The Roman hero Antony and the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra (both seasoned and infamous; he for military prowess and charisma, she for having seduced two previous monarchs who conquered her country) conduct a passionate affair that is frowned on by Rome. It distracts Antony so that he does not safeguard his power as emperor, which is shared with the weak Lepidus and the ruthless Octavius. An alliance binding the three is attempted in Act II, which includes the arranged marriage of Antony and Octavius' sister, but it disintegrates as Antony follows his heart back to Egypt, thus offending Octavius on behalf of his sister. He uses it as an excuse to open war on Antony, and as the battle of Actium is fought at the end of Act III, the lovers' fortunes seem doomed. Having lost the battle, they also lose trust in each other as Antony catches Cleopatra flirting with a deputation from Octavius. Although they have a temporary respite when Antony's forces win an insignificant battle, the pair are defeated and Antony falteringly tries to commit suicide, believing Cleopatra to be dead (having been falsely informed as part of a ploy by Cleopatra to win his sympathy). Antony finally dies having been hauled up into Cleopatra's 'monument' (her sepulchre, or pyramid). There, Cleopatra - now with only her handmaids - ascertains that her Roman conquerors will treat her cruelly, and then arranges a stately death for herself, thus outwitting them. In terms of scale the play tightens in as the first few acts range all over the Roman Empire, mainly from Rome to Egypt, but as Octavius gains control the play's setting grows more claustrophobic: Act V takes place directly around or inside Cleopatra's pyramid. The play's main tensions may be seen to be between Roman rigidity, decorum and control, and Egyptian fluidity, passion and spontaneity: Antony cannot survive divided between these two elements.

Probable date of composition: Between 1605 and 1608

Sources: Notably North's translation of Plutarch's Parallel Lives of the Greeks and Romans. Plutarch was a 1st century biographer and moralist who provided Shakespeare with material used in many plays such as A Midsummer Night's Dream, Julius Caesar, and Timon of Athens. Both Plutarch and Shakespeare were concerned with how the personal lives and personalities of those in power affected wide-reaching events in history. The Countess of Pembroke's Antoine (1792) was perhaps useful in suggesting how to dramatise the life of Antony.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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