illustration of Antony and Cleopatra facing each other with a snake wrapped around their necks

Antony and Cleopatra

by William Shakespeare
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Can you give me a description of the characters of Antony and Cleopatra?

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Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra are complex characters. History holds that they are epitomes of rather self-serving, conceited individuals, bent on their passions for one another. However, Shakespeare gives them more dimension. First, Antony lives for the moment, and encourages his fellow triumvir, Octavius, to be also " a child o’th’ time” (act 2, scene vii). Nevertheless, Antony is not without the mark of loyalty. He resents Octavius for breaking a truce and waging war against Sextus Pompey (act 3, scene iv). Antony also demonstrates humility, for example, after unsuccessfully battling Octavius at Actium, he tells his troops to abandon him and take his treasure:

"Friends, be gone;

I have myself resolved upon a course

Which has no need of you; be gone:

My treasure's in the harbour, take it."

(act 3, scene xi)

Shakespeare's highly differentiated portrait of Antony makes him a more complex character, despite the mar on the historical historical Antony (chiefly for abandoning his duties with the triumvirate in Rome).

Cleopatra is an interesting character, as she is a strong and independent leader of Egypt, but she is also particularly shallow. When told of Antony's (strategic) marriage to Octavia (sister of Octavius), she is assuaged when told that Octavia's hair is [b]rown, madam: and her forehead/ As low as she would wish it." (act 3, scene i). Cleopatra is also cunning. After abandoning Octavian in a sea battle, she instructs her lady-in-waiting, Charmian to tell Antony she has "slain [her]self," to return to his good graces. Cleopatra's pride and love for Antony is proven at the play's conclusion, when she applies an asp to her breast in order to kill herself truly, having seen Antony (ironically) kill himself on account of her.

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