Study Guide

The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra Betrayal

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O, never was there queen
So mightily betrayed! Yet at the first
I saw the treasons planted.
Why should I think you can be mine, and true—
Though you in swearing shake the thronèd gods—
Who have been false to Fulvia? Riotous madness,
To be entangled with those mouth-made vows,
Which break themselves in swearing! (1.3.30-38)

Cleopatra recognizes that Fulvia’s marriage to Antony should carry more weight than her love as his mistress, but she still feels betrayed by Antony’s recognition of this fact. Worse, she admits she should never have expected Antony to be loyal to her, when Antony wasn’t even loyal to his wife.

So Fulvia told me.
I prithee turn aside and weep for her,
Then bid adieu to me, and say the tears
Belong to Egypt. Good now, play one scene
Of excellent dissembling, and let it look
Like perfect honor. (1.3.91-96)

Cleopatra suggests Antony’s loyalty to Fulvia was false, and claims she should expect no more loyalty than he shows to Fulvia. Cleopatra accuses Antony of being loyal only in appearance, as he is too proud to admit that he’s simply a disloyal man.

I must not think there are
Evils enough to darken all his goodness.
His faults in him seem as the spots of heaven,
More fiery by night's blackness, hereditary
Rather than purchased, what he cannot change
Than what he chooses. (1.4.12-17)

Lepidus is loyal to a fault, and always trying to see the sunny side of things. This is in contrast to Caesar’s very practical acts of betrayal. Even in this early scene, we get the sense that Lepidus’s loyalty and trust will lead him to be betrayed.

                          The valiant Caesar!
By Isis, I will give thee bloody teeth
If thou with Caesar paragon again
My man of men.
                           By your most gracious pardon,
I sing but after you.
                               My salad days,
When I was green in judgment, cold in blood,
To say as I said then. (1.5.82-90)

Cleopatra and Charmian compare Cleopatra’s love for Antony with her love for Julius Caesar. Charmian points out that she once cried over Julius Caesar as she does now over Antony. Cleopatra counters that the former love affair was just the bad judgment of youth.

Say not so, Agrippa.
If Cleopatra heard you, your reproof
Were well deserved of rashness.
I am not married, Caesar. Let me hear
Agrippa further speak. (2.2.145-149)

When Agrippa suggests Antony could marry Octavia, Caesar is the one to point out that Antony’s love is supposed to be devoted to Cleopatra (though he is a little mocking in this observation). Instead of defending his loyalty to Cleopatra, Antony emotionally abandons her, and points out that whatever else he engages in with Cleopatra, he’s not married to her. It seems he betrays their love, as he’s more loyal to Rome and to his own political advantage than he is to Cleopatra and their love.

I think so too. But you shall find the band
that seems to tie their friendship together will be
the very strangler of their amity. Octavia is of a holy,
cold, and still conversation.
Who would not have his wife so?
Not he that himself is not so, which is
Mark Antony. He will to his Egyptian dish again.
Then shall the sighs of Octavia blow the fire up in
Caesar, and, as I said before, that which is the
strength of their amity shall prove the immediate
author of their variance. Antony will use his affection
where it is. He married but his occasion here. (2.6.150-161)

Enobarbus and Menas confer on Antony’s marriage to Octavia, noting that it will not add to the loyalty between Caesar and Antony, but only push them into further hatred because Antony is bound to leave Octavia for Cleopatra. Additionally, Octavia’s disposition doesn’t suit Antony; he will be loyal to Cleopatra because they share the passion that Octavia lacks. Loyalty has to be founded in something, and for Antony and Cleopatra, it’s based on their mutual passion.

But he loves Caesar best, yet he loves Antony.
Hoo, hearts, tongues, figures, scribes, bards, poets,
Think, speak, cast, write, sing, number—hoo!—
His love to Antony. But as for Caesar,
Kneel down, kneel down, and wonder.
Both he loves.
They are his shards, and he their beetle. (3.2.17-24)

Enobarbus and Agrippa joke about Lepidus’ love for both Caesar and Antony, which will prove to be his greatest weakness. By being loyal to them both, while they are budding enemies, his loyalty to each will be dismissed by the other. If Lepidus is the beetle between two wings, we get a hint that he’ll be torn in two when Antony and Caesar part. In this way, Lepidus, for his good heart, suffers for the treachery of others, much the same way Octavia will.

