

Not much to say about this scene. It just reminds us of ongoing political activity.

Act 2 Scene 5

We're back in Egypt again, so lots of sensual language and sexual innuendo. This is where we learn of the night C got a drunk, took his sword and dressed him as a woman. C doesn't seem to see this as anything more than a game, but we can read it as a metaphor of her theft of his Roman identity, her unmanning of him, especially as she takes his sword, with all its phallic overtones.

When the messenger arrives we see C's unreasonable, emotional, Egyptian response to his news. We also see the strength of her feelings for Antony, whom she both loves and hates -

"Let him for ever go! - Let him not, Charmian:
Though he be painted one way like a Gorgon,
The other way's a Mars."

Act 2 Scene 6

Meanwhile, back in Italy, politics goes on between the triumvirs and Pompey. Their underlings, represented by Menas and Enobarbus, see that much is being lost: "Pompey doth this/ day laugh away his fortune."

They see the reality of events, rather than the surface:


I think the policy of that purpose made more in the marriage than the love of the parties.


I think so too. But you shall find the band that seems to tie their friendship together will be the very strangler of their amity.

Indeed, Enobarbus states things very clearly in lines 118 to 122, and we are becoming used to trusting Enobarbus, who seems to fill the role of A's fool, with a licence to see clearly and say the things which no-one else dares. Enobarbus is not a fool in any other sense, though, just in the way he fulfils this role of getter-away-with-things.

Act 2 Scene 7

This is a banquet and drinking scene in which we see Lepidus being mocked and sidelined by A and Caesar- and even Menas and Enobarbus. So much for being a triple pillar. As well as this minor cruelty, we see Menas suggesting a deception to Pompey which Pompey's honour cannot allow him to assent to now that he knows of it in advance. This may raise questions as to what Roman honour is really worth. It seems that even Roman feasts are tainted with politics; Rome never wholly abandons itself to pleasure.

Act 3 Scene 1

Still politics and the Roman Empire, though we're actually in Syria. Here, A's underlings discuss the fact that much of their superior success stems from their deeds. Perhaps this undermines our perception of A's military greatness, raising again the question of who A actually is.

Act 3 Scene 2

In Rome. Agrippa and Enobarbus make snide comments about the new relationship between A and Caesar (arguably "What, are the brothers parted?" can be read in this light) and Lepidus.

Caesar parts with Octavia, and his words to A show what he expects to happen. The vocabulary used is military; Octavia is a weapon. The stichomythic exchange between A and Caesar in line 34 suggests edginess and lack of trust. Given that we know of A's plans, we can understand this atmosphere. We may wonder what it is that Octavia is whispering to Caesar. A makes a great show of love to both Octavia and Caesar but this is undermined by the asides between Enobarbus and Agrippa in which A's integrity is questioned : "What willingly he did confound, he wailed"

Act 3 Scene 3

Back in Egypt. The messenger comes again to C. who wants to know details of her rival in love. This shows C in a new light, that of insecure lover. We can almost (or actually, if we're Becky) pity her at this point, as she is so bereft and so desperate to convince herself that "He cannot like her long" and that "This creature's no such thing." She appears at this point as a vulnerable rather than a manipulative woman, and we may begin to see that her manipulation arises from her vulnerability.

Act 3 Scene 4

This scene is set in Athens. Do we believe in A as the husband who feels himself wronged by his brother in law? The lines seem convincing enough, and his offer to allow Octavia to do what she chooses could be seen as generous, except that we know of A's intention to hotfoot it off to Egypt asap.

The issue of honour, that Roman obsession is raised again, with A claiming "If I lose mine honour / I lose myself." What is honour? He seems to mean public reputation, since that is what he feels Caesar is denying him. A more 21st century eye might feel that his personal behaviour and choices are deceitful and dishonourable, and it is in that respect that he has lost himself. Of course, Shakespeare did not possess a 21st Century eye.

Act 3 Scene 5

News breaks of Caesar's betrayal of Lepidus. Surprise, surprise!

Enobarbus speaks prophetically again of the inevitable breakdown of the A / Caesar relationship:

"Then, world, thou hast a pair of chaps, no more;
And throw between them all the food thou hast,
They'll grind the one the other."

Act 3 Scene 6

Back in Rome, Caesar has heard of Antony's return to Egypt where, it would seem, he has been making political gestures, maybe trying to locate his personal and political selves in one realm rather than splitting himself into two, when one self will always be secondary to Caesar.

Caesar takes Octavia's arrival as an opportunity to further his political ends, whilst playing the devoted and outraged brother. The thing is, his assessment of A's willingness to give permission Octavia return to Rome-

"Which soon he granted,
Being an abstract 'tween his lust and him"

is actually accurate.

