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Eternity was in our lips and eyes

In the ruthless, ever-expanding empire of Rome, Shakespeare creates an astonishing portrait of a love too great for the world. The play begins in Alexandria, the greatest city of its time, named after Alexander the Great and housing the world's greatest library.  Antony, in his dotage, falls madly in love with Cleopatra, trying to relive his youth.  The sprawling action takes us back to Sicily, Rome, Sicily, Naples, Parthia (Iraq) Athens, Rome, Actium and ending back in Egypt.

When Antony's wife Fulvia dies, he returns to Rome where he and Octavius (Augustus) meet with the sons of Pompey to negotiate a truce.  As a gesture of unity, Antony agrees to marry Augustus' sister Octavia, settling in Athens.  When Augustus breaks the pact, Antony sends Octavia back, combines forces with Cleopatra to take on Augustus.  In a sea battle, Antony and Cleopatra are winning, but for some inexplicable reason, Cleopatra takes flight and Antony abandons the fight to go after her. 

Augustus now proceeds to Egypt to defeat them.  Antony, believing Cleopatra has taken poison, fall

s on his sword.  Cleopatra, to avoid a triumph in Rome, clasps poisonous asps to her breasts and die.  Augustus orders them to be buried together.

Mark Antony is a hero in a post-heroic world. He is torn between duty and love; his responsibility to Rome and his new life in Egypt; to the world he helped conquer; and his passion for Cleopatra. Life in Egypt becomes soft and sexually indulgent when he attempts to regain his youth by sowing his wild oats.   When his Roman wife Fulvia dies,  ENOBARBUS  advises him:


          it pleaseth their deities to take the wife of a man

          from him, it shows to man the tailors of the earth;

          comforting therein, that when old robes are worn

          out, there are members to make new.

…and indeed the tears live in an onion

that should water this sorrow.

By fleeing the naval battle with Augustus,  He kissed away his kingdom

Complex, charismatic, fierce. Cleopatra is a mother, a lover, a Queen. A woman not to be defied.  Variously described as an Egyptian dish My salad days,/ When I was green in judgment: cold in blood, or in sensual terms of Venus or Isis, the goddess who could not die:  

As AGRIPPA describes her: Royal wench/ She made great Caesar lay his sword to bed:/ He plough'd her, and she cropp'd 

This is a play on the biblical words of Isaiah: "they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks". - Making love, not war.   She dismisses Augustus' triumph as "owner of so much clay" and refuses to put herself under his shroud.

Antony is completely captivated by Cleopatra, as Enobarbus explains:

Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale

                Her infinite variety: other women cloy

                The appetites they feed: but she makes hungry

                Where most she satisfies;


Octavius, who begins to call himself Augustus, is described by Antony as "scarce bearded".  

He was born Gaius Octavius, the grandnephew of Julius Caesar. He took the extended name Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus in 44 BC after Caesar’s assassination. Though in English texts, he was often referred to simply as Octavian.

Then in 31 bc, he defeated Mark Antony and Cleopatra to gain control over the empire. Finally in 27 bc, when he was named emperor, he was given the honorary title Augustus.

August, means majestic and inspires reverence or admiration. The word can also take the form of an adverb (augustly) and a noun (augustness).

August also relates to augury, the act of divination (telling the future), particularly by the behavior of birds and animals and the examination of their entrails and other parts. Augurs were the official Roman soothsayers, whose job was not to tell the future so much as to determine if the Roman gods approved of a planned course of action.


Studying Shakespeare’s Antony & Cleopatra, can influence the way we see power. Politics is an arena of power mongering between the two extreme poles; idealistic altruists or self serving plutocrats. In between lie the Pragmatists.    We can discern the various strategies practitioners use; tortuous machinations of Realpolitiks, chicanery employed to execute their powerplays. 

The powerplays take place between Antony and Augustus, the triumvirate and sons of Pompey, Antony and Cleopatra and finally the forces of Augustus and Antony and Cleopatra.

We also gain a recognition of the importance of language in powerplay as well as the language of love in contrasting passages used by Antony and Cleopatra.

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