Antony and Cleopatra Summary

The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra is one of Shakespeare’s pieces, which refer to Roman period of history. It offers us to deal with a widely known tale of Cleopatra, the beautiful queen of Egypt, and Marc Antony, the triumvir of Rome.

At the beginning of the play Cleopatra’s affair with late Julius Caesar is left behind, and now the queen enjoys her relations with young and handsome Marc Antony. The honored Roman became so engulfed in this voluptuousness that he had completely forgotten his duties of the triumvir. The situation in Rome is completely out of his control and care: Antony ignores everything that goes on in homeland, including the war of his third wife, Fulvia, with Octavius Caesar, his fellow triumvir, and her recent death. Obviously tired of all this, Octavius calls Antony from Alexandria, urging him to come back and deal with all complications, including pirates of Mediterranean led by Sextus Pompeii. The latter one has his own claims to lay to current triumvirs, because he is the son of Pompeii, a former triumvir of Rome who ruled together with Julius Caesar. Cleopatra is anxious about Antony’s leaving and tries to persuade him to stay with her. In spite of all her efforts, Antony claims that he loves her but leaves anyway.
In Rome we see two current triumvirs, Octavius and Antony, trying to put their disagreements aside, at least for a while. The decision is completely in the spirit of those times: a marriage of Antony and Octavius’s sister, Octavia, should seal the deal and make peace between two triumvirs. One can just pity a poor girl who, from now, would be torn between her husband and brother. Antony’s lieutenant, Enobarbus, muses that plain Octavia would never satisfy Antony after he dealt with brilliant Cleopatra, the woman who both satisfies and makes a man hungry at the same time.

Almost right after the agreement of marriage, Antony meets the soothsayer who warns that he will lose every time he tries to fight with Octavius.

In Egypt, Cleopatra receives the news about Antony’s marriage and, quite expectedly, is furious now. The innocent messenger is badly whipped. The queen calms down a little when she learns that Octavia is homely, round-faced woman with bad hair, so she cannot vie Cleopatra in attempts to win Antony’s love and affection.

Three triumvirs of Rome, Octavius, Antony and Lepidus, negotiate with Sextus Pompeii, trying to avoid further battles. They make him a generous offer: they propose Sicily and Sardinia for him to rule. In exchange they want his help in riddance of Mediterranean pirates and payment of natural tax to Rome in wheat. Pompeii accepts their offer and a drunken party on the board follows. In course of this celebration Octavius leaves early and sober, while Lepidus drinks heavily and falls unconscious. One of Pompeii’s men, Menas, suggests that it is a good opportunity to kill all three triumvirs and rule the Roman Republic, but Pompeii refuses, thinking this would be dishonorable. After this, Antony leaves for Athens with his wife, and Octavius and Lepidus break their promise and renew the war with Sextus. 

Outraged and angered by this deed, Antony leaves for Alexandria, where he reunites with lovely Cleopatra. The noble couple crowns themselves as rules of Egypt and eastern part of the Roman Republic. Mutual accusations between Octavius (who successfully imprisoned Lepidus) and Antony follow. Casus belli occurs.

The war goes on the sea, and Cleopatra not only gives her fleet to Antony, but also insists to accompany him in the battle. Enobarbus tries to advice Antony to fight on the land, for the reason that Roman fleet is much more mobile and maneuverable than Egyptian one, but Antony refuses to respect his opinion.

In course of the battle Cleopatra decides to leave, all of a sudden, and takes her sixty ships along. She does it in a fit of blind panic and, quite unexpectedly for her, Antony follows “the master of his heart”, caring for battle and his people no more. 

A messenger from Octavius arrives and makes to Cleopatra a simple offer: to change her side. While Cleopatra, a clever woman (when she is not overwhelmed by her emotions), hesitates and unconsciously starts flirting with the messenger, Antony enters and throws a scandal. The messenger is whipped, Cleopatra is forgiven (of course).

Another battle is due, this time on land. On its eve a guard hears strange sounds, some kind of music, which is immediately interpreted as a bad omen, meaning that Heracles (Antony’s supposed ancestor) is leaving his descendant without any support. Meanwhile Enobarbus, who had witnessed the flirting and came to a conclusion that even Cleopatra had abandoned poor Antony, silently flees to Octavius. Instead of chastising him harshly, Antonius sends him his belongings left behind. Witnessing his patron’s generosity, Enobarbus repents his infidelity and dies of a broken heart.

The final battle is lost, the greater part of Antony’s troops deserts him. He suspects that Cleopatra had betrayed him at last, and decides to kill her. Cleopatra locks herself in a monument and makes a desperate attempt to stay alive and keep Antony at her side, sending him a message about her suicide. This has a shocking effect and Antony, heart-broken and humiliated, attempts a suicide of his own. He fails even at this, poor soul. While he is badly and fatally wounded, he receives a message that Cleopatra is very much alive. He is taken to her monument and dies in her embrace.

Octavius sends another offer to Cleopatra, urging her to surrender. The queen fiercely refuses but is betrayed and taken to the custody. During questioning, she states that she had given all her wealth to Octavius, but her treasurer interrupts with a report that there is more. Emotionally beaten, facing the perspective of parading at Octavius’s triumph, Cleopatra arranges her suicide for real, using the asps, delivered to her in a basket of fruits. Her two maids die too, Iras of a broken heart and Charmian of another asp. Octavius is left with a heap of bodies and controversial emotions about all what happened. He is victorious and can rule the Rome Empire on his own, but he also grieves about the noble couple and orders to arrange a public funeral of Cleopatra near Antony.