Come, sir, come,
I'll wrestle with you in my strength of love.
Look, here I have you, thus I let you go,
And give you to the gods. (3.2.75-78)

Antony has a little friendly tiff with Caesar about who could love Octavia more. You can’t help but be reminded of Hamlet and Laertes having this same fight as they roll around on the grave of Ophelia, both arguing then that they loved the woman more, though they really did treat her poorly when she was alive. It is suggested that, no matter what Caesar and Antony profess to feel about Octavia now, it is their very competition that will be her undoing.

A more unhappy lady,
If this division chance, ne'er stood between,
Praying for both parts.
The good gods will mock me presently
When I shall pray "O, bless my lord and husband!"
Undo that prayer by crying out as loud
"O, bless my brother!" Husband win, win brother,
Prays, and destroys the prayer; no midway
'Twixt these extremes at all. (3.4.13-21)

Octavia refuses to choose between her brother and her husband; her loyalty to both is driven by her love for both. She’s honorable and pitiable to be so loyal in a time so guided by treachery and betrayal.

She once being loofed,
The noble ruin of her magic, Antony,
Claps on his sea-wing, and, like a doting mallard,
Leaving the fight in height, flies after her.
I never saw an action of such shame;
Experience, manhood, honor, ne'er before
Did violate so itself. (

Scarus suggests that by following his love of a woman, not his country in battle, Antony has betrayed himself as a man, a soldier, and an honorable Roman. Loyalty to love of a woman has no place in battle, just as a woman has no place in battle.

Had our general
Been what he knew himself, it had gone well.
O, he has given example for our flight
Most grossly by his own. (3.10.31-34)

It’s at this point that Canidius decides to betray Antony, which is arguably not a betrayal of a good man, because Antony betrayed himself first by being less than he could be. Canidius will give himself and his men to Caesar’s side (as arguably Caesar is being more loyal to the facts and necessities of war).

He knows that you embrace not Antony
As you did love, but as you fear'd him.
The scars upon your honor therefore he
Does pity as constrainèd blemishes,
Not as deserved.
He is a god, and knows
What is most right. Mine honor was not yielded,
But conquered merely.
[Aside] To be sure of that,
I will ask Antony. Sir, sir, thou art so leaky
That we must leave thee to thy sinking, for
Thy dearest quit thee. (3.13.67-79)

This is arguably Cleopatra’s lowest moral point. We don’t know if she’s swayed by Thidias’ words, or her own fear over her bad fortunes, but she really fails to stand by her man here, confirming all the worst suspicions Caesar has of women.

I am alone the villain of the Earth,
And feel I am so most. O Antony,
Thou mine of bounty, how wouldst thou have paid
My better service, when my turpitude
Thou dost so crown with gold! This blows my
If swift thought break it not, a swifter mean
Shall outstrike thought, but thought will do 't, I feel.
I fight against thee? No. I will go seek
Some ditch wherein to die; the foul'st best fits
My latter part of life. (4.6.34-44)

Enobarbus feels how deeply his betrayal runs when Antony shows how deeply his loyalty goes. Even betrayed, Antony is understanding, and tries to do right by his friend. Antony blames himself rather than the traitor, and so teaches Enobarbus a lesson in true loyalty.

Triple-turn'd whore! 'Tis thou
Hast sold me to this novice, and my heart
Makes only wars on thee. Bid them all fly—
For when I am revenged upon my charm,
I have done all. (4.12.15-19)

Antony believes Cleopatra has betrayed him, causing him to lose the battle. He does not blame the soldiers for their actions, but Cleopatra alone. That Antony calls Cleopatra a "triple turn’d whore" is particularly interesting—he refers to the fact that she’s had three lovers, and likely treated the two before him with the same kind of indignity. Had she been faithful (to them or their memory), she would never have been available to him.

Madam, as thereto sworn by your command,
Which my love makes religion to obey,
I tell you this: Caesar through Syria
Intends his journey, and within three days
You with your children will he send before.
Make your best use of this. I have perform'd
Your pleasure and my promise. (5.2.1241-247)

Dolabella gets to the heart of loyalty here. He has ostensibly betrayed his master Caesar, but he has been loyal to his heart. It’s a defining moment about the meaning of loyalty, which is not only pledged to those who you’re supposed to follow politically, but to those you truly believe in and love. Dolabella has been moved by Cleopatra, and is faithful to her as a result, regardless of his position in Caesar’s camp.

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