Antony and Cleopatra: by Shakespeare - Summary

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      Antony and Cleopatra, is a tragedy by William Shakespeare published in the first folio of 1623. The sole source is sir Thomas North's translation of Plutarch, on which it releases for much of the language as well as for the story.

      Infatuated with Cleopatra, Antony neglects his duties as a Roman triumvir and lingers in Alexandria. Only when news of Pompey’s rebellion is added to news of the death of Antony’s own wife, Fulvia, does he decide, despite Cleopatra’s pleas, to leave for Rome with his loyal general, Enobarbus. The uneasy triumvirate of the scheming Octavius Caesar, the foolish Lepidus and the hedonistic Antony is patched up, and Antony agrees to marry Octavius’s sister, Octavia. Even Pompey accepts peace tenns. Abandoned in Alexandria, Cleopatra beats the messenger who brings news of Antony’s marriage.

      In Athens with Octavia, Antony hears that Octavius has ridiculed him and sent an army against Pompey. Octavia returns to Rome on a peace mission, and Antony goes back to Egypt and Cleopatra. There he promises the eastern provinces of the Roman empire to her and her children. Given such a pretext for open hostility, Octavius embarks his anny. Against advice from Enobarbus, Antony combines with the Egyptian fleet to engage Octavius at sea. The battle at Actium is turned into a fiasco when Cleopatra’s ships flee and Antony follows her back to Egypt.

      In despair, Enobarbus deserts Antony. More at home in a land battle, Antony recovers his firmness of purpose, but, after an initial victory, he is again drawn into defeat by the Egyptian army’s defection. The fearful Cleopatra hides in her monument and sends Antony a message that she is dead. Defeated and despairing, he falls on his sword, and is carried to the monument, where he dies in Cleopatra’s arms. Octavius visits Cleopatra and leaves confident that she will return as his prisoner to Rome. But Cleopatra achieves a new dignity at last, robbing Octavius of his triumph (over Antony as well as her) by arranging for her own death. She has deadly asps smuggled into the monument, dresses herself in her finest robes, and holds the asps to her body. The outwitted Octavius concedes that she be buried with Antony.

      Shakespeare’s imagination was excited by the contrast between Egyptian opulence and Roman regulation, and he portrays Antony as a man torn between love and duty. The triumph of love is complete only when Cleopatra finds the resolution to kill herself. Richer in language and imagery than the Roman tragedies, Julius Caesar and Coriolanus, with which it is inevitably associated, Antony and Cleopatra is more appropriately viewed as one of the group of great tragedies Shakespeare wrote 1603 than as part of a scattered group of Roman plays.

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