Act 1, Scene 1
Antony and Cleopatra begins in Cleopatra’s palace in Alexandria. Demetrius and Philo, two of Antony’s veteran soldiers, complain that Antony’s infatuation with Cleopatra has had a bad effect on his qualities as a general. They see him as a great warrior transformed by his passion into a harlot’s slave. Antony enters with Cleopatra and her maids, and a messenger from Rome arrives. Cleopatra taunts Antony, saying that maybe his wife, Fulvia, is angry with him, or perhaps the young Octavius Caesar has some orders for him. But Antony will not even hear the messenger. He appears only to be interested in indulging his love for Cleopatra and seeking out pleasure. He has forgotten his role as a Roman general.
Act 1, Scene 2
Cleopatra’s two maids-in-waiting, Charmian and Iras, ask a Soothsayer to tell them their fortunes. When he ominously suggests that they will not live long, the women misinterpret his warnings and instead joke about their good luck. Meanwhile, Antony hears of separate battles being waged against Octavius Caesar—one of which was started by Antony’s wife, Fulvia. That war is now over, but another warrior, Labienus, leader of the Parthians, is making widespread conquests while Antony idles his time away in Egypt, neglecting his duty as one of the three rulers of the Roman Empire. After another messenger tells him of Fulvia’s death, Antony berates himself for being enchanted by Cleopatra and decides to return to his duties in Rome. He tells his man Enobarbus that he regrets ever setting eyes on Cleopatra and informs him of the dire military situation. Sextus Pompeius is in full rebellion against Caesar and has control of the seas. The common people are flocking to him in support, and the empire may be in danger.
Act 1, Scene 3
Cleopatra is hurt and angered by this news. She rails at Antony for betraying her while he tries to explain the dire situation in Rome. When he tells her calmly of Fulvia’s death, thinking she will be pleased with this news, she taunts him, saying that his lack of grief at the death of his wife shows her how coldly he will react to her own death, when it comes. Antony insists that even though he is returning to Rome, his heart remains with Cleopatra. Cleopatra, although obviously distressed at the prospect of his imminent departure, relents and affectionately bids him farewell.
Act 1, Scene 4
Back in Rome, Octavius Caesar tells his fellow triumvir, Lepidus, that he is disgusted with Antony’s infatuation with Cleopatra and with his dissipation in Egypt. Word comes that Pompey is gathering more and more support in his military campaign against Caesar. A second messenger brings news that two more rebels in alliance with Pompey, Menecrates and Menas, are also having success at sea and are making inroads on Caesar’s power in Italy, rebelling against the triumvirate; Octavius once more laments that Antony is wasting his time and his reputation in Egypt. He and Lepidus announce that they will assemble a council and decide on a way to counter Pompey by sea and on land.
Act 1, Scene 5
In her palace in Alexandria, Cleopatra whiles away the time in Antony’s absence. She thinks of what he must do doing, and also recalls that in the past, she was the lover of Julius Caesar, and of one of the sons of Pompey the Great. Alexas, a messenger from Antony, arrives with the news that Antony has promised Cleopatra many lands in the east to rule over. Cleopatra is delighted to hear from Antony, and prepares to send him a greeting in return. She resolves to write to him several times a day.
Act 2, Scene 1
In Messina, at Pompey’s house, Pompey, Menecrates, and Menas discuss the military situation. Thinking that Antony will remain in Egypt, and having a low opinion of both Caesar and Lepidus, Pompey is confident of success. He is disturbed, however, when Menas informs him that Caesar and Lepidus have assembled a powerful army, and then outright concerned when Varrius brings the news that Antony is expected back in Rome shortly. However, Pompey knows that Antony and Caesar are not on good terms, and he keeps an open mind about whether they will patch up their differences and unite against him.
Act 2, Scene 2
Antony and Caesar meet in Rome at the house of Lepidus. Octavius Caesar complains that Antony’s wife and his brother made war on him, and that Antony supported them. Antony denies the charge, saying that he had as much cause to resent the rebellion as Caesar did. But Caesar then accuses him of remaining in Alexandria and breaking his oath to provide Caesar with military support when it was required. Antony responds by blaming Fulvia, his wife, claiming that she made war on Caesar with the purpose of enticing Antony away from Egypt. He seeks pardon from Caesar for this, even though it was none of his doing. Caesar seems unwilling to budge in his distaste for Antony until Agrippa proposes that Antony marry Octavia, Octavius Caesar’s sister. This will cement an alliance between Antony and Octavius. Both men agree to the match and are reconciled. After they exit, the followers of Antony and of Octavius chat among themselves, and Enobarbus predicts that despite his marriage to Octavia, Antony will never abandon Cleopatra.
