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SHORT PLOT/SCENE SUMMARY (Synopsis)
Antony and Cleopatra possesses elements of a heroic epic, a morality play, an historical drama, and a typical Shakespearean tragedy. Act I opens in Alexandria where Mark Antony, one of the Roman Triumvirs, has become infatuated with the charms of Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt and devotes himself entirely to revelry and love. He ignores the urgent summons he receives from Rome, causing his followers to realize "the triple pillar of the world transform'd / Into a strumpet's fool." He is finally forced to go to Rome when he learns that his wife, Fulvia, who was in rebellion against Octavius Caesar, has died and that Sextus Pompeius, son of Pompey the Great, is challenging Caesar on the seas. In his absence, Cleopatra sends Antony greeting every day; she also scolds her maid, Charmian, for comparing Antony to Julius Caesar.
In Act II, Caesar and Antony attend a meeting at Lepidus' house in Rome. Caesar accuses Antony of abusing his messengers and inciting Fulvia to wage war on him. On the verge of a quarrel, Antony accepts Agrippa's suggestion that he marry Caesar's sister, Octavia, in order to strengthen the bonds between Caesar and himself. After Antony and Caesar leave to find Octavia to tell her the news, Agrippa and Maecenas, another supporter of Caesar, question Enobarbus, who vividly describes Antony's first meeting with Cleopatra on the river Cyndus. Maecenas thinks that Antony will now leave Cleopatra, but Enobarbus disagrees.
After his marriage to Octavia, Antony asks an Egyptian soothsayer whether Caesar' fortunes will rise higher than his. The soothsayer answers that Antony's guardian spirit advances only when he is far from Caesar, and Antony ruefully admits that the very dice seem to obey Caesar in Rome. As a result, Antony decides to return to Egypt, far from Caesar; however, he first accompanies Lepidus and Caesar to Misenum, Sicily, to meet Pompeius, who invites them aboard his ship for a night of feasting. During the feast, Menas, Pompey's lieutenant, conspiratorially whispers to him that he can become master of the world by merely ordering him to murder his powerful guests. Pompeius rejects Menas' proposal, but scolds him for not having acted on his own initiative. Meanwhile in Alexandria, Cleopatra's happy reminiscences about her life with Antony are interrupted by the arrival of a messenger, who reveals that Antony has married Octavia. The messenger barely escapes death at the hands of the enraged Cleopatra. Cleopatra then calls back the messenger and questions him about the appearance of her rival. She is immensely relieved to hear that Octavia, a widow of thirty, is short of stature with a round face, a narrow forehead, and a poor voice.
In Act III, Antony arrives with his bride in Athens, where he learns that Caesar has said ugly things about him and has violated their agreement by waging war on Pompeius. He also learns that Caesar has imprisoned Lepidus, the third Triumvir. In an attempt to arrest the widening gulf between Antony and her brother, Octavia returns to Rome, while Antony heads to Egypt. Octavia finds that her brother is in no mood to bargain. He has learned that Antony has returned to Egypt, where he has divided the Eastern provinces among Cleopatra and her offspring. Caesar is also furious that Octavia has been given a very small retinue. He convinces her that Antony does not love her and has returned to Cleopatra.
Caesar decides to hastily move against Antony and appears with lightning speed near Actium in Greece. Against the counsel of Enobarbus and his lieutenant-general Canidius, Antony, with encouragement from Cleopatra, decides to oppose Caesar in a naval battle. At the height of the fighting, Cleopatra's sixty ships turn tail and flee, and Antony meekly follows. Antony, overcome with shame for his cowardice, at first censures Cleopatra for her flight, but soon asserts that a kiss from her repays him.
Antony sends his old schoolmaster, Euphronius, to meet Caesar, who has arrived in Egypt. Caesar rebuffs Euphronius and dispatches Thidias to Cleopatra in an effort to separate her from Antony. When Euphronius tells Antony of his treatment by Caesar, Antony challenges Caesar to personal combat. Enobarbus thinks that Caesar has routed not only Antony's soldiers but also his judgment. In the meantime, Cleopatra receives Thidias cordially, but Antony orders him whipped and denounces Cleopatra for receiving him. They are, however, soon reconciled.
When Antony decides to stake everything on another battle, Enobarbus thinks he is crazy and decides to desert him. Caesar also thinks Antony is crazy and laughs at his challenge. He decides to wage a final battle with Antony the next day. Before the fighting begins, Enobarbus makes his way to Caesar' camp, but he is overwhelmed with regret when Antony sends him the treasure he had left behind and dies of a broken heart during the battle. Although the battle goes favorably for Antony at first, the desertion of the Egyptians costs him the victory on the second day of fighting. He accuses Cleopatra of betraying him, and his anger so frightens her that she hides in her monument and instructs her servant, Mardian, to inform Antony that she has killed herself.
When Antony hears of Cleopatra's supposed suicide, he resolves to follow her example and asks his friend Eros to kill him. Eros refuses, and while Antony's back is turned, he takes his own life instead. Antony then falls on his own sword. Cleopatra, fearing for Antony's life, sends word to him that she is still alive. The gravely wounded Antony asks to be taken to her. After he dies, Cleopatra wonders why she should remain in this "dull" world without Antony.
When Caesar learns of Antony's death in Act V, he sends Proculieus to inform Cleopatra that she has nothing to fear from him, but she learns from Dolabella that he plans to capture her and take her in triumph through Rome. Cleopatra, in an effort to protect herself, goes into her monument and stations guards outside. Caesar comes to the monument, treats her affably, and warns her not to commit suicide. In turn, Cleopatra gives him an inventory of her money, plates, and jewels, saying that she has omitted only a few items. She then calls her treasurer, Seleucus, to verify her statement, but he reveals that she has left out enough from the list to purchase what she included. Cleopatra berates Seleucus, but Caesar makes light of the incident.
After Caesar departs, Dolabella reveals that he plans to take Cleopatra and her children to Syria. Repelled by the thought of becoming the object of ridicule, she resolves to join Antony in death and dresses in her finest garments. In response to her request, a clown brings a basket of figs in which some asps are hidden. Cleopatra applies one asp to her breast and another to her arm. She then dies tranquilly, along with her maids Charmian and Iras. After seeing the bodies, Caesar orders Cleopatra to be buried in the same grave as Antony.