Octavia's role as a pawn in all of this is highlighted by her rather pathetic closing words, "Is it so, sir?" which is the last we hear of her.

Act 3 Scene 7

By contrast, C. is very active, not pawn like at all. If we are A. fans we could wish she took a more passive role, since it is her influence which causes A. to go wrong, as Enobarbus predicted -

"Your presence needs must puzzle Antony,
Take from his heart, take from his brain, from's time
What should not then be spared."

Maybe it is because of this plain speaking encounter with Enobarbus that Cleopatra exerts her influence over A. causing him to dig his heels in and fight at sea against all seasoned professional advice. A's retorts to his colleagues" well reasoned advice are childish in their stubborn brevity, as if he knows he has no real arguments and so resorts to 'shan't". A's plans are hasty and ill judged.

Act 3 Scene 8

In contrast, Caesar is disciplined and in control.

Act 3 Scene 9

A's plan is to react to Caesar, not to be pro-active; he will always be one step behind.

Act 3 Scene 10

Disaster! At the peak of battle, when they were neck and neck, with any discernible advantage being with A., C. took fright and scarpered, followed by A. The description of A. as a "noble ruin of her magic" flying after her "like a doting mallard" reminds us of A's own references to enchanting queens and losing himself in dotage.

Scarus clearly feels A.has lost himself -

"Experience, manhood, honour, ne'er before
Did violate so itself"

and Canidius agrees-

"Had our general
Been what he knew himself, it had gone well."

So, the question of A's identity is raised once more, but now he appears to be no-one. Enobarbus remains loyal.

Act 3 Scene 11

A himself realises that he has lost himself:

"I am so lated in the world that I
Have lost my way forever."

And what about "I have fled myself"? Is he saying that he himself has fled, or that he has fled from himself, or both?

He sends his followers away and seems to be planning suicide.

On C's entrance his speech smacks of madness in its disjointed chaos. His responses to her demonstrate his total obsession with her. Earlier we wondered whether he was politicking and making rational relationship choices, but his words in lines 56 to 61 indicate that he had become a man without choices. He seems now to have changed his mind about suicide and is talking about negotiating with Caesar. Is this because of C?

Act 3 Scene 12

We see evidence of Caesar's cunning - he plans to alienate A. and C. It would appear that he still sees a potential threat, however, as he insists that a close eye be kept on A.

Act 3 Scene 13

A learns of Caesar's offer to C that she can have safety if she turns him in, and challenges Caesar to single combat. Enobarbus sees this as further evidence that A. is losing it:

"Caesar, thou hast subdued
His judgement too!"

and begins to question the wisdom of his continued loyalty, yet still decides to hold fast to A. (lines 41 - 46)

When Caesar's messenger arrives we wonder which way C. is going to jump. Enobarbus seems to believe that C. is really betraying A. - "Thy dearest quit thee." A., too, concludes that C. is betraying him, and this provokes a rage which her behaviour in the battle did not. This is a personal betrayal, he thinks, and perhaps we see in the level of his responses who he really is and what really matters to him. He comes through his rage to a belief in C. which gives him renewed hope, yet we may not fully believe C's lines

"Since my lord
Is Antony again, I will be Cleopatra."

Is he A. again? Enobarbus certainly doesn't think so-

"I see still
A diminution in our captain's brain
Restores his heart."

It is at this point, when Enobarbus perhaps sees A. as no longer being A., that he decides to leave. For us as audience, this sets the seal on A's doom, as Enobarbus is the character whose judgement we have trusted throughout.

Act 4 Scene 1

In the camp of Caesar. Caesar's cunning is shown in his plan to defeat A. with his own recently deserted men. Are his last words in this scene sincere or sarcastic? I'd go for sincere; he knows he has to finish A., however much he admires him and regrets the necessity.

Act 4 Scene 2

This is a sentimental scene in which A. bids goodbye to his companions. His question to Enobarbus, "Woo't thou fight well?" reminds the audience of the choice Enobarbus has already made but not yet carried through. Maybe we wonder how many other of A's supposedly loyal followers are going the same way.

Act 4 Scene 3

Supernatural events seem to tell against A. -

"'Tis the god Hercules, whom Antony loved
Now leaves him."

Act 4 Scene 4

This time, far from stealing his armour and manhood, C. helps A. into it. Maybe she is helping him to rediscover himself, or maybe that's being really romantic and fanciful - not like me at all!

Act 4 Scene 5

A .learns of Enobarbus' desertion and behaves with integrity and dignity, acknowledging his own blameworthiness -

"O, my fortunes have
Corrupted honest men."

