Study Guide

The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra Power

By William Shakespeare

Power

ANTONY
Let Rome in Tiber melt and the wide arch
Of the ranged empire fall. Here is my space.
Kingdoms are clay; our dungy earth alike
Feeds beast as man. The nobleness of life
Is to do thus; when such a mutual pair
And such a twain can do 't, in which I bind,
On pain of punishment, the world to weet
We stand up peerless. (1.1.38-45)

Antony hasn’t forsaken his concern about power by taking up with Cleopatrafar from it, in fact. Instead, he’s found the center of his power is with her, and calls their union a representation of the nobleness of life. This can be interpreted as a transformation in his view of powerit isn’t the clay earth that makes Rome’s kingdom, but the power of love between two people.

ANTONY
Speak to me home; mince not the general tongue.
Name Cleopatra as she is called in Rome;
Rail thou in Fulvia's phrase, and taunt my faults
With such full licence as both truth and malice
Have power to utter. O, then we bring forth weeds
When our quick winds lie still, and our ills told us
Is as our earing. (1.2.115-121)

Antony is a man of power, and like any person, he doesn’t always judge himself accurately. As a man of power, though, he needs to hear the truth about himself in order to be a better ruler.

CLEOPATRA
I know by that same eye there's some good news.
What, says the married woman you may go?
Would she had never given you leave to come.
Let her not say 'tis I that keep you here.
I have no power upon you. Hers you are. (1.3.24-28)

Cleopatra admits, even half-heartedly, that Antony’s marriage to Fulvia gives that woman more power over him than Cleopatra’s love could ever command.

CAESAR
I should have known no less.
It hath been taught us from the primal state
That he which is was wished until he were,
And the ebbed man, ne'er loved till ne'er worth love,
Comes feared by being lacked. (1.4.46-50)

Caesar repeats what’s become a motif in the play: men out of power are wished into power until they get there, and men in power are never missed or appreciated until they’ve left it. People are ungrateful, or unable to see the good in front of them, especially when it comes to those who rule them. It’s easier to complain against those in power than to praise their good.

POMPEY
My powers are crescent, and my auguring hope
Says it will come to th' full. Mark Antony
In Egypt sits at dinner, and will make
No wars without doors. Caesar gets money where
He loses hearts. Lepidus flatters both,
Of both is flattered; but he neither loves,
Nor either cares for him. (2.1.13-19)

Pompey knows his powers are strong by themselves, but they’re helped by the sorry state of his enemies. Antony’s power is hurt by his devotion to Egypt, Caesar is deceived and gains money from his people through their fear rather than love, and Lepidus simply has no power. Power is diminished by diverse causes.

POMPEY
No, Antony, take the lot; But, first or last,
your fine Egyptian cookery shall have
the fame. I have heard that Julius Caesar
Grew fat with feasting there.
ANTONY
You have heard much.
POMPEY
I have fair meanings, sir.
ANTONY
And fair words to them.
POMPEY
Then so much have I heard.
And I have heard Apollodorus carried—
ENOBARBUS
No more of that. He did so.
POMPEY
What, I pray you?
ENOBARBUS
A certain queen to Caesar in a mattress. (2.6.80-91)

Pompey tries to get an edge over Antony, perhaps because the truce Pompey has just made admittedly weakens his own power. Pompey tries to suggest that Antony is weak in matters of love, and is conquered by Cleopatra as she once conquered Julius Caesar. Enobarbus cuts off this talk before it comes to anything, but it highlights the fact that Antony’s submission to Cleopatra does have some bearing on his political powerat least in the eyes of other Romans.

VENTIDIUS
Who does i' th' wars more than his captain can
Becomes his captain's captain; and ambition,
The soldier's virtue, rather makes choice of loss
Than gain which darkens him.
I could do more to do Antonius good,
But 'twould offend him; and in his offence
Should my performance perish. (3.1.23-29)

Ventidius hits on a central notion of powersubordinates should not show up their masters, even in their masters’ names, because their acts will seem like threats instead of honors. Power is a tricky thing, and even Antony can’t be trusted, Ventidius thinks, to interpret his actions as noble instead of treacherous. (This is challenged later when Antony wholeheartedly praises Scarus for his valiant fighting, but it’s a point to consider nonetheless.)

ANTONY
Nay, nay, Octavia, not only that—
That were excusable, that and thousands more
Of semblable import—but he hath waged
New wars 'gainst Pompey; made his will, and read it
To public ear;
Spoke scantly of me; when perforce he could not
But pay me terms of honour, cold and sickly
He vented them, most narrow measure lent me;
When the best hint was given him, he not took 't,
Or did it from his teeth. (3.4.1-10)

Antony rankles not only at Caesar’s betrayal of their truce with Pompey, but that Caesar is also full of gossip against Antony. The biggest affront is that Caesar refuses to praise Antony’s power when he should, and if he ever does, it’s in weak terms. Caesar’s slander of Antony’s power offends Antony as much as the obvious act of treachery Caesar has committed.

CAESAR
For Antony,
I have no ears to his request. The Queen
Of audience nor desire shall fail, so she
From Egypt drive her all-disgracèd friend,
Or take his life there. This if she perform,
She shall not sue unheard. So to them both. (3.12.23-28)

Caesar can’t accept his victory gracefully, and instead must take away from Antony the one thing he loves the most, by the most treacherous way he knows how. There’s a hint that Caesar resents the love between Antony and Cleopatra (remember his adopted father, Julius Caesar, was also her lover). The young Caesar will try his damndest to rob Antony and Cleopatra of their feelings for each other by setting them against each other. It’s clear the power Caesar gained via military victory is not enough. He wishes for power over Antony's and Cleopatra’s emotions, because he envies their strength in that sacred arena, not in the least because he seems to have no capacity to inspire such strong love himself. (Remember Pompey’s comment that Caesar can raise funds, but not fondness from the people.)

ANTONY
Ah, let be, let be! Thou art
The armourer of my heart. False, false. This, this!
CLEOPATRA
Sooth, la, I'll help. Thus it must be. (4.4.9-11)

Antony refutes the claims that his devotion to Cleopatra compromises his power. Instead, he says, she is the armor around his heart. Love and power are entwined again, as a man who fights without love, it seems, should not fight.

ANTONY
Peace!
Not Caesar's valour hath o'erthrown Antony,
But Antony's hath triumphed on itself.
CLEOPATRA
So it should be, that none but Antony
Should conquer Antony; but woe 'tis so! (4.15.17-21)

This is a complicated interpretation of power: if the fear or hatred of another man’s power forces you to take your own life, are you really the one in control, or just acting on a semblance of it? There’s a feeling of wastefulness at Antony having taken his lifedid it really need to happen this way? Is Antony’s own notion of the importance of power really worth his own life? Does that compromise his nobility at the end?