Act 2, Scene 3
In Caesar’s house, Antony, who is now married to Octavia, pledges that from now on, he will behave more correctly. The Soothsayer warns Antony that Octavius will eclipse him in greatness as long as he stays with him in Rome. Antony knows this is true, and when he is alone he admits that he has married Octavia only to keep the peace; he is still enamored of Cleopatra and resolves to return to her.
Act 2, Scenes 4–5
As members of the triumvirate make preparations for war against Pompey, Cleopatra in Egypt hears of Antony’s marriage to Octavia. She is furious and beats the messenger who brought the news. Then she sends a messenger to Rome to find out whether Octavia is beautiful.
Act 2, Scene 6
Pompey meets with the triumvirate. Antony says they do not fear his formidable naval strength, and points out that on land Pompey’s forces are greatly outnumbered. Pompey agrees to accept the offer the triumvars have earlier presented him with. He is allowed to keep Sicily and Sardinia and agrees to rid the sea of pirates. He also agrees to send wheat to Rome.
Act 2, Scene 7
The triumvars and Pompey celebrate their successful negotiations with a feast aboard Pompey’s galley. Pompey’s ally, the pirate Menas, offers to assassinate the triumvirs while they are celebrating, which would then leave Pompey as the dominant force in the empire. Pompey rejects the idea. The celebrants, especially Lepidus, become increasingly drunk, and Octavius Caesar, who does not enjoy such occasions, suggests that it is time to go home.
Act 3, Scene 1
On a plain in Syria, Ventidius, one of Antony’s subordinates, and Silius, a soldier in Ventidius’s army, discuss their victory over the Parthians. Ventidius plans to write to Antony informing him of their success, but he does not want to appear to be too successful, because Antony may then regard him as a threat.
Act 3, Scene 2
As Antony and his new wife, Octavia, prepare to leave Rome, Octavius makes it clear to Antony that he still distrusts him. Antony promises that he will give no cause for distrust.
Act 3, Scene 3
Back in Egypt, Cleopatra’s messenger returns from Rome with the reassuring news that Octavia is unattractive. Cleopatra convinces herself that Antony will not stay with her for long.
Act 3, Scene 4
Meanwhile, now settled in Athens, Greece, Antony complains to Octavia that her brother has resumed warring with Pompey and has also begun slandering Antony. Octavia, torn with distress at this conflict between her brother and her husband, returns to Rome to mediate between Antony and Octavius. In the meantime, Antony says, he will raise an army that will be more than a match for any forces Octavius can muster.
Act 3, Scene 5
In the same house in Athens, Enobarbus reports to Eros that Octavius and Lepidus defeated Pompey and that thereafter, Octavius rid himself of Lepidus by accusing him of treason and imprisoning him.
Act 3, Scene 6
Back in Rome, Octavius is outraged at news that Antony has abandoned Octavia and returned to Cleopatra. He reports that in a great public ceremony, Antony made Cleopatra absolute queen not only of Egypt but also of Lower Syria, Cyprus, and Lydia. He gave other countries to his sons. Octavius also reports that Antony has accused Octavius of not giving him sufficient spoils from the defeat of Pompey, and of not returning some ships he loaned him. Antony is also unhappy about the deposing of Lepidus. Octavius has already replied to Antony’s complaints, offering him a share of some territory he has conquered, but demanding that Antony do the same with regard to the kingdoms he has conquered. Octavius also justifies his conduct in respect of Lepidus, saying that the latter deserved his fate. Octavia arrives to mediate between her brother and husband. She believes Antony is still in Athens, but Octavius informs her that he is in fact in Egypt with Cleopatra, and is preparing for war against his brother-in-law. Octavius tells his sister that Antony has formed a coalition with many powerful kings in order to defeat Octavius.
Act 3, Scene 7
At Antony’s camp near Actium, in Egypt, Cleopatra rejects Enobarbus’s protests that her presence on the battlefield will distract Antony rather than help him. She insists she will not stay behind. Antony enters, announcing that Octavius Caesar has challenged him to a sea battle at Actium. Enobarbus warns against it, saying that neither Antony’s ships nor his men are a match for Octavius’s battle-hardened veterans and nimble ships. When Antony insists, Enobarbus tries to convince him to fight on land, for which he is better prepared. But neither Antony nor Cleopatra will listen. Antony says that if they lose at sea, they can then defeat Octavius on land.
