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Mark Antony, one of the three Roman Triumvirs and the protagonist of the play, is a truly tragic figure. Although there are touches of greatness in his character, he is imbued with the quality of self-destruction due to his passion for Cleopatra. He is so obsessed by the Egyptian queen and her charms that he foolishly ignores his military operations and his public duties as a Triumvir.
In the middle of the play, Antony is called back to Rome to attend to politics. Away from Cleopatra, he can temporarily act with reason. While in Rome, he marries Octavia, the sister of Caesar, hoping to heal the wounds between him and Caesar. Although he is a married man, Antony cannot put thoughts of Cleopatra out of his mind and soon deserts his wife to be with the Egyptian queen once again. Because she feels betrayed by him, Antony must constantly try to prove his love and devotion to Cleopatra upon his return to her side.
Caesar, incensed by Antony's desertion of his sister, sails for Egypt to fight Cleopatra and Antony. Cleopatra convinces Antony that with the help of her naval forces they can successfully fight with Caesar on the sea. When the going gets rough, however, Cleopatra deserts the naval battle, and Antony follows her. After his graceless flight from the naval engagement at Actium, Antony is totally humiliated and feels that the ground on which he stands should be ashamed to bear him. He blames the military loss on Cleopatra and turns on her with verbal curses; but when Cleopatra begs him for forgiveness, he falls under her spell and exclaims, "Fall not a tear, I say; one of them rates / All that is won and lost: give me a kiss; / Even this repays me."
Antony's love for Cleopatra is fatal. Wanting to win Antony back to herself, she goes into hiding in her monument and has a message sent to Antony that she has killed herself out of grief over the loss of him. Believing he cannot live without her, Antony falls upon his sword, wounding himself gravely. When he learns that Cleopatra is still alive, he asks to be taken to her. Before he dies, he declares his steadfast love for her. After his death, Antony's character is magnified to epic proportions through Cleopatra's laments, dreams, and actions. Even Caesar praises his old enemy in lofty terms.
Cleopatra, a complex character of constantly changing moods, is the wealthy and beautiful Queen of Egypt, a land filled with charm and passion. Sensuous by nature, Cleopatra has had many lovers. Her latest is Mark Antony, one of the Roman Triumvirs. She both enslaves and enrages him throughout the play.
Cleopatra likes to be in control and often resorts to game-playing to accomplish her goals. She constantly tries to imagine what Antony expects and then often does the opposite: "If you find him sad, / Say I am dancing; if in mirth, report / That I am sudden sick." Because she toys with him, Antony is never sure of her devotion, although she swears her love to him. But when he grows angry with her, as he did after his defeat at Actium, Cleopatra always wins back Antony's love by begging for forgiveness. He can never resist her charm.
In the end, Cleopatra causes Antony's death. Wanting to win Antony back, she sends a false report to him that she is dead. Unable to bear the thought of life without Cleopatra, Antony falls upon his sword, wounding himself critically. When he learns that the queen is still alive, he asks to be taken to her. Before he dies, he swears his love to her. Cleopatra then commits suicide herself.
Octavius Caesar is the strongest and most power-hungry of the three Roman Triumvirs. Throughout the play, he is a symbol of political cunning, rationality, and greed. It is not surprising that he views Antony as his enemy, for he poses a threat to his own desire for supremacy. When Antony is in Egypt with Cleopatra, Caesar makes his first move towards becoming the sole leader of Rome by getting rid of the weak Triumvir, Lepidus. Then when Antony deserts his wife Octavia, who is Caesar's sister, in order to be with Cleopatra, Caesar has an excuse to attack him. He wisely challenges Antony to a naval engagement, which Caesar easily wins. By the end of the play, Caesar has totally defeated Antony and Cleopatra and established himself as the sole and supreme head of the Roman Empire.