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William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra
When Antony and Cleopatra begins, Antony, Octavius Caesar, and Lepidus share control of the Roman Empire about a decade after the death of Julius Caesar. Antony, stationed in Alexandria, has fallen in love with the notoriously beautiful and passionate Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra. Their relationship prompts much criticism from Roman rulers and soldiers who accuse Antony of abandoning his duties.
Caesar and Antony find their relationship even more strained when Antony’s estranged wife, Fulvia, raises an army against Caesar. When Fulvia dies, Antony is forced to return to Rome and settle his affairs. To strengthen his alliance with Caesar, Antony agrees to marry Caesar’s sister, Octavia. Antony, Caesar, and Lepidus also confront Pompey, a pirate with a grudge against the rulers. Antony helps arrange a peace deal and the entire group is invited to a raucous party on Pompey’s ship.
Back in Egypt, Cleopatra flies into a rage when she learns of Antony’s marriage, but also predicts he will soon return to her. As Antony and Octavia set off for Athens, Antony discovers Caesar has broken their agreements by attacking Pompey and plotting to kill Lepidus. Octavia returns to her brother in Rome while Antony travels to Egypt to gather his loyal soldiers. Antony and Cleopatra reunite.
Caesar declares war on Egypt. Despite warnings to stick to land battles, Antony unwisely chooses to battle Caesar’s navy. Through messengers, Caesar suggests that Cleopatra should change her alliance and kill Antony, but Antony learns of this proposal. Enraged, Antony leads his forces in a second battle and wins. A third battle is on the horizon when misgivings cause many of Antony’s fighters to desert, including Antony’s dearest friend, Enobarbus. Deeply saddened, Antony sends Enobarbus all his treasure. Such a noble and touching act causes Enobarbus to die of shame.
In the last sea battle, the Egyptian navy abandons the fight, causing Antony to think Cleopatra has betrayed him. Offended, Cleopatra spreads the false rumor that she committed suicide. As events spin out of control, Cleopatra retreats to her monument and is joined by the wounded Antony. Fearing Caesar will capture her and march her through the streets of Rome in a humiliating spectacle, Cleopatra takes a final desperate action to preserve her proud reputation.
Antony and Cleopatra’s World
Map courtesy of the Royal Shakespeare Company
The action in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra crisscrosses the Mediterranean Sea with pivotal conflicts in the vast Roman Empire ruled by Mark Antony, Marcus Lepidus, and Octavius Caesar. There is always a region to defend or conquer -- sometimes jealously and from each other. In a great battle outside Philippi (in Macedonia), Antony and Caesar align against Lepidus and victoriously divide the spoils. Octavius returns to Rome to rule the West, where he is vexed by a festering enemy in Sicily, Sextus Pompey. Meanwhile, Antony controls the East but not independent Egypt, coveted for its fertile land. After Cleopatra sails into his heart, he basks in the good life when not called to defend his Eastern border against Parthia (Iran). But civil war will shake the Roman Empire again, pitting Caesar against Antony at Actium and again at Alexandria.