Act 3, Scenes 8–10
The warring fleets engage in battle, and Antony’s side gains the upper hand until Cleopatra’s ships retreat and Antony’s follow hers. His men are ashamed of what has happened, and many of them have deserted Antony and joined Caesar’s forces. Enobarbus says he will stick with Antony, although this goes against his better judgment.
Act 3, Scene 11
At Cleopatra’s palace in Alexandria, Antony is filled with shame for his retreat. He tells his attendants to desert him and make their peace with Octavius, but they affirm their loyalty to him.When Cleopatra enters, he bitterly reproaches her. She asks him to forgive her, saying that she never expected his ships to follow hers in retreat. He forgives her, even though he knows he is now humiliated, powerless and virtually at the mercy of Octavius.
Act 3, Scene 12
At Caesar’s camp, Antony’s messenger reports that Antony requests to be allowed to retire to Egypt or, if that not be granted, to live as a private citizen in Athens. Cleopatra requests that her sons be allowed to succeed her. Caesar rejects Antony’s proposal and instead sends his ambassador, Thidias, to bribe Cleopatra so that she will betray Antony.
Act 3, Scene 13
Antony sends a message to Octavius, challenging him to single combat. Enobarbus knows Octavius will not accept the challenge and comments that Antony has lost his judgment. Thidias arrives and tries to persuade Cleopatra to leave Antony. Cleopatra tells Thidias to convey to Caesar that she lays her crown at his feet; she then allows Thidias to kiss her hand. When Antony enters and sees this, he becomes enraged; he orders Thidias to be whipped and then berates Cleopatra. His men bring back Thidias, who has been whipped, and Antony sends him back to Octavius with a defiant message. He confesses to Cleopatra, however, that his fall is imminent. Cleopatra reassures him of her love, which encourages him. He resolves to fight again with Octavius’s forces on land and at sea. They go off to celebrate before resuming battle. Meanwhile Enobarbus, who has witnessed what has happened, confirms his judgment that Antony has lost his reason and thus makes plans to desert him.
Act 4, Scene 1
Octavius Caesar scoffs at the challenge sent by messenger from Antony to fight with him in a duel. He tells Maecenas that he is ready for battle and is confident of victory; many of Antony’s soldiers have already deserted him and are ready to fight on Caesar’s side.
Act 4, Scene 2
Antony’s camp makes its own preparations with foreboding. Before supper, Antony speaks warmly to his servants, but also remarks that the next day they may find themselves with a new master. The servants all weep with sorrow. Questioned by Enobarbus, Antony says that he was trying to cheer his followers up and hopes to lead them all to victory in the battle.
Act 4, Scene 3
Outside Cleopatra’s palace, three of Antony’s soldiers discuss their prospects in the upcoming battle. They hear some mysterious music and do not know where it comes from. They decide that it is a sign that the god Hercules is leaving Antony.
Act 4, Scenes 4–6
The next day, Eros brings Antony his armor, and Cleopatra affectionately helps him put it on. At first Antony protests at her interference, but then says that she has done better at it than Eros. His captains and some soldiers enter, and Antony greets them confidently. He kisses Cleopatra goodbye. At Antony’s camp, word comes that Enobarbus has deserted to Octavius, and Antony generously forgives his old friend and sends his belongings after him. Meanwhile, Octavius gives word for the battle to begin; his instructions are that Antony be taken alive. Enobarbus regrets his decision to leave Antony, and when he learns of his former leader’s generosity, he is heartbroken.
Act 4, Scenes 7–9
The fighting begins; Antony is at first victorious, and he and his men are jubilant. Caesar’s forces are in retreat. Antony returns in triumph to Cleopatra’s palace, saying that they will finish the job the following morning before dawn. He thanks his soldiers for their efforts, and greets Cleopatra joyfully. Meanwhile, back at Caesar’s camp, Enobarbus continues to repent for his betrayal of Antony, and calls out for Antony to forgive him. He falls into a swoon and dies. Two Roman sentries observe this and carry his body away.
