Antony with Octavian: Antony & Cleopatra

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Antony's life was a mixture of military valor and debauchery. Plutarch says his generosity won him power, but his countless faults hindered him equally. At Caesar's funeral Antony's eulogy accused the conspirators of murder, and the Roman populace attacked their houses, forcing them to flee. Brutus and Cassius were defeated by Antony and Octavian at Philippi in 42 BC. The new Triumvirate agreed that while Octavian returned to Rome, Lepidus was to govern Hispania and Africa, and Antony was to govern the east. There Antony summoned Cleopatra to Tarsus in 41 BC. where they formed an alliance and became lovers. Antony went to Alexandria with her. In 40 BC he returned to Rome on news of his wife Fulvia's civil strife with Octavian. Fulvia died and Antony made peace with Octavian in 40 BC and married his sister Octavia. By 33 and 32 BC, a propaganda war was being fought in Rome, while Antony (in Egypt) divorced Octavia, accusing Octavian of usurping power, and forging his adoption by Caesar. Octavian responded with treason charges: of illegally keeping provinces, and starting wars against Armenia and Parthia without Senate.consent. In 31 BC, war started. Octavian's general Agrippa captured the Greek port of Methone from Antony. Octavian secured the defection of Cyrenaica and Greece to his side. At the naval battle of Actium Antony and Cleopatra's navy was destroyed, but they escaped to Egypt. In 30 BC Octavian invaded Egypt, and Antony attempted suicide, believing Cleopatra had done so. Cleopatra was still alive, and his friends brought him to Cleopatra's monument where he died in her arms. Destined for Octavian's triumph in Rome, she took her own life. Octavian had her son by Caesar, Caesarion, murdered, and Antony's elder son also.

In Antony and Cleopatra Shakespeare followed North's translation of Plutarch's life of Antony with remarkable closeness, almost word for word at times, seemingly illustrating his recurring theme of a virile general incapable of handling relations with women. Traditionally Antony was shown by moralists like Chaucer's Monk to be a mere dupe of feminine wiles. While some presentations of the play validate Octavius in his censures of the lovers, Shakespeare is concerned to show the fascination of Egyptian sophistication as compared to Roman severity, just as he preferred Trojan urbanity to Greek ruthlessness. Antony has the virtue of understanding the fascination of Egypt, one of the great cultures of world history.

[Data courtesy of the Yorck Project (Wikipedia)]

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Except where otherwise specified, all written commentary is © 2016, Hugh Macrae Richmond