characters antony and cleopatra

Characters in Antony and Cleopatra #

Germaine Greer maintains Shakespeare still has a lot to teach because he never offers easy answers.

“What actually happens in a Shakespeare play is you’re prevented from arriving at easy certainties. Everything you think you understand is challenged. So you have to recast your ideas. “This is what makes the plays work – because everything keeps shifting.”

Most of the characters display fluctuating fortunes as the flounder between vacillating decision making. Hamlet is indecisive, Macbeth displays bi-polar tendencies, Richard II also. Antony and Cleopatra change their minds many times before settling on suicide.

The commoners #

Many writes tend to write about and for the common people. Chaucer, Coleridge and Dickens invert the pyramid depicting the common man more heroic than the upper classes.

For more see:

Called citizens in Corialanus, commoners in Julius Caesar, now are simply people. They have gone from participants, to a fickle mob to inert spectators. They are generally referred to disparagingly as having stinking breaths , idle creatures, You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things! (MARULLUS) vulgar, (FLAVIUS ) mine honest neighbours, the rabblement, the tag-rag people (Casca)

In CORIOLANUS, he warns of what will happen if hierarchies disappear?

That is the way to lay the city flat,
To bring the roof to the foundation
And bury all which yet distinctly ranges
In heaps and piles of ruin.
I. 4 256 – 259.

Is this a precurcor of “Chicken Little’s the sky is falling in?”

In Antony and Cleopatra the common people have more respect but less real power. Antony appeals to Cleopatra: To-night we’ll wander through the streets and note/The qualities of people.

IRAS invokes the gods: goddess, hear that prayer of the people!

MARK ANTONY laments their fickleness:

our slippery people,
Whose love is never link’d to the deserver
Till his deserts are past, begin to throw
Pompey the Great and all his dignities
Upon his son;

POMPEY realises: I shall do well:/The people love me……and Caesar gets money where/He loses hearts:

Cleopatra demonstrates a patronising attitude when she declares:

He shall have every day a several greeting,
Or I’ll unpeople Egypt.

CLEOPATRA expresses her extreme contempt of the ‘Roman multitudes’:

Know, sir, that I
Will not wait pinion’d at your master’s court;
…………… Shall they hoist me up
And show me to the shouting varletry
Of censuring Rome?


Now, Iras, what think’st thou?
Thou, an Egyptian puppet, shalt be shown
In Rome, as well as I mechanic slaves
With greasy aprons, rules, and hammers, shall
Uplift us to the view; in their thick breaths,
Rank of gross diet, shall be enclouded,
And forced to drink their vapour.

Antony #

Antony has a complex, conflicting reputation. Loyal to Caesar, but with dubious tactics he incites the people to riot, but takes no responsiblity for their rampage. He demonstrates hypocritical values in the proscrption scene where he reneges on parts of the Will and the promise of 75 drachmas. He undermines Lepidus.

What others say.


Nay, but this dotage of our general’s

The triple pillar of the world transform’d
Into a strumpet’s fool:

MARK ANTONY chooses personal love over public duty.

Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide arch
Of the ranged empire fall! Here is my space.
Kingdoms are clay: our dungy earth alike
Feeds beast as man:

Antony is frequently compared to the gods and mythical heroes, Jove, Jupiter, Mars, Hercules, Ajax.

CLEOPATRA as all women who snare married men worry about their professions of love - (she claims not to be conned)

Excellent falsehood!
Why did he marry Fulvia, and not love her?
I’ll seem the fool I am not; Antony
Will be himself.

MARK ANTONY on why he needs to go back to Rome:

MARK ANTONY to the messanger from Rome regarding affairs of state:

Speak to me home, mince not the general tongue:
Name Cleopatra as she is call’d in Rome;
Rail thou in Fulvia’s phrase; and taunt my faults
With such full licence as both truth and malice
Have power to utter. O, then we bring forth weeds,
When our quick minds lie still; and our ills told us
Is as our earing.
II. 2.

Sextus Pompeius
Hath given the dare to Caesar, and commands
The empire of the sea: our slippery people,
Whose love is never link’d to the deserver
Till his deserts are past, begin to throw
Pompey the Great and all his dignities
Upon his son;


How this Herculean Roman does become
The carriage of his chafe.

Later when he has left for Rome she misses him:

OCTAVIUS CAESAR on Antony in Egypt:

Our great competitor: from Alexandria
This is the news: he fishes, drinks, and wastes
The lamps of night in revel; is not more man-like
Than Cleopatra; nor the queen of Ptolemy
More womanly than he;

you shall find there
A man who is the abstract of all faults
That all men follow.

