Love can be a many splendored thing, but it certainly isn't here. Love is a central theme of Antony and Cleopatra because it’s always in question. Unlike Shakespeare's more romantic plays—A Midsummer Night's Dream, Much Ado About Nothing—the foundation of this play is tragedy. Though love ultimately fails in the end (because the lovers can’t be together), it is upheld and honored by the lovers’ suicidal loyalty to each other. The characters’ actions and reactions to one another 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.