Antony and Cleopatra

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Themes and Colors
Love, Pleasure, and Decadence Theme Icon
Honor, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Strategy, Manipulation, and Power Theme Icon
Messages, Warnings, and Omens Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Antony and Cleopatra, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Honor, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Icon

Antony and Cleopatra takes place at a time of serious political turmoil and civil strife, with leaders rising and falling, as Fulvia, Pompey, Lepidus, Octavius, Antony, and Cleopatra all jostle for political power. Thus, ordinary people, advisors, soldiers, and attendants are forced to decide who to follow and be loyal to. The leaders, meanwhile, must rely on the loyalty of their followers. It is when Antony's soldiers effectively desert that Antony is finally defeated. Beyond political or military loyalty, there is also the issue of marital loyalty and fidelity. Antony basically deserts his wife Fulvia for Cleopatra, and marries Octavia even though he intends to stay with Cleopatra. In addition, he often fears that Cleopatra is betraying him both politically and romantically.

The play is thus very interested in questions of loyalty and betrayal. Many characters face dilemmas, which complicate any simple notions of these ideas. Enobarbus is loyal to Antony for much of the play, but reasons that it is folly to stay loyal to a fool, and so leaves for Octavius’ camp. Menas decides to leave Pompey, because Pompey refuses to seize opportunity. Antony can also be seen as facing a crisis of loyalty: in waging civil war against Octavius, he is in some sense betraying his own country.

When faced with these dilemmas, characters must weigh the importance of loyalty against both self-interest and personal honor, which could be defined as loyalty to one's own values or ideals. However, Antony loses even personal honor when he flees the battle of Actium. Perhaps no character is wholly innocent of betrayal, though. Octavius is treacherous: not only does he turn on Lepidus, but also, after conquering Antony, he promises Cleopatra not to humiliate her as a prisoner in his military triumph, though he actually does plan to do this. Shakespeare’s play presents a messy series of complicated political, military, civil, and personal matters, in which figuring out the most honorable or loyal thing to do is never easy. Betrayal is a brutal fact of the real world in the play, and the last person standing—Octavius—does not achieve victory because he is the most honorable or loyal, but merely because he is able to survive all of the betrayals and shifting loyalties of his time.

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Honor, Loyalty, and Betrayal Quotes in Antony and Cleopatra

Below you will find the important quotes in Antony and Cleopatra related to the theme of Honor, Loyalty, and Betrayal.
Act 1, Scene 1 Quotes

Nay, but this dotage of our general's
O'erflows the measure: those his goodly eyes,
That o'er the files and musters of the war
Have glow'd like plated Mars, now bend, now turn,
The office and devotion of their view
Upon a tawny front: his captain's heart,
Which in the scuffles of great fights hath burst
The buckles on his breast, reneges all temper,
And is become the bellows and the fan
To cool a gipsy's lust.

Related Characters: Philo (speaker), Mark Antony, Cleopatra
Page Number: 1.1.1-10
Explanation and Analysis:

Two soldiers gossip about Mark Antony's overpowering love for Cleopatra, noting how he has turned away from war and honor, and now seeks only to satisfy his queen. They also demean Cleopatra in distinctly racist and sexist terms, calling her a "tawny" "gipsy" and referring to her "lust," while bemoaning the fact that Antony used to be godlike, yet now has become a slave to passion and a foreign woman.

From the first moments of the play, it becomes clear how the general Roman public views the union of Antony and Cleopatra; they think it a disgrace, disdaining Antony for having turned his back on Rome, and despising Cleopatra for having seduced him. 

From these words, it is immediately clear just how much power Cleopatra has over Mark Antony. Although he is known as a great warrior and powerful general, he has now abandoned his "office" in favor of cavorting with Cleopatra. The soldiers' former reverence for Antony makes their current contempt for him all the more striking and dramatic. 


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Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide arch
Of the ranged empire fall! Here is my space.

Related Characters: Mark Antony (speaker)
Page Number: 1.1.38-39
Explanation and Analysis:

Interrupted from his time with Cleopatra by a Roman messenger, Antony makes clear his priorities: he doesn't care if the city "melt[s]" into the Tiber River, or if the empire itself "fall[s]." All he cares about is being near his beloved queen.

