Antony and Cleopatra

Type: 
Tragedy
First Performed: 
1606-07
First Printed: 
1623
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When valour plays on reason
It eats the sword it fights with.

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Inspired by real events in ancient Rome, Shakespeare creates a powerful tragedy that exposes the penalty for emotional betrayal, political scandal, and corrupt leadership. With the torrid affair of Roman Marc Antony and Egyptian Queen Cleopatra at the center of this tale, the play traces the epic tragedy that results from this tumultuous relationship and ultimate betrayal.

After the death of Julius Caesar, Rome is beset with political and military unrest near the end of the Roman Republic, as Octavius Caesar, Lepidus, and Antony together attempt to rule the crumbling civilization. Antony, however, is distracted by his passion, and spends much time in Egypt with his beloved Cleopatra. A rift between Octavius and Antony widens, despite Antony's promise to wed Octavius' sister Octavia. After the wedding, Antony falls victim to his passion for Cleopatra yet again, and leaves for Egypt while a furious Octavius threatens revenge to honor his sister.

Numerous battles ensue, at sea and on land, and when ultimately Antony is forced to retreat, he accuses Cleopatra of treachery and betrayal. To save herself, Cleopatra leaves and feigns suicide. Antony believes she has died and falls on his own sword in grief. As he lies dying, a still alive Cleopatra returns and pledges her love, before truly taking her own life by allowing herself to be bitten by a poisonous asp. Octavius, in an act of kindness and mercy, decrees that the two lovers shall be buried together.