Although Shakespeare was well acquainted with the history and literature of his day and of preceding centuries, he did not hesitate to amend the known facts of history, if it served his dramatic purposes. Antony and Cleopatra was not well received when it was first produced. Since then, Antony and Cleopatra has grown in favor with both producers and readers. Modern productions have received considerably better reviews, on the whole, than any that were published during the playwright’s lifetime.
Antony and Cleopatra is the second in a trilogy of Roman plays (the first was Julius Caesar; the third, Coriolanus); Shakespeare wrote about an era some 1700 years before his own time. His main source of historical information was Plutarch, whose biographies of great Greeks and Romans has remained a staple of literature for nearly 2,000 years and is still read today.
The famous first triumvirate of Rome—consisting of Julius Caesar, Marcus Crassus, and Pompey the Great—dissolved with the conspiracy of Brutus, Cassius and others against Julius Caesar, and resulted in his assassination. Crassus was murdered by the Parthians, and Pompey the Great was defeated in an uprising against Rome. Following the death of Julius Caesar, the second triumvirate came into being and consisted of Octavius (the adopted son and designated heir of Julius Caesar), Mark Antony, and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus. The members of the...
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Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*Egypt. Located on the outskirts of the vast Roman Empire, the Egypt of 30 b.c.e. is portrayed as an exotic land of mystery, fecundity, extravagance, and unconventional behavior, where the Nile River rises and falls to signal the crudely designed planting and harvest seasons, and open sexual experimentation includes transvestism. Cleopatra embodies Egypt in her wildly extravagant behavior and passion. As one of Rome’s three rulers after the death of Julius Caesar, Mark Antony has been sent in a period of political instability to govern Egypt but soon wavers in his commitment to Roman values and falls in love with Cleopatra. As the scenes shift rapidly between Cleopatra’s palace in Alexandria and various locations in Rome, Italy, and Greece, the shifting of place symbolizes the conflict of values in Antony’s mind. In act 1, Antony feels guilty about his un-Roman behavior and temporarily returns to Rome, where he marries Octavia to strengthen his political power, but he soon quarrels with Octavius, his fellow triumvir, and returns to Egypt in act 3. As Antony battles Octavius for political power, the scenes shift rapidly between Cleopatra’s palace and various battle scenes in the eastern part of the empire until Antony finally loses the political struggle with Octavius.
*Rome. Rome is seen in the play as the center of a highly ordered and established civilization with stately political and social...
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Act I, Scenes 1 and 2: Questions and Answers
1. Who were the triumvirs who formed the second triumvirate of Rome following the death of Julius Caesar?
2. Why did Mark Antony consider himself at least partially justified in taking an extended “vacation” in Egypt?
3. The Soothsayer in this play performs what function?
4. Mark Antony tends to hold Octavius in contempt. Why? How do we know that he holds such feelings toward Octavius?
5. Why was Octavius so anxious for Mark Antony to return to Rome?
6. Demetrius and Philo perform what extremely important function in the first scene?
7. The Soothsayer carefully absolves himself from causing or even affecting the outcome of...
(The entire section is 405 words.)
Act I, Scene 3: Questions and Answers
1. What was Cleopatra’s attitude toward Fulvia?
2. Antony says, “I am sorry to give breathing to my purpose.” What was his purpose, and what did he mean by giving “breathing” to it?
3. Why was he sorry to have to do that?
4. Cleopatra asks Charmian to “Cut my lace.” To what was she referring?
5. Why would she want her “lace” cut?
6. Cleopatra, discussing their relationship with Antony, says, “So Fulvia told me.” What did Fulvia tell her, and how?
7. What did Antony mean when he said to Cleopatra, “You’ll heat my blood”?
8. Cleopatra says to Antony, “Upon your sword/Sit laurel victory” To...
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Act I, Scenes 4 and 5: Questions and Answers
1. Which of the three triumvirs was considered so weak as to be almost totally ineffective?
2. What passage in the first act is our first clue to his weakness and ineffectiveness?
3. At what point in the first act, other than the prophecy of the Soothsayer, do we find foreshadowing of the coming conflict between Mark Antony and Octavius (Caesar)?
4. Cleopatra’s feelings toward Mark Antony tend to vary throughout the play. Although she tries to convince him to receive the delegation from Octavius, she finally approves his return to Rome and strongly upbraids her companions for what she considers a derogatory comment about him. What was the comment?
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Act II, Scenes 1 and 2: Questions and Answers
1. Why did Mark Antony return to Rome from Egypt?
2. What reasons did he give Octavius for not returning sooner?
3. Name two major accusations Octavius brought against Antony.
4. Why was Lepidus anxious to prevent any antagonism between Octavius and Antony from developing?
5. From which character(s), other than Enobarbus, did Lepidus receive the most help in allaying the controversy between the two men?
