The plot of “Antony and Cleopatra” is believed to have been based on Thomas North’s translation of Plutarch’s “Life of Marcus Antonius”. It also follows deeply the relationship between Cleopatra and Mark Antony from the period of the Parthian War till Cleopatra’s suicide.
There are swift panoramic shifts along with altering images of sensuality and carnage of the war, the imaginative indulgences starkly opposing the pragmatic shifts of scenes throughout the rich tapestry of the play. The geographical shifts from the dreamy Alexandria to the more austere Rome are also evident. The role of Cleopatra happens to be one of the most complex female roles in Shakespeare’s oeuvre.
However Shakespeare has given equal details to the character of Antony in order to unfold this tragedy in its grandeur. The contradictory features of this play weave a very rich tapestry contending to its depth as well as focus. The historical plot unveils itself in interesting complexity bringing out the intensity of the relationship between two very significant characters in the history of the world.
Mark Antony has been a character completely beguiled by the love of the Egyptian Queen and has even ignored the duties including domestic problems of Rome. His wife Fulvia had rebelled against Octavius and had died and so Antony was called by Octavius in his fight against Sextus Pompey, Menecrates and Menas.
The political dimensions through which power struggles and different aspects of that period in history held true for itself has been deeply researched in the play. While Antony goes to fight his marriage with Octavius’ sister, Octavia was being planned. However with the sudden dissolution of the treaty between Octavius and Pompey, Antony grows furious and comes back to Egypt opposing Octavius.
A soothsayer had already warned him not to oppose Octavius as that would be fatal. But on his return he crowns himself and Cleopatra the king and queen of Egypt including his share of land, the eastern 3rd of the Roman Empire, which was his as one of the triumvirs. Antonym again refuses others’ advice on deciding to fight Octavius on land and even ignores Cleopatra’s offers of her fleet for fighting on the sea. Even with near betray coming from Cleopatra, Antony stands astute in his love for her and is not even shaken in his generosity and manliness, when she is caught fleeing with most of her naval fleet. Antony gets abandoned from the protection of god Hercules giving him up and his hope for him in the battle.
Seeing Octavius’ army much stronger and sure footed, and being abandoned of protection from Hercules, Enobarbus, one of his long-serving legions, leave him. However Antony remains dignified in his generosity for him and proves him self to be a league of his own when it comes to being loyal.
With the shift by Octavious to sea, he is again deceived by Cleopatra’s fleeing ship. At the face of repeated betray he has left little hope to win.
Cleopatra feigns death in her own chambers as the means to win her lover back. However Antony had mortally wounded himself in an attempt to take his own life and is finally brought back to her where he dies in her arms. When Octavious comes over, rather than being a war trophy she kills herself through the poison of an aspen so that she would remain looking intact and as beautiful as she did.