The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra
Love is a central theme of the play because it’s always in question. Unlike the romantic stories of Shakespeare, the foundation of this play is tragedy. Love fails in the end (because the lovers can’t be together), but is upheld by the lovers’ loyalty to each other. The characters’ actions and reactions to one other are all informed by love’s effect on decision-making – specifically, love’s ability to blind people to reason where love is concerned, and the constant fear of losing love.
Questions About Love
- Is this tragedy also a love story? Which elements of it are more romantic, and which more tragic? Does the power of the play come from the combination of those two tropes?
- Did Antony and Cleopatra’s love for each other have to be doomed? Was it ultimately their love, or political necessities, that drove them apart from each other?
- What other kinds of love exist in the play besides the love between Antony and Cleopatra? Enobarbus, Charmian and Iras all die for their masters, out of some kind of heartbreak. What is the basis of their loyalty – love, or duty?
- How can Antony so quickly decide to marry Octavia when his wife Fulvia has just died and he claims to love Cleopatra? Is love just a political consideration for him or does it mean anything greater? What does it mean that Antony never formally marries Cleopatra?
Chew on This
For Antony, politics is his first love. This is why he can betray Cleopatra so easily for Octavia, and why, at one point, he decides he hates Cleopatra, thinking she’s wronged him politically by joining Caesar.
The love between Antony and Cleopatra is based on power. The lovers could have stayed together in disgrace, or run off, but the real basis of their love for each other is the power each of them holds. Without that power, and the honor implied by it, their relationship means nothing.