Antony and Cleopatra

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Antony and Cleopatra Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on William Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of William Shakespeare
Shakespeare's father was a glove-maker, and Shakespeare received no more than a grammar school education. He married Anne Hathaway in 1582, but left his family behind around 1590 and moved to London, where he became an actor and playwright. He was an immediate success: Shakespeare soon became the most popular playwright of the day as well as a part-owner of the Globe Theater. His theater troupe was adopted by King James as the King's Men in 1603. Shakespeare retired as a rich and prominent man to Stratford-upon-Avon in 1613, and died three years later.
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Historical Context of Antony and Cleopatra
In the late 1st century BCE, the republic of Rome was crumbling. In 44 BCE, the dictator Julius Caesar was assassinated, and then his assassins were killed in revenge. Power became divided among Lepidus, Octavius Caesar (Julius Caesar’s adoptive son), and Mark Antony in an arrangement known as the second triumvirate. The weak Lepidus was easily squeezed out of the picture, and as Antony and Octavius amassed more and more power they moved toward a civil war against each other. Antony’s power was centered in the east and in Egypt (where he was with Cleopatra), while Octavius’ power was more centered at Rome. The two fought a climactic battle near Actium in 33 BCE, at which the forces of Antony and Cleopatra were decisively defeated. Soon after, Octavius gained sole control over Rome, and gradually established a form of government called the Principate, commonly known as the Roman Empire. All of these historical events form an important background to Shakespeare’s play, but his tragedy creates an inventive, original story from these raw ingredients of historical fact.
Key Facts about Antony and Cleopatra
  • Full Title: Antony and Cleopatra
  • When Written: Early 1600s
  • Where Written: England
  • When Published: 1623
  • Literary Period: The Renaissance (1500-1660)
  • Genre: Drama, tragedy
  • Setting: Egypt and Rome, around 31 BCE
  • Climax: Antony and Cleopatra fight Octavius in a naval battle near Actium. Cleopatra flees and Antony follows her, effectively losing the fight against Octavius.
  • Antagonist: Octavius Caesar
Extra Credit for Antony and Cleopatra

Queen of the Nile. Although she was the queen of Egypt and lived there, Cleopatra actually descended from a family line of Macedonian Greeks, who came to power in Egypt following the death of Alexander the Great (who had conquered Egypt, among many other places).