The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra
Antony is one of the three leaders of the Roman Empire and a proven soldier. We know him from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar as a former party guy who made his soldierly fortunes at Philippi, when he bested Brutus and Cassius, Julius Caesar’s murderers. He’s regarded as a noble and formidable soldier in Rome. His presence in Egypt represents a neglect of his own state, and shows his less noble side – the one that revels in debauchery and good times. The comparison of Antony-in-Rome with Antony-in-Egypt isn’t a set up of good versus evil; it’s just two different examples of a way a man can live his life.
Antony is noted for his bravery, which makes his love for Cleopatra all the more interesting. The same way that he gave himself over to his soldierly duties, he submits himself to Cleopatra, and revels in the sensuous pleasures of the Egyptian world. Antony is honest about his plight – and admits that he is held captive by Cleopatra’s powerful spell. Interestingly, he thinks of his situation personally, and not politically. Antony escapes being a pure pleasure monger, though, because his nobility shines through in his Egyptian life. His love for Cleopatra, he admits, is overpowering, and there’s an earnestness in this admission. He acts graciously and nobly in his political affairs, too (when he bothers to pay them any attention). Antony greets Pompey with honesty and love. When Enobarbus turns to the other side, Antony doesn’t blame him for treachery, but instead faults himself for turning Enobarbus to that path. When Antony thinks he’s doomed to fail in battle, he bids his men to leave him, and thanks them gratefully for their service.
Still, there exists another, more volatile side to Antony, which his compatriots see as the cause of his attachment to Cleopatra. His extreme emotional swings can be seen when he resolves to kill Cleopatra, and then loves her again. Yet, he is developed as a character because he’s in touch with these feelings. Shakespeare illustrates this is best shown in Antony's final act. What hurts Antony deeply is the notion that he isn’t living up to his own nobility, either in politics (as he’s lost to Caesar) or in love (as he thinks Cleopatra has killed herself). As Antony dies, he wishes the world to remember him as a man who was his own conqueror. By taking his own life, Antony makes a final resolute act: his death is the final assurance that, no matter the circumstance, he was the master of his own life. He represents the tension between East and West, between Egyptian delights and Roman austerity, and between the personal desires of love and valiance. In this way, he’s a complex character.