Act 4, Scenes 11–12
During another sea battle, Cleopatra’s forces yield to Caesar, and Antony’s forces are routed. A furious Antony blames Cleopatra for the defeat and vows to be revenged on her. When she enters, he tells her to go away or he will kill her.
Act 4, Scene 13
Fearing Antony’s rage, Cleopatra takes refuge in a monument and sends her servant Mardian with a message to Antony that she has killed herself. She asks Mardian to tell her how Antony reacts to this news.
Act 4, Scene 14
A distraught Antony laments to Eros that Cleopatra betrayed him. When Antony, who is already ashamed of his military dishonor, receives word of Cleopatra’s apparent suicide, he resolves to end his own life. He reminds Eros of the oath the soldier swore that he would kill Antony when ordered to do so. The devoted Eros protests that he cannot do such an act, and Antony repeatedly tries to cajole him into obeying his command. Finally, Eros, having asked Antony to turn his face away, draws his sword, but instead of killing his master, he plunges the sword into his own body. Even more ashamed than before, Antony responds to Eros’s death by falling on his own sword. But he succeeds only in wounding himself. He calls in his guards and begs them to finish him off, but they all refuse. When Diomedes, a messenger from Cleopatra, appears with news that Cleopatra only pretended that she was dead because she feared his rage, the dying Antony asks to be carried to her monument.
Act 4, Scene 15
At Cleopatra’s monument, Antony and Cleopatra are lovingly reunited. He tells her to make her peace with Caesar and gain assurances for her safety. He also warns her that out of all of Octavius Caesar’s entourage, only Proculeius can be trusted. Antony dies, and the grief-stricken Cleopatra faints.When she revives, she tells Charmian and Iras that after they have buried Antony, they will take their own lives.
Act 5, Scene 1
At Caesar’s camp in Alexandria, Antony’s man Decretas brings Antony’s sword as proof of his leader’s death. He tells Caesar that Antony killed himself. Octavius seems genuinely distressed by this news, and he laments the destruction of a great warrior. Octavius sends Proculeius to Egypt to meet with Cleopatra and tell her that Caesar means her no harm. Caesar wants to avoid giving Cleopatra any excuse to take her own life, since he intends, as he clearly informs Proculeius, that she should be brought back alive to Rome as captive.
Act 5, Scene 2
In a room in the monument, Cleopatra has calmly resolved to take her own life. When Proculeius arrives, she asks to be allowed to give Egypt to her son. Proculeius assures her that she has nothing to fear from Caesar. But then Gallus and some other soldiers enter and seize Cleopatra, who quickly draws a dagger. Proculeius prevents the queen from stabbing herself—a move that would have foiled Caesar’s plan to parade her in captivity through Rome. Cleopatra resolves to starve herself to death if necessary. After Proculeius exits, Cleopatra tells Dolabella of her vision of Antony’s greatness, and Dolabella confirms her fears that Caesar will exhibit her to the crowds in Rome as his conquest. Octavius himself goes to Egypt to meet with Cleopatra, who kneels to him. He assures her that she will be well treated. He warns her not to take her own life, threatening to kill her children if she does. She gives him a list of all her worldly riches, but when Seleucus, her treasurer enters, it transpires that she has listed only half of what she owns. Caesar is not angry with her, but Cleopatra is furious with Seleucus for betraying her secret. She claims that she has only failed to divulge a few small items, as well as some larger pieces that she intended as gifts for Livia (Caesar’s wife) and Octavia. Caesar continues to speak respectfully to her, assuring her of his care and concern for her, but Cleopatra is not fooled. Dolabella enters and informs her Caesar will depart for Syria, and that within three days, she and her children will be sent away, their ultimate destination Rome. Cleopatra has already made arrangements for her own suicide, and now a Clown, or comical rustic, arrives and supplies her with poisonous serpents, or asps, hidden in a basket of figs. The queen’s maids, Charmian and Iras, bring Cleopatra her robe, crown and other jewels. Just before she puts the asp to her breast, she says farewell to her maids, and Iras faints and dies. Cleopatra then puts another asp to her arm and dies calling out Antony’s name. Charmian follows Cleopatra’s example by poisoning herself with an asp bite. Octavius Caesar enters, and when he finds Cleopatra dead, he orders that her body be buried with Antony’s.
Shakespeare for Students:Critical Interpretations of Shakespeare’s Plays & Poetry, Second Edition, Volume 1, authored by Anne Marie Hacht & Cynthia Burnstein, published by Thomson-Gale, 2007