Antony is known in the play as a great Roman patriot--one who loves his country more than himself, and consistently prioritizes the needs of the state over his own. He has devoted his life to expanding and protecting the empire, and is now one of its three supreme leaders. Thus to hear him suddenly say that he doesn't care whether or not Rome falls is shocking for the characters around him.

This confession is particularly pleasing to Cleopatra, however. As the queen of a nation that could easily be crushed by the Roman empire, it is extremely advantageous to her to have Antony under her power. The question of how much Cleopatra loves Antony, versus how much she is using him for her own political gain, will remain ambiguous throughout the play. 

Act 1, Scene 2 Quotes

These strong Egyptian fetters I must break,
Or lose myself in dotage.

Related Characters: Mark Antony (speaker), Mark Antony, Cleopatra
Page Number: 1.2.128-129
Explanation and Analysis:

Having heard a great deal of bad news from Rome, Mark Antony realizes that he must leave Cleopatra in order to attend to his duties and affairs. He refers to his bond with her as "fetters," as if he is his lover's slave or prisoner, and worries that he will "lose" himself if he stays longer.

This comment shows that Mark Antony understands a great deal more about his situation than he initially lets on. First of all, he is fully aware of how much control he has given Cleopatra within their relationship. He is wholly under her influence, but is also aware of that fact. Second, Antony is aware that he is jeopardizing his very identity as a Roman leader and patriot by remaining in Egypt. The longer he neglects his duties, the more his reputation and his place in the world are at risk. 

This quote perfectly sets up the conflict between love and duty that will torture and finally destroy Antony throughout the play. 

Act 3, Scene 6 Quotes

Where is he now?

My lord, in Athens.

No, my most wronged sister; Cleopatra
Hath nodded him to her. He hath given his empire
Up to a whore; who now are levying
The kings o’ the earth for war.

Related Characters: Octavius Caesar (speaker), Octavia (speaker), Mark Antony, Cleopatra
Page Number: 3.6.73-78
Explanation and Analysis:

Octavia arrives at her brother's house, believing that she can make peace between him and Mark Antony. She does not realize, however, that Antony has now returned to Cleopatra--a fact that gives her brother an excuse to go to war with Antony.

This passage reveals the true hypocrisy of Octavius Caesar. In the past, he has condemned both Antony and Cleopatra for mixing personal feelings with politics, saying that it makes them untrustworthy and immoral. In this scene, however, he is all too happy to use his sister's feelings of pain and dishonor to excuse his making war on his supposed ally and brother-in-law. 

In fact, Octavius even goes so far as to blame the coming war on Cleopatra--whom he calls a "whore"--saying that she and Antony are stirring up the "kings o' the earth for war." Yet the audience knows the truth: the calculating Octavius wants to stop sharing power with Antony, and has manipulated the situation such that he can justifiably go to war against his former friend.

Act 3, Scene 10 Quotes

She once being loof'd,
The noble ruin of her magic, Antony,
Claps on his sea-wing, and, like a doting mallard,
Leaving the fight in height, flies after her:
I never saw an action of such shame;
Experience, manhood, honour, ne'er before
Did violate so itself.

Related Characters: Scarus (speaker), Mark Antony, Cleopatra
Page Number: 3.10.22-28
Explanation and Analysis:

Antony and Cleopatra have gone to war against Octavius, culminating in the sea battle of Actium; yet at a crucial moment, Cleopatra has fled with her fleet, and Antony has followed her, leading to a huge defeat. One of Antony's soldiers comments on the chain of events, calling Antony a "mallard" (a duck) and asserting, "I never saw an action of such shame." He believes that Antony has destroyed his own "[e]xperience, manhood, [and] honour."

This assessment makes clear the potentially ruinous effects of Antony and Cleopatra's relationship. Although Antony is a seasoned soldier, he has thrown away the battle in order to follow his lover. It makes sense that a Roman soldier like Scarus would view this decision as the height of dishonor and unmanliness. Even the audience members understand just how poor a judgment this was on Antony's part, and how unwisely Cleopatra has used her power over him. 

Act 3, Scene 11 Quotes

O, whither hast thou led me, Egypt? See,
How I convey my shame out of thine eyes
By looking back what I have left behind
'Stroy'd in dishonour.

Related Characters: Mark Antony (speaker), Cleopatra
Page Number: 3.11.53-56
Explanation and Analysis:

Horrified that he has retreated from his own battle, Mark Antony now questions his own actions. He realizes that he has unwisely followed where Cleopatra led, asking where where she has led him, looking back at the men he has left behind and the lives he has destroyed with his own dishonor.