6. For what comment was Enobarbus severely rebuked by Antony, and why?
7. Why did Agrippa want Octavia to marry Antony?
8. What was Antony’s comment about Fulvia when Octavius commented derogatorily on her actions?...
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Act II, Scenes 3, 4, and 5: Questions and Answers
1. The Soothsayer reappears here. What advice does he give to Antony?
2. Before Ventidius enters, Antony utters a short soliloquy in which he makes two important statements. What are they?
3. In Scene 4, Lepidus says to Agrippa and Mecenas, “Trouble yourselves no further.” What, in fact, is he telling these two men?
4. In the opening lines of Scene 5, to what does Cleopatra (humorously) compare Antony?
5. What message does the messenger bring to Cleopatra?
6. Why is Cleopatra afraid to hear the message?
7. With what does Cleopatra threaten the messenger?
8. How does Charmian react to the exchange between the queen...
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Act II, Scenes 6 and 7: Questions and Answers
1. Did Menas exhibit strong confidence in Pompey’s actions in accepting the triumvirate’s offer of peace?
2. In the opening line of Scene 6, Pompey says, “Your hostages I have, and so have you mine.” What are the hostages and why would Pompey and the triumvirate have them?
3. Explain why Antony, in Scene 6, tells Pompey that “Thou canst not fear us.”
4. When Menas and Enobarbus, alone on the stage after the others have exited, discuss the situation, of what do they accuse each other?
5. To whom was Octavia married before she married Mark Antony?
6. What is Enobarbus’ opinion of the marriage between Antony and Octavia?
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Act III, Scene 1: Questions and Answers
1. Why was Antony so anxious to conquer Parthia and its king, Orodes?
2. What particular function does Silius perform in this scene?
3. What did Silius want Ventidius to do?
4. Why did Ventidius refuse to do it?
5. What did Ventidius plan to do immediately after his victory?
6. What was the most pressing message Ventidius intended to send to Antony, other than informing him of the victory, and why was that message of supreme importance?
7. Ventidius says, “Caesar and Antony have ever won/More in their officer than person.” What did he mean?
8. Who was Sossius?
9. Silius says, “Thou hast, Ventidius,...
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Act III, Scenes 2, 3, and 4: Questions and Answers
1.Who are Agrippa and Enobarbus discussing in Scene 2?
2. Why does Lepidus praise both Octavius and Antony?
3. Why does Octavius weep when Antony and Octavia leave?
4. Where are Antony and Octavia going?
5. Whom does Octavius express his distrust of?
6. What mission does Cleopatra give her messenger?
7. Why is Cleopatra concerned about Octavia?
8. In Scene 4, Why is Antony angry at Octavius?
9. Why does Octavia wish to go to Rome?
10. Why does Antony grant Octavia’s wish?
1. Enobarbus and Agrippa are discussing Lepidus.
2. Lepidus praises both...
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Act III, Scenes 5, 6, and 7: Questions and Answers
1. What is learned in Scene 5 about what happened to Lepidus?
2. Why was Octavius angry with Octavia when she returned to Rome?
3. Octavius blamed Antony for this lack of courtesy to Octavia, but was it Antony’s fault?
4. Why does Octavius tell Octavia to turn against her husband?
5. Why does Enobarbus, in Scene 7, attempt to get Cleopatra to return from Actium (in Greece) to Egypt?
6. It appears that Octavius is looking for ways to justify his defeat and capture of Antony. Why would he want to do that?
7. Why does Antony decide to fight Octavius (Caesar) at sea?
8. Camidius says, “His whole action grows/Not in the...
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Act III, Scenes 8-11: Questions and Answers
1. What instructions did Octavius give his general, Towrus?
2. Why did he decide to so instruct Towrus?
3. What is the first indication that Antony has lost this battle?
4. Why did Antony leave his men and go in search of Cleopatra?
5. What decision does Camidius, Antony’s commander, make?
6. What instructions does Antony give after the battle is lost?
7. What sad comment does Antony make about himself?
8. Does Antony blame Cleopatra for his defeat?
9. How does she reply to his comments? Are the replies justified?
10. How does Antony react to her comments?
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Act III, Scenes 12 and 13: Questions and Answers
1. Whom does Antony send as an emissary to Octavius (Caesar)? Why?
2. What response does Octavius give the emissary?
3. When Antony challenges Octavius to a sword duel to settle the matter between them, does he believe Octavius will accept the challenge? Why?
4. What is Enobarbus’ opinion of Antony’s challenge to Octavius?
5. What action does Enobarbus contemplate as a response to Antony’s challenge to Octavius?
6. Why does Antony order the servants to whip Thidias?
7. Did Thidias ask for mercy during the whipping?
8. Who was the “Caesarion” that Cleopatra mentions in her response to Antony’s charge that she...
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Act IV, Scenes 1, 2, and 3: Questions and Answers
1. At the end of Scene 1, Octavius (Caesar) exclaims, “Poor Antony!” Why?
2. Two interchanges of “asides” between Enobarbus and Cleopatra occur close together in Scene 2. About what is Cleopatra worried?