Maybe A. really has found himself. This response is so unlike the vindictive A. who, in 3:13;147 - 151 suggests that if Caesar doesn't like his actions, he can take it out on Hipparchus, that we may see a man who has found his true and better nature.

Act 4 Scene 6

Caesar really is planning to let A. kill all his own first:

"Plant those that have revolted in the vant,
That Antony may seem to spend his fury
Upon himself."

We learn from Enobarbus that none of A's deserters are being treated with any respect by Caesar. This, and the discovery of A's magnanimity persuade Enobarbus that he has made a wrong choice and must kill himself. Do we like Caesar slightly more because of his lukewarm welcome of A's traitors? Do we see him as a man doing what is politically expedient but not necessarily liking it?

Act 4 Scene 7

A. seems to be doing well in this battle. A last gasp of hope? Suspense is built up. A.C Bradley would say that this is classic tragic structuring.

Act 4 Scene 8

A.and C. are triumphantly reunited. Is this all too good to be true?

Act 4 Scene 9

Juxtaposed with the suicide of Enobarbus, reminding us of the nobility of A when he is being A.

Act 4 Scene 10 & 11

The decision is taken to fight by sea...again! Do we feel that it will just be a replay of last time?

Act 4 Scene 12

It is just a replay of last time. What really hurts A., though, is not his military loss but what seems to be Cleopatra's betrayal. The words "charm", "gypsy" and "spell" all remind us of the notion that she has enchanted him away from himself.

Act 4 Scene 13

C. sends a message to A. that she is dead, hoping this will blunt his fury. This reminds us of her manipulative tricks when we first meet her in 3:1.

Act 4 Scene 14

The message arrives and has the desired effect - too much so as A. decides life without C. is not worth living: "All length is torture." A. demands that Eros kill him , but instead Eros kills himself, leaving A. to fall on his own sword. The timing here is crucial; C.'s second set of messengers arrive after the death blow has been despatched, but before dead, to give maximum heart wrenching tragic impact.

Act 4 Scene 15 at the bottom of the monument, the top, unwilling to risk capture by coming down, hence the hauling of the dying A. up to the top. You see, this makes me dislike C. and consider her weak and selfish. I'm not sure that's the proper response, though. However, inspired by A. she too decides to kill herself -

"what's brave, what's noble,
Let's do it after the high Roman fashion,"

Is there an irony in the fact that she made him Egyptian in life and he makes her Roman in death? Is this a kind of final blurring of identity boundaries? No? It's just me, then.

Act 5 Scene 1

Caesar hears of A.'s death and I rather like his respectful response:

"The breaking of so great a thing should make
A greater crack."

and his regret that

"our stars,
Unreconciliable, should divide
Our equalness to this."

However he remains the politician in his determination that C. becomes his trophy:

"Her life in Rome
Would be eternal in our triumph",

and this rather sours our impression of him.

Act 5 Scene 2

Is Proculeius in on the plan to catch C.unawares? If so, does this comment on Roman honour? (actually, I don't think he is) determined not to become a public spectacle, and in particular not to be "chastised with the sober eye / of dull Octavia." Ever the siren, she manages to charm Dolabella into revealing Caesar's humiliating plans for her. Another humiliation comes from her treasurer, Seleucus, who will not lie for her. Is it this prospect of humiliation rather than the loss of A. that causes C. to choose death? She has already arranged for the asp to be brought, though.

The clown is a comic character whose wordiness delays the denouement and builds suspense. In this he is like Dogberry in Much Ado about Nothing. The untimely and inappropriate comic element introduced here serves to heighten the tragedy and raise the discomfort level of the audience.

The death of Iras (name sounds a lot like Eros, A's faithful servant. Deliberate parallel?) and suicides of C. and Charmian bring everything to a neat but emotional close. Caesar, at the last, is presented as acting honourably:

"She shall be buried by her Antony.
No grave upon the earth shall clip in it
A pair so famous."

I'm not sure about Caesar. Maybe his personal instincts were always in competition with his political ones but, unlike Antony, he always had the personal under political control. Maybe he can afford to indulge his personal admiration now that A & C pose no political threat. I go back to 5;1 35 - 48, especially

"I must perforce
have shown to thee such a declining day
Or look on thine - we could not stall together
In the whole world."

I get the sense that A. and Caesar represented different possibilities, different life choices - back to the Rome / Egypt dichotomy around which this whole play has been revolving. A. could so easily have been like Caesar, were it not for the enchantment of C. At the end of the play, do we feel that she enabled him to find himself, or lured him away from himself?

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