After his spur-of-the-moment decision, Antony now fully realizes what a terrible mistake he has made. He has not only lost the battle, but has also betrayed the soldiers who were loyal to him. He begs Cleopatra to tell him why she has caused this ruinous turn of events, and insults himself as shameful and dishonorable. In short, Antony believes that he has lost his manhood and his honorable identity by giving Cleopatra too much power over his decisions and his actions. 

Act 3, Scene 12 Quotes

From Antony win Cleopatra: promise,
And in our name, what she requires; add more,
From thine invention, offers: women are not
In their best fortunes strong; but want will perjure
The ne’er touch’d vestal: try thy cunning, Thidias;
Make thine own edict for thy pains, which we
Will answer as a law.

Related Characters: Octavius Caesar (speaker), Mark Antony, Cleopatra, Ambassador
Page Number: 3.12.33-39
Explanation and Analysis:

In a strategically advantageous position, Octavius Caesar now schemes to drive a wedge between Cleopatra and Mark Antony. He sends one of his men, Thidias, to "win" Cleopatra from Antony, ordering Thidias to "promise" Cleopatra whatever she wants. Octavius goes on to display his contempt for women, asserting that even the most virtuous woman will betray and lie if she is truly desperate (or is offered something especially appealing). 

Octavius's orders make clear his cunning and shifty nature. Antony, by contrast, is a sincere and deeply loyal man. Octavius, though, attempts to exploit others' weaknesses, and believes the worst about human nature.

His statement about women also brings up a crucial plot point: Octavius's constant underestimation of Cleopatra. As we will see as the play continues, Octavius's sexism and arrogance consistently make him think that he has the upper hand over the intelligent and crafty queen. The gravity of his mistake will become fully apparent by the end of the play, even when he is technically "victorious" over her. 

Act 3, Scene 13 Quotes

Mine honesty and I begin to square.
The loyalty well held to fools does make
Our faith mere folly: yet he that can endure
To follow with allegiance a fall'n lord
Does conquer him that did his master conquer
And earns a place i' the story.

Related Characters: Enobarbus (speaker), Mark Antony
Page Number: 3.13.48-53
Explanation and Analysis:

As Antony and Cleopatra continue to make terrible strategic decisions, the unthinkable begins to happen: the utterly loyal Enobarbus begins to question whether or not he should betray Antony. He feels himself at odds with his "honesty," and does not wish to be made a fool out of his own "faith." At the same time, however, Enobarbus wishes to be remembered for his honesty, and worries about what place he will earn in the "story" of these events.

That Enobarbus would ever consider betraying Antony makes clear the terrible situation that the Roman general and the Egyptian queen have created around themselves. They have made Enobarbus feel foolish for following them, and have ignored his good judgment in favor of their own arrogant and ill-advised decisions.

This statement also illuminates Enobarbus's--and the play's--understanding that all of these characters are living through a time of momentous history. Although they are human beings with human wants and desires, they are also kings, queens, and generals, whose decisions have huge consequences on the "story" of the world and the characters around them. 

Most kind messenger,
Say to great Caesar this: in deputation
I kiss his conquering hand: tell him, I am prompt
To lay my crown at ’s feet, and there to kneel:
Tell him from his all-obeying breath I hear
The doom of Egypt.

Related Characters: Cleopatra (speaker), Octavius Caesar
Page Number: 3.13.90-95
Explanation and Analysis:

The deceitful and flattering Thidias comes to Cleopatra, promising her Octavius's favor if she betrays Antony. Cleopatra replies that she acknowledges Caesar as her conqueror, and that she will place her "crown" at his "feet" in order to avert the "doom of Egypt."

This statement is a complicated and troubling one from Cleopatra. On one hand, she is very close to betraying Antony--a terrible action from a woman who claims to be deeply in love with the man who has thrown away his life for her.

On the other hand, Cleopatra must think not only about herself, but also about her country. Despite her love for Antony, her duty to Egypt comes first, and she is prepare to do whatever it takes to protect it from the conquering Octavius. 

On the surface, this passage makes it seem like Cleopatra is faithless and calculating. After further reflection, however, it is clear that she is in an impossible position, caught between her love for Antony and her love for her country, and is attempting to make the choice that will benefit her people rather than herself. 

