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Free Study Guide-Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare-Book Notes
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The play is structured like a classical tragedy. The opening scenes are largely introductory, presenting the setting, the Themes, the major characters, the conflict, and the fatal flaw (hamartia) of Antony - his passion for Cleopatra. The rising action really begins at the end of the third scene of the first act when Antony decides he must temporarily return to Rome, but pledges his love and faithfulness to Cleopatra before his departure. The rising action builds through Antony's marriage and desertion of Octavia and his return to Cleopatra, who convinces him to fight Caesar in a naval engagement.

The climax occurs with Antony's loss to Caesar at Actium and his subsequent total loss of self-respect. From this point forward, he succumbs to his passion, acting like a fool for the quixotic queen, who toys with Antony and his emotions. The falling action centers round Antony's complete defeat by Caesar and his departure from Cleopatra. The resolution comes when Antony falls on his own sword and later dies before Cleopatra. She follows him into death by committing suicide herself, completing the tragedy.

The play can really be divided into two main parts. In the first half of the play, Antony remains rational and strives to achieve a balance between the conflicting demands of his Roman military position and his weakness for Cleopatra and things Egyptian. When he deserts Octavia and returns to Cleopatra, however, he falls totally under her control. Throughout the second half of the play, Shakespeare charts Antony's futile attempts to do anything outside of Cleopatra's spell.

Although the play defies the unifying traits of time and place, having several settings over several weeks, the play is closely held together by the central characters of Antony and Cleopatra. Even when they do not appear on stage during the scene, they are usually openly discussed by the characters on stage or their presence is felt. The constant theme of Antony's destructive passion, which is developed throughout the play, also serves to unify the drama into a tightly woven structure that holds the attention of the audience.


The dominant theme of the play is the destructive nature of Antony's passion for Cleopatra. Because of the Egyptian queen's hold on him, Antony disintegrates from "the triple pillar of the world" into "a strumpet 's fool."

The entire action of the play chronicles the various stages of his decline at the hand of Cleopatra as he allows his passion to override his judgment and his public and military duties. Caesar realizes the foolishness of Antony's love for Cleopatra and takes advantage of it. Enobarbus is critical of Antony's passion and deserts him because of it. In the end, Antony's passion for Cleopatra causes him to commit suicide, completing his tragedy.

Another theme of the play, which also shapes the play's construction both in terms of action and characters, is the opposition between the worlds of Egypt and Rome. Egypt is portrayed as feminine and passionate (which, according to the play's values, means weak), as symbolized by Cleopatra.

In contrast, Rome is portrayed as masculine, rational, and political, (which according to the play's values, means strong), as symbolized by Caesar. The action of the play chronicles Antony's desperate and unsuccessful attempts to strike a balance between the two worlds. His folly is that he gives himself wholly to Cleopatra, which leads to his demise.

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Free Study Guide-Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare-Study Guide


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