I thought it was fitting to celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday this month with a play that showcases what he does best: morally questionable characters, sizzle, and tragedy. This month on What Happens in Shakespeare, we’ll take on Antony and Cleopatra, a dazzling story about two narcissistic politicians with basically no shred of conscience between them who let the demands of loin and ego wreck everything they hold dear. Fun fact: Shakespeare’s Caesar Octavius is the same Caesar who was in power when Mary and Joseph made the trip to Bethlehem.
The Reduced Shakespeare Company tweeted: “Love bites. MORAL: Never get involved in Middle Eastern affairs.”
What happens in Antony and Cleopatra
Mark Antony is one of the three rulers of the Roman Empire. He is living in Egypt and having an affair with Cleopatra, the Egyptian queen.
The other two rulers of Rome are Caesar Octavius and Lepidus. They are worried about their enemy Pompey gaining strength. They criticize Antony for neglecting his duty and not acting manly, being under Cleopatra’s undeniable sway.
Antony’s wife back in Rome dies. Antony feels guilty and returns to Rome, where he decides to marry Octavius’ sister for political reasons.
In Egypt, Cleopatra gets the news that Antony is going to remarry and gets angry. Then she gets the news that his new bride is ugly and decides she can win him back.
Antony, Octavius and Lepidus meet with Pompey and negotiate a truce. Octavius promptly breaks it for his own gain.
Antony learns that Octavius has been speaking out against him. He returns to Egypt, where he and Octavius fight. Both sides win a few battles, but Cleopatra is instrumental in Antony’s losing the war. Antony decides Cleopatra has betrayed him and threatens to kill her.
She locks herself in her monument for safety (that’s what it says: her monument) and spreads the word that she has killed herself.
Antony is remorseful and tells a servant to kill him. The servant disobeys for the first time ever and kills himself instead.
Antony tries to commit suicide, but only manages to injure himself. He lives long enough to go to Cleopatra’s monument. They are reunited. He dies.
Octavius arrests Cleopatra. She finds out about his plan to put her on display in Rome. She kills herself using poisonous snakes. Octavius has her buried beside Antony.
Visit the Royal Shakespeare Company for a breakdown of key scenes and a history of past productions.