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Mrs. Yates as Cleopatra, 1777

Antony and Cleopatra

Synopsis and plot overview of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra

TL;DR (may contain spoilers): Antony loves Cleopatra, but marries Caesar's sister so that they can be friends, but then leaves and goes to Cleopatra again. Caesar gets mad and everyone dies.

Antony and Cleopatra Summary

Mark Antony, one of three rulers of Rome, is in love with Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. Antony is summoned back to Rome, where he clashes with another ruler Octavius before returning to Cleopatra in Egypt. Now in battle with Octavius, Antony and Cleopatra suffer losses and miscommunication, and both eventually commit suicide.

More detail: 2 minute read

Act I

After the death of Julius Caesar, the Roman Empire is ruled by three men: Mark Antony, Octavius Caesar, and Lepidus.

Mark Antony commands the eastern Mediterranean and lives in Egypt. He has also become infatuated with Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. After the death of his wife, Fulvia, and the rebellion of Pompey against his fellow ruler Octavius, Antony is forced to leave for Rome.  He travels with his friend Enobarbus.

A smiling female with straight black hair with a straight fringe leans to her right and looks up to her left. She wears a rich decorative metal collar and a dress which reflects the light. (The picture is black and white.)
Antony and Cleopatra, RSC, 2006

Act II

In Rome, Antony and Octavius Caesar argue over the former's escapades in Egypt. They eventually decide that their friendship must be cemented by a political marriage between Antony and Octavia, Caesar's sister. Enobarbus refuses to believe that Antony will desert Cleopatra and tells his Roman friends about the Egyptian court. The rulers, including Lepidus, make peace with the rebellious Pompey, who entertains them on his ship in the harbour. During the feast, Pompey refuses to allow his men to murder the triumvirate (Lepidus).

In time we hate that which we often fear

— Antony and Cleopatra, Act 1 Scene 3


Cleopatra receives the news of Antony's marriage. After a fit of rage and jealousy, she realises that Octavia offers no real romantic challenge. When Antony and Octavia reach Athens, they learn that Caesar has revoked his peace treaty and attacked Pompey. He also betrayed the triumvirate agreement by imprisoning Lepidus. Antony sends Octavia back to Rome to try to renew peace.

Antony himself goes on to Egypt to raise an army with Cleopatra. Caesar, disgusted by Antony's abandonment of Octavia, declares war on Antony and Cleopatra. Despite Enobarbus's advice, Antony decides to fight at sea at Actium. In the battle, Cleopatra's ships flee from the Roman fleet, and Antony is defeated. 

Act IV

Humiliated by his love for Cleopatra, Antony eventually chooses to fight Caesar on land. His army begins to lose faith in their leader after many portents of Antony's supposedly inevitable defeat. Enobarbus deserts Antony and defects to Caesar's army, leaving Antony saddened, not angry. Enobarbus is overcome with guilt for his betrayal of Antony and dies alone in his grief.

Mrs. Yates as Cleopatra, 1777 Wearing a full-length dress and a rich gown, with hair piled high and surmounted by a small crown, Mrs Yates  points imperiously to our right. One of two maids behind her clutches her outstretched arm. Background is columns.
Mrs. Yates as Cleopatra, 1777

At the battle, Cleopatra's men flee, abandoning Antony. Fearing Antony's anger, Cleopatra takes refuge in her monument. When Antony fears that Cleopatra has betrayed him to Caesar, she sends false word that she is dead, hoping to win over his affections once more. Antony is devastated by the news and resolves to die himself. He falls onto his sword and is mortally wounded. At this point, Cleopatra's messenger goes to inform him that the queen is still alive and finds him dying alone. Antony is then taken up into the monument by Cleopatra and her waiting women, and he dies in Cleopatra's arms.

Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety

— Antony and Cleopatra, Act 2 Scene 2

Act V

Cleopatra cannot bear the thought of being a prisoner of the Romans. When Caesar believes that she is now his prisoner, she has a countryman bring her poisonous snakes in a basket. Her waiting women dress her in state robes before she lays an asp on her breast and dies, along with her women. Caesar, upon discovering the bodies, orders that Antony and Cleopatra be buried together. Now unhindered in his quest for Egypt, and conveniently lacking in political foes, Caesar returns to Rome and becomes Emperor.

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