Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare

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84 ‘this Herculean Roman’ – Antony actually claimed descent from Hercules. This Roman god stood for heroic virtus, in opposition to Egyptian deities, such as Isis. The spirit of Hercules is seen to abandon him in Act Four, Scene Three.

102-5 ‘Our separation...with thee’ – A typical conceit of Elizabethan love poetry, familiar, perhaps, from Donne.


The first entirely ‘Roman’ scene, in which further difficulties of state are enumerated that require Antony’s presence. He is seen as shirking his responsibilities by Octavius, who berates his behaviour, but still clearly admires him. He is understandably unhappy with his fellow triumvir’s ‘Egyptian bondage’ and is already adopting the tones of a future emperor (lines 2-3).

2-3 ‘It is not Caesar’s natural vice to hate/Our great competitor’ – Notice the royal, slightly pompous, tone. Octavius speaks of himself in the third person, as if he were some kind of abstract entity. The immoveable firmness he boasts of possessing is a ‘Roman’ ideal. The word ‘competitor’ is equivalent to ‘partner’ here, but there is a significant double meaning from the more modern sense.

6 ‘queen of Ptolemy’ – Cleopatra had been nominally married to her younger brother, Ptolemy, now dead.

19-21 ‘And keep the turn...smells of sweat’ – Note Octavius’ aristocratic contempt for Antony, who is a man of the people.

44 ‘This common body’ – contempt for the masses, as frequently expressed by characters in Shakespeare.

55-71 ‘Antony...’ etc. – this whole speech gives us a very powerful picture of the Herculean ‘Roman’ Antony. It is all the more impressive, in that it comes from one of his detractors, who obviously cannot help but admire him.


An Egyptian scene, full of Cleopatra’s earthy, but clearly unambiguous passion for Mark Antony.

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William Shakespeare
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