The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra Theme of Betrayal
Characters in Antony and Cleopatra often have to choose between being loyal to their ideals and being loyal to their circumstances. Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place. Loyalty is central to a lot of the relationships in the play, but betrayal always hangs in the background like an awkward guy at a school dance when so much power is at stake—you know he'll eventually sneak up and try to dance with you. Characters’ loyalty to one another is constantly called into question by their quick betrayals of one another, and the question of whether loyalty is an enduring feeling is raised as a result.
Questions About Betrayal
- Which are more damaging in the play: political or romantic betrayals? When Antony decides to murder Cleopatra after he loses the second sea battle, is he enraged because she has betrayed his position to Caesar, or because she has betrayed his love?
- What is the basis of loyalty in this play? Is it political affiliation, or do the people who love their leaders just love them because of circumstance?
- Enobarbus deserts Antony, though he ultimately regrets the decision (so much so that he dies of his sorrow). What is Shakespeare saying about betrayal here? Antony laments that he’s "corrupted" Enobarbus and driven him to desertion. Is betrayal the fault of the betrayer, or the one who drove him to betrayal?
- To what is Antony most loyal: his duty to Rome, his love for Cleopatra, or his own personal honor? Can he maintain any of these loyalties without compromising the others?
Chew on This
Antony decides to commit suicide at the end of the play because he has betrayed his own honor. In spite of all the other things that have happened, he most regrets his failure to be his most noble self. The realization that he hasn’t been true to his own ideals is the blow that kills him.
Cleopatra is never loyal to Antony, even though she claims to kill herself over him. Her constant willingness throughout the play to manipulate him is an indication of the fact that she’d betray him as soon as it was convenient for her, either politically or emotionally.