LEPIDUS may be speaking for Shakespeare who shows us that all men have faults and virtues.

I must not think there are
Evils enow to darken all his goodness:
His faults in him seem as the spots of heaven,
More fiery by night’s blackness; hereditary,
Rather than purchased; what he cannot change,
Than what he chooses.

He lies to Caesar on why he treated his messengers with disrepect:


He fell upon me ere admitted: then
Three kings I had newly feasted,

MARK ANTONY Beginning to worry about his supremacy questions a soothsayer about his fortunes.

Say to me,
Whose fortunes shall rise higher, Caesar’s or mine?


Therefore, O Antony, stay not by his side:
Thy demon, that’s thy spirit which keeps thee, is
Noble, courageous high, unmatchable,
Where Caesar’s is not; but, near him, thy angel
Becomes a fear, as being o’erpower’d: therefore
Make space enough between you.

OCTAVIUS CAESAR We are what we aspire to. Never appreciated until we deserve it. Lackeys who toady have no backbone.

I should have known no less.
It hath been taught us from the primal state,
That he which is was wish’d until he were;
And the ebb’d man, ne’er loved till ne’er worth love,
Comes dear’d by being lack’d. This common body,
Like to a vagabond flag upon the stream,
Goes to and back, lackeying the varying tide,
To rot itself with motion.

OCTAVIUS CAESARon Antony’s former reputation as a soldier:

Leave thy lascivious wassails. When thou once
Wast beaten from Modena, where thou slew’st
Hirtius and Pansa, consuls, at thy heel
Did famine follow; whom thou fought’st against,
Though daintily brought up, with patience more
Than savages could suffer: thou didst drink
The stale of horses, and the gilded puddle
Which beasts would cough at: thy palate then did deign
The roughest berry on the rudest hedge;
Yea, like the stag, when snow the pasture sheets,
The barks of trees thou browsed’st; on the Alps
It is reported thou didst eat strange flesh,
Which some did die to look on: and all this–
It wounds thine honour that I speak it now–
Was borne so like a soldier,

Clean potable water and good food are the essentials of all armies. Alexander the Great is thought to have died by ingesting water from the Ganges. Henry V died in France in his mid thirties of dysentery. It is believed that more British expeditionary soldiers died of dysentery than war wounds, especially in the Crimean War.

CLEOPATRA who is pining for Antony:

Where think’st thou he is now? Stands he, or sits he?
Or does he walk? or is he on his horse?
O happy horse, to bear the weight of Antony!
Do bravely, horse! for wot’st thou whom thou movest?
The demi-Atlas of this earth, the arm
And burgonet of men.

POMPEY is optimistic because Antony, the only threat to him, is in Egypt:

He dreams: I know they are in Rome together,
Looking for Antony. But all the charms of love,
Salt Cleopatra, soften thy waned lip!
Let witchcraft join with beauty, lust with both!
Tie up the libertine in a field of feasts,
Keep his brain fuming; Epicurean cooks
Sharpen with cloyless sauce his appetite;
That sleep and feeding may prorogue his honour
Even till a Lethe’d dulness!

POMPEY on hearing Antony has arrived from Egypt give Antony his due:

I could have given less matter
A better ear. Menas, I did not think
This amorous surfeiter would have donn’d his helm
For such a petty war: his soldiership
Is twice the other twain:

The Generals talk about their masters:

DOMITIUS ENOBARBUS Caesar? Why, he’s the Jupiter of men.

AGRIPPA What’s Antony? The god of Jupiter.

DOMITIUS ENOBARBUS Spake you of Caesar? How! the non-pareil!

Cleopatra #

Cleopatra can appear sumptuous maximalism; rebellious insolence; a vibrant gloss of youth and energy; a focus on a high-femme conception of beauty and sensuality; and a jarring, attention-grabbing visual punch.

Cleopatra stares directly into the camera, sets up an electric tension between the subject and the viewer. Cleopatra knows she is being watched, and you, in turn, notice yourself watching her; she challenges your gaze, and then looks away, pampered and bored. John Fletcher - The Story of Egypt: The Civilization that Shaped the World

Cleopatra is frequently compared to deities, often to Isis, the goddess who could not die, representing the eternal female principle.

MARK ANTONY’s first comment on her changing moods and cunning wiles:

Fie, wrangling queen!
Whom every thing becomes, to chide, to laugh,
To weep; whose every passion fully strives
To make itself, in thee, fair and admired!


