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Free Study Guide-Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare-Book Notes
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KEY LITERARY ELEMENTS

SETTING

Set in several parts of the Roman Empire, the play encompasses vast stretches of territory and involves constant shifts of location. Short scenes restlessly move about the Mediterranean world from Alexandria to Rome, to Messina in Sicily, to Syria, to Caesar's camp, and to various other locations. The purpose of the short scenes, the sprawling setting, and the depiction of battles by land and sea is to create the sense of an epic, appropriate to a chronicle history play. Furthermore, the continual shifts of location depict the episodic character of the play and contribute to the sense of a world in a state of change. Another interesting feature of the play is that Rome and Egypt are not merely locales; instead, they symbolize two opposed ways of life. Contrasts and contradictions between the two govern the basis of the play's shape and construction.

LIST OF CHARACTERS

Major Characters

Mark Antony (Antony)

The protagonist of the play who is a Roman general. He rules the Roman Empire as part of a Triumvirate, along with Caesar and Lepidus. During the play, he succumbs to the charms of Cleopatra. In his passion, he degenerates into a fool. Lepidus tactfully apologizes for Antony when, upon the threat of another civil war, he returns to Rome. After marrying Octavia as a political arrangement to bind Caesar closer to him, Antony returns to Cleopatra in Egypt. As a result, war with Caesar breaks out. Antony's fleet is defeated at Actium, and he stabs himself upon hearing a false report of Cleopatra's death.

Cleopatra

The lovely Queen of Egypt whom Antony cannot resist. It is said of Cleopatra that "age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety." A woman of constantly changing moods, she both enrages Antony and enslaves him. She flees the battle at Actium and kills herself after Antony commits suicide.


Octavius Caesar (Octavius or Caesar)

The young, adopted son of Julius Caesar and a member of the ruling Triumvirate. He marries off his sister Octavia to Antony, thereby ridding himself of Lepidus, the other triumvir. He makes war on Cleopatra and Antony after the latter has deserted Octavia and fled to Egypt. Defeating Antony at Actium, he then invades Egypt and, after the suicides of Antony and Cleopatra, is left in control of the Roman Empire.

M. Aemilius Lepidus (Lepidus)

The weakest of the three Triumvirs. Having no real power, he serves to make peace between Caesar and Antony, the two rivals for the real power over the Roman Empire.

Sextus Pompeius (Pompey)

A leader of the rebellion against the Triumvirate. He left Rome for a period of time and tried to form his own kingdom. By the time Antony returns from Egypt, Pompeius is back in Rome and makes peace with Antony and Caesar, even entertaining them on board his ship. In the war between Antony and Caesar, he sides with Antony.

Octavia

The chaste and virtuous sister of Caesar. She is married to Antony in an effort to reconcile him with her brother and create a peace in the kingdom; but Antony deserts her for Cleopatra.

Minor Characters

Enobarbus

A friend of Antony and a lieutenant in his army. He is a blunt, rough-spoken man, but possesses a degree of humorous wisdom. He gives the famous description of Cleopatra in her barge coming down the Cydnus. He deserts Antony, but dies of a heart broken by remorse at his betrayal of his friend when Antony sends his treasure after him.

Eros

The freed slave of Antony. He is devoted to Antony and kills himself with his own sword when ordered by Antony to slay him.

Scarus

An aide to Antony. He describes the flight of Cleopatra's fleet at Actium and remains loyal to Antony.

Decretas

A friend of Antony who, bearing the sword on which Antony died, informs Caesar of his death and then offers to serve Caesar.

Ventidius, Demetrius and Philo

Friends to Antony and officers in his army.

Silius

Officer in Ventidius' army.

Maecenas

A close adviser to Caesar. He is one of Caesar's closest friends, an able soldier and administrator, and a liberal patron of the arts.

Agrippa

Caesar's closest friend who suggests that Antony marry Octavia, the sister of Caesar.

Dolabella

Caesar's friend who feels pity for Cleopatra and warns her that Caesar plans to take her to Rome as a captive.

Proculieus

Caesar's friend, who serves as a messenger to Cleopatra. At the end of the play, he is sent to capture Cleopatra, but he is frustrated in his purpose when she kills herself.

Thidias and Gallus

Friends to Caesar. Thidias is sent by Caesar to try to separate Cleopatra from Antony.

Menas, Menecrates, and Varrius

Friends of Pompey. Menas proposes to Pompey that they fall upon the Triumvirs as they are feasting.

Taurus

Caesar's commander at Actium. Serving as a Lieutenant General, he is a key in the defeat of the forces of Antony and Cleopatra.

Canidius

A Lieutenant General in Antony's army. He withholds his forces from the sea battle and, when he sees that Antony is losing, joins Caesar.

Euphronius (Schoolmaster)

The ambassador from Antony to Caesar.

Alexas

An attendant of Cleopatra who serves as a messenger between her mistress and Antony. In the end, she deserts Antony, only to be hanged by Caesar.

Mardian

A eunuch in attendance on Cleopatra. He is sent by Cleopatra to tell Antony that she is dead.

Seleucus and Diomedes

Attendants on Cleopatra. Seleucus is her treasurer.

Iras

One of Cleopatra's female attendants, who dies with her mistress.

Charmian

Cleopatra's favorite waiting-woman. She receives Cleopatra's confidences about Antony and advises her to give in to every wish of Antony. She remains faithful to the end and dies with Cleopatra, in the same manner, applying an asp to her breast.

Soothsayer

A seer who tells Charmian and Iras that they will outlive Cleopatra.

Clown

A man who serves in Cleopatra's court and brings her the basket of figs with asps hidden in it.

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