Antony and Cleopatra condensed
In 30 B.C., Mark Antony, Octavius Caesar and Lepidus had defeated Brutus and Cassius on the Plains of Philippi. The three of them were known as the triumvirate, consolidating their power following their victory at Philippi. They ruled Rome for some time, a central theme of this play. In 48 B.C., in Alexandria, Pompey the Great had died, there with his mistress, Cleopatra, having fled to Egypt after losing a battle. Julius Caesar had also spent plenty of time in Egypt with Cleopatra, the two of them having three sons. Brutus and Cassius had famously fatally stabbed Caesar in 32 B.C.
Act 1. The play opens in Alexandria at the time Antony learns that his wife Fulvia has died, he there to be with Cleopatra. He’s totally captivated by her. Pompey, one of Pompey the Great’s sons, controls the seas and is challenging Rome. The threat posed by Pompey and by Fulvia’s death requires that Antony return to Rome, but he has a tough time telling Cleopatra, and she has a tough time hearing it. She loves Antony, asking herself rhetorically “if she ever loved Caesar so,” Julius Caesar having appointed her Queen of Egypt. Octavius Caesar, challenged as he is just to run Rome, is justifiably upset with Antony’s dalliance in Alexandria. Cleopatra plans to write him every day, saying “He shall have every day a several greeting.”
Act 2. Antony does return to Rome and meets with Octavius Caesar, but the meeting is tense, Antony’s wife and brother having given Caesar grief while Antony was in Egypt. To ease the tension, Antonio agrees to marry Caesar’s newly-widowed sister, Octavia. But he has no intention of not continuing to see Cleopatra. At about this point we hear a wonderful second-hand story of the time Antony first laid eyes on Cleopatra; a story embellished as only Shakespeare can. Cleopatra becomes upset when she learns of Antony’s marriage to Octavia. Lepidus has too much to drink during a summit held between the triumvirate and Pompey on Pompey’s ship, the party going on for some time. Pompey rejected an aide’s suggestion during the party to “cut the throats of the three world-sharers.” Lepidus is carried off the ship.
Act 3. Antony and Octavia leave for Athens. Antony feels Caesar doesn’t adequately respect him. Octavia and her brother, Octavius Caesar, have a nice brother-sister relationship. She soon leaves for Rome to heal relationships. Caesar and Lepidus engage Pompey in a battle, and Pompey is killed. Consolidating his authority, Caesar has Lepidus imprisoned, suggesting he had been too close to Pompey. Caesar now controls Pompey’s strong navy. Antony leaves for Alexandria. Antony and Caesar’s poor relationship deteriorates. Antony ill advisedly decides to confront Caesar at sea, rather on land as some have suggested. Cleopatra offers him her navy. Antony and the Egyptian navy lose quickly. He blames Cleopatra for double-crossing him, but he soon backs off. Antony looks to Caesar for a pardon. Caesar refuses. Boldly, Caesar seeks to learn if Cleopatra will leave Antony for him. She won’t.
Act 4. An infuriated Antony takes on Caesar in a land battle and wins, Caesar’s forces scattering and retreating. A reenergized Antony regroups his navy and once again goes after Caesar at sea, once again losing. From a high point overlooking the event, Antony watches his navy along with the Egyptian forces “cast their caps up and carouse together like friends long lost,” comingling as they are with Caesar’s navy. He’s convinced Cleopatra has betrayed him. Having little sleep, he returns to Alexandria and lashes out at her. Believing him to be mad, she rushes to her tomb to hide. Antony is told through misinformation that she has died. He demands his aide kill him. The aide instead stabs himself, dying. Antony then tries to kill himself but fails, but does injure himself seriously. Learning that Cleopatra has in fact not died, he has other aides carry him to her, where they talk briefly. He then dies.
Act 5. Upset as he is with Cleopatra for rejecting his advances, Caesar decides secretly to capture her and parade her through the streets of Rome as a spoil of war. But an aide to Caesar, sympathetic to Cleopatra, lets her in on Caesar’s plan. Caesar visits Cleopatra and tries to persuade her that his intentions are honorable, but she’ll have none of it. She then famously has a countryman provide her with a basket of poisonous snakes. She and two of her aides stoically, heroically and dramatically, and ironically in Roman fashion, let the snakes bite them, all three dying promptly. Caesar honors both Antony and Cleopatra, saying “no grave upon the earth shall clip in it a pair so famous.”