Study Guide

Antony and Cleopatra

by William Shakespeare

Antony and Cleopatra Themes

Themes

Upon learning of the death of his cohort and foe, Augustus Caesar says of Antony's demise:

The breaking of so great a thing should make
A greater crack: the round world
Should have shook lions into civil streets,
And citizens to their dens. The death of Antony
Is not a single doom; in the name lay
A moiety of the world.
(V.i.14-18)

A politician by trade and heart, Caesar's words resound with Mark Antony's own funeral orations over the deaths of Julius Caesar and Brutus in the earlier Shakespearean tragedy Julius Caesar. But while Caesar is not to be taken at his word and is given to borrowed rhetorical exaggeration in service of his own advancement, here his words ring true. Above all, the dominant sense of the play is not so much a product of thematic content as it is of the sheer scope of the events taking place. Antony, Cleopatra, and Augustus Caesar are all giants, historical heroes whose lives ripple throughout the world for centuries. They are world rulers of unsurpassed historical importance, "planetary" characters with the power, will and talent to shake heaven and earth.

As Caesar's use of the word "moiety" connotes ("moiety" means "half"), the world of Antony and Cleopatra is divided into two, contrasting but complementary spheres. There is the Roman world from which Antony hales and in which Caesar ultimately triumphs. This is a world of rational politics, of reason, and of personal (especially military) honor, all of these being attributes of a western and "masculine" society. Cleopatra's world in Egypt is dominated by passion, by sensory pleasure, and by an "eastern/feminine" weakness associated with deception.

While each of these sides—Roman and Egyptian—has its virtues and its failings, Fortune is on the side of the former. In Act II, scene ii, the soothsayer predicts that Caesar will rise higher than...

(The entire section is 780 words.)

Antony and Cleopatra Advanced Themes

Language and Imagery
Antony and Cleopatra is distinguished among Shakespeare's plays for its lush, evocative language. Some...

(The entire section is 1337 words.)