3. What does Antony mean by the line, “Scant not my cups.”
4. For what does Enobarbus mildly rebuke his friend and ¬general?
5. How does Antony reply to this rebuke?
6. To what or whom does the term “my hearts” near the end of Scene 2 refer?
7. In Scene 3, what do the soldiers hear that surprises them?
8. Why were the soldiers on guard that night?
9. They attribute what they hear as an evil...
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Act IV, Scenes 4, 5, and 6: Questions and Answers
1. Antony was successful in the early fighting described in this act, whereas he had failed miserably in the fighting described in Act III. Why was Antony so successful in Act IV, when he was so unsuccessful in Act III?
2. Antony says to Cleopatra, “Thou art/The armourer of my heart.” Why does he mildly and lovingly reprove the queen with that remark?
3. How does Cleopatra feel as she utters the last three lines of Scene 4?
4. What loving act does Antony perform in Scene 5 before the great battle begins?
5. How does Shakespeare’s portrayal of this act exhibit his feelings about Antony?
6. Octavius (Caesar), in Scene 6, performs an ugly...
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Act IV, Scenes 7, 8, and 9: Questions and Answers
1. What is the meaning of Agrippa’s comment at the opening of Scene 7?
2. How does Scarrus react to the existing situation?
3. What does Scarrus mean by saying, “I’ll halt after”?
4. What did Antony mean by referring to “Hectors” at the beginning of Scene 8?
5. What does Cleopatra promise Scarrus for his bravery and valiant behavior?
6. In Scene 9, what is Enobarbus’ attitude?
7. Why did Enobarbus die?
8. Octavius’ soldiers overhear Enobarbus’ soliloquy just before his death. What is their reaction to what he is saying?
9. What does the sentry mean by saying, “He is of note”?
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Act IV, Scenes 10, 11, and 12: Questions and Answers
1. The later fighting in Act IV was disastrous to Antony for two highly important reasons. What were they?
2. In Scene 10, what does Antony mean when he says, “I would they’d fight i’th’fire or i’th’air”?
3. At the beginning of Scene 12, Scarrus says, “Swallows have built/In Cleopatra’s sails their nests.” What does he mean?
4. What is the meaning of Scarrus’ comment about the “augurers”?
5. Antony, seeing Cleopatra’s ships once again give up the fight, but this time defect to Octavius (Caesar), calls Cleopatra a “Triple-turned whore.” To what is he referring?
6. Antony tells Scarrus to “Bid them all fly.”...
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Act IV, Scenes 13 and 14: Questions and Answers
1. What advice does Charmian give Cleopatra after Antony has threatened to kill the queen?
2. What is Cleopatra’s reaction to Antony’s threat?
3. Why does Cleopatra retire to her monument (tomb)? What does this action indicate about her character?
4. Who brings the news of Cleopatra’s “death” to Antony?
5. What is Antony’s reply to the emissary?
6. What is the essence of Antony’s soliloquy after Eros has left the stage temporarily?
7. Why does Mark Antony decide to die at that particular time?
8. How does Eros avoid the bitterly unpleasant task of killing his beloved Mark Antony when he had promised years...
(The entire section is 358 words.)
Act IV, Scene 15: Questions and Answers
1. Why does Cleopatra refuse to come down from her monument to kiss the dying Antony one last time? Is this an indication of her character or of her true feelings about Antony?
2. What does Cleopatra do instead of emerging from her monument?
3. Cleopatra says, “If knife, drugs, serpents, have/Edge, sting, or operation, I am safe.” What does she mean?
4. Cleopatra says, a few lines later, “Had I great Juno’s power,/The strong-winged Mercury should fetch thee up/And set thee by Jove’s side.” About whom is she talking?
5. Whom does Antony, before he dies, tell the queen to trust?
6. What advice does he give the queen at that time?...
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Act V, Scenes 1 and 2: Questions and Answers
1. What, if any, was the international significance of Antony’s death?
2. Why was Octavius (Caesar) anxious to prevent Cleopatra’s death?
3. What did Dolabella do for Cleopatra that no other of Octavius’ officers or soldiers did for her?
4. What was Octavius’ approach to Cleopatra after he learned that Antony was dead? Does this approach shed any light on his character, which Shakespeare developed throughout the play? If so, what?
5. What was Cleopatra’s reaction to Octavius and his emissaries?
6. Did Octavius intend to kill Cleopatra later?
7. What was the threat Procleius made to Cleopatra to disuade her from committing...
(The entire section is 423 words.)
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Bloom, Harold, ed. Modern Critical Interpretations: William Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra.” New York: Chelsea House, 1988. Bloom’s concise anthology of major Shakespeare criticism of the 1970’s and 1980’s judiciously samples postmodernist, new historicist, feminist, and deconstructionist discussions of Antony and Cleopatra. See especially the essays by Jonathan Dollimore, Linda Bamber, and Laura Quinney.
Charney, Maurice. Shakespeare’s Roman Plays. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1961. Chapter 3, the centerpiece of Charney’s influential book, brilliantly analyzes the imagery of Antony...
(The entire section is 260 words.)