I must from this enchanting queen break off:

DOMITIUS ENOBARBUS is her greatest cheerleader:

Cleopatra, catching but the least noise of
this, dies instantly; I have seen her die twenty
times upon far poorer moment: I do think there is
mettle in death, which commits some loving act upon
her, she hath such a celerity in dying.

MARK ANTONY She is cunning past man’s thought

DOMITIUS ENOBARBUS describes to Antony’s first meeting with Cleopatra to Agrippa and Mecaenas in glowing poetic terms:

Upon her landing, Antony sent to her,
Invited her to supper: she replied,
It should be better he became her guest;
Which she entreated: our courteous Antony,
Whom ne’er the word of ‘No’ woman heard speak,
Being barber’d ten times o’er, goes to the feast,
And for his ordinary pays his heart
For what his eyes eat only.

CLEOPATRA sees herself in terms of food - “in my salad days

Broad-fronted Caesar,
When thou wast here above the ground, I was
A morsel for a monarch: and great Pompey
Would stand and make his eyes grow in my brow;
There would he anchor his aspect and die
With looking on his life.

((die = euphemism for orgasm))

OCTAVIUS CAESAR on Octavia returning to Rome

No, my most wronged sister; Cleopatra
Hath nodded him to her. He hath given his empire
Up to a whore;

MECAENAS deflects the blame to Antony for the dispute that Octavian fomented.

Welcome, dear madam.
Each heart in Rome does love and pity you:
Only the adulterous Antony, most large
In his abominations, turns you off;
And gives his potent regiment to a trull,

Octavious Caesar #

The youngest of the triumvirate, Octavius is about 32 now. Most characters refer to his youth derisively as “scarce bearded”, boy,

CLEOPATRA accuses Antony of subjugation to Octavious.

If the scarce-bearded Caesar have not sent
His powerful mandate to you, ‘Do this, or this;
Take in that kingdom, and enfranchise that;
Perform ’t, or else we damn thee.’

First words spoken between Antony and Caesar show that both Caesar and Antony rely on their officers:


If we compose well here, to Parthia:
Hark, Ventidius.


I do not know,
Mecaenas; ask Agrippa.

Powerplays between the two began early in their relationship with the young upstart relying on his questionalbe bloodline to assert his dominance.

From Julius Caesar


Octavius, lead your battle softly on,
Upon the left hand of the even field.

OCTAVIUS: Upon the right hand I; keep thou the left.

ANTONY Why do you cross me in this exigent?

OCTAVIUS: I do not cross you; but I will do so. V. 1. 16 - 20

Politics is an arena of power mongering between the two extreme poles; idealistic altruists or self serving plutocrats. In between lie the Pragmatists.

The role of powerplay in most relations reveals that it is an inalienable part of power and politics as each jockey for dominance.

Here they parry as to who is to sit first:



OCTAVIUS CAESAR Nay, then. (sits)

DOMITIUS ENOBARBUS discussing Antony’s political marriage to Octavia

I think so too. But you shall find, the band that
seems to tie their friendship together will be the
very strangler of their amity: Octavia is of a
holy, cold, and still conversation.

MENAS Who would not have his wife so?

Antony gets a lot of advice to fight by land and not by sea, however rejects this advice:

MARK ANTONY following Cleopatra’s retreat, realises how his flutulating fortunes have changed when he had rank over Octavious:

Yes, my lord, yes; he at Philippi kept
His sword e’en like a dancer; while I struck
The lean and wrinkled Cassius; and ’twas I
That the mad Brutus ended: he alone
Dealt on lieutenantry, and no practise had
In the brave squares of war: yet now–No matter.

After the rout both Antony and Cleopatra attempt to sue for favourable terms of peace:

EUPHRONIUS (messenger of Antony)

Lord of his fortunes he salutes thee, and
Requires to live in Egypt: which not granted,
He lessens his requests; and to thee sues
To let him breathe between the heavens and earth,
A private man in Athens: this for him.
Next, Cleopatra does confess thy greatness;
Submits her to thy might; and of thee craves
The circle of the Ptolemies for her heirs,
Now hazarded to thy grace.

OCTAVIUS CAESAR For Antony, I have no ears to his request. The queen Of audience nor desire shall fail, so she From Egypt drive her all-disgraced friend, Or take his life there: this if she perform, She shall not sue unheard. So to them both.

In Act V, Cleopatra dismisses Augustus’ triumph as “owner of so much clay” and refuses to put herself under his shroud choosing a noble death by her own hand.