The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra details the affair between Antony of Roman fame and Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, and the ensuing complications that arise from the triumvirate that was formed after the assassination of Julius Caesar.
After the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 B.C., Antony, Octavius, and Lepidus form a new triumvirate to rule the Roman Empire. Antony, however, is not all that interested in ruling; instead, he spends most of his time in Alexandria with his lover, Cleopatra. While he is away, Pompey begins to make motions against the triumvirate, suggesting he might be considering a war; Antony’s wife also dies. A displeased Octavius and Lepidus send for Antony to return to Rome. Antony and Octavius decide to forge an alliance by having Antony marry Octavia, Octavius’ sister. The triumvirate, united again, form a peace treaty with Pompey, but as soon as Antony and Octavia leave Rome, Octavius attacks and defeats Pompey and imprisons Lepidus as a traitor. Meanwhile, Cleopatra discovers Antony’s marriage and is jealous, but is willing to wait for him to return.
Antony sends Octavia back to Rome and returns to Alexandria to be with Cleopatra. Octavius, now Caesar, is enraged by Anthony’s treatment of his sister and raises an army to attack Antony. Antony and Cleopatra’s forces are defeated at sea. There are tensions between Antony and Cleopatra after the war, with Antony placing blame on Cleopatra’s ships, and not trusting her with Caesar’s demands.
Finally, the pair prepare to do battle one last time with Caesar, against Antony’s good friend Enobarbus’ advice. They win a battle, but Enobarbus’ desertion and death strikes a blow to Antony’s spirit. In his final defeat, Antony becomes convinced that Cleopatra betrayed him to Caesar’s army. Cleopatra flees to her family’s tomb and sends out fake word that she is dead. Wracked with grief, Antony falls on his own sword, but he does not immediately die. He is brought to Cleopatra’s family tomb where they are able to see each other as Antony dies in her arms.
Caesar promises Cleopatra that she will be treated well in Rome, but she is warned by another woman not to believe him. Rather than be paraded through the streets of Rome in chains, Cleopatra and her attendants have poisonous snakes brought in to kill themselves. Antony and Cleopatra are buried together.
Date Published: 1607
Major Themes: Betrayal; Duty and Patriotism; Deceit and Suspicion
Famous Quote: “I have seen her die twenty times upon far poorer moment. I do think there is mettle in death which commits some loving act upon her, she hath such a celerity in dying.”