Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare

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99-100 ‘Labienus...with his Parthian force’ – The Parthians represented the Republic’s main external threat, and it was widely believed that a Parthian army would, one day, overrun Rome.

116-117 ‘These strong Egyptian fetters I must break,/Or lose myself in dotage’ – a Roman thought. Notice how Shakespeare makes him unconsciously echo Philo’s word ‘dotage.’

122-130 ‘There’s a great spirit gone!’ etc. – Antony the adulterer wished his wife dead. His guilt at her actual demise strengthens the recovery of his ‘old self.’ Cleopatra is seen as an enchantress.

135 ‘if they suffer our departure, death’s the word’ – suggests, perhaps, the convention of Elizabethan and Jacobean love poetry, that departure is death to lovers (frequent in Donne). In Virgil, when Aeneas leaves his lover Dido to found Rome, she burns herself to death on a pyre. The Aeneid provides an important background to Shakespeare’s play: its hero put political duty before love, and Rome’s very existence depended on this choice.

143 ‘mettle’ = sexual vigour. ‘Dying’ is Elizabethan slang for experiencing sexual climax.

147ff ‘We cannot call her Jove’ – Cleopatra is seen here as a force, or type, of Nature – a goddess, in other words.


Antony is still determined to break his ‘strong Egyptian fetters’ (which clearly implies limits to his passion for Cleopatra) and the audience witnesses the queen showing her extraordinarily developed powers of manipulation in an attempt to keep her grip upon him. There is certainly little sense of a secure and loving relationship as yet between these two, but passion there is, most certainly.

53 ‘And quietness, grown sick of rest, would purge/By any desperate change’ – It was commonly thought that the indulgences of peacetime bred diseases in the body politic that were relieved by the bloodletting of war. This is typically Shakespearian disease imagery applied to a political situation, but it also has a personal significance for Antony.

68-71 ‘By the fire...thou affects’ – Fertility of ‘Nilus’ slime’ (symbolic of Cleopatra herself, perhaps?), and a promise from Antony to do her will in everything.

78-85 ‘Good now...his chafe’ – Brilliant manipulation by Cleopatra. Antony is acting – ‘Now, by my sword’ – and not very convincingly.

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William Shakespeare
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