To flatter Caesar, would you mingle eyes
With one that ties his points?

Not know me yet?

Cold-hearted toward me?

Ah, dear, if I be so,
From my cold heart let heaven engender hail,
And poison it in the source; and the first stone
Drop in my neck: as it determines, so
Dissolve my life! The next Caesarion smite!
Till by degrees the memory of my womb,
Together with my brave Egyptians all,
By the discandying of this pelleted storm,
Lie graveless, till the flies and gnats of Nile
Have buried them for prey!

Related Characters: Mark Antony (speaker), Cleopatra (speaker), Octavius Caesar
Page Number: 3.13.191-204
Explanation and Analysis:

A furious Antony comes upon Cleopatra with Thidias; Antony beats the other man, threatens him, and throws him out, before furiously turning on Cleopatra. After he demands to know if she will leave him for Caesar, Cleopatra assures him that she never will. If she ever does, she asks for the gods to kill both herself and her children, and for all of Egypt to fall. 

Once again, this is a difficult exchange to correctly interpret. Cleopatra may well be manipulating Antony, telling him what he wants to hear in order to keep him from abandoning or even killing her. On the other hand, it seems hard to believe that she does not love him, so passionate, gorgeous, and dramatic are the words of her response. 

This passage again makes clear the melding of personal and political that constantly takes place within Cleopatra's world. At this moment in time, she must keep her lover from leaving her, and does so with amazing skill; at the same time, though, it is entirely possible that she means every word she says, and is using her honest emotion in order to fuel her tactical move. 

I will be treble-sinew'd, hearted, breathed,
And fight maliciously: for when mine hours
Were nice and lucky, men did ransom lives
Of me for jests; but now I'll set my teeth,
And send to darkness all that stop me. Come,
Let's have one other gaudy night: call to me
All my sad captains; fill our bowls once more;
Let's mock the midnight bell.

Related Characters: Mark Antony (speaker)
Page Number: 3.13.217-224
Explanation and Analysis:

Heartened by Cleopatra's vow of love, Antony asserts that he will be braver than ever before. He recalls how he used to show mercy to his enemies, but now promises that he will kill them all. He tells Cleopatra that they will have "one other gaudy night," and summons all of his soldiers to drink with him.

Although this speech might seem foolish and misguided, it also suggests that on some level, Antony knows how doomed he is. He wants another "gaudy night" because he knows it will be his last. His urging to "mock the midnight bell" most obviously means that he will stay up late; yet it can also be interpreted that Antony wishes to "mock" his oncoming death. 

This passage illuminates the contradictory and tragic nature of Antony. Although he is brave, sincere, and ruled by emotion rather than logic, Antony is certainly not stupid. He may pretend to think that he can win against Octavius, but in truth, he knows all too well the reality of his situation. 

Act 4, Scene 5 Quotes

One ever near thee: call for Enobarbus,
He shall not hear thee; or from Caesar’s camp
Say ‘I am none of thine.’

What say’st thou?

Sir, he is with Caesar.

Sir, his chests and treasure
He has not with him.

Is he gone?

Most certain.

Go, Eros, send his treasure after; do it;
Detain no jot, I charge thee: write to him—
I will subscribe—gentle adieus and greetings;
Say that I wish he never find more cause
To change a master. O, my fortunes have
Corrupted honest men! Dispatch.—Enobarbus!

Related Characters: Mark Antony (speaker), Eros (speaker), Octavius Caesar, Enobarbus
Page Number: 4.5.10-25
Explanation and Analysis:

At the eleventh hour, as Antony once again prepares to fight, he learns that Enobarbus has indeed left him, and has defected to Caesar's camp. When Antony hears the news, he immediately tells his servant to send Enobarbus's belongings and wealth along with him, and to also give his former friend "gentle adieus and greetings." Last, he laments that "his fortunes/ Have corrupted honest men."

This passage reveals two crucial characteristics of Antony: his genuine generosity of spirit, and his passionate self-loathing. On one hand, Antony clearly hates himself, believing that his terrible judgment and ill-advised choices have "corrupted" even Enobarbus, the most "honest" and loyal of men. He does not blame Enobarbus for betraying him, because he knows just how much "cause" there was for his soldier to do so.

At the same time, Antony is still an intensely good and loyal man. Despite having been betrayed by Enobarbus, he still loves his one-time ally, and wishes him only the best. In this dark hour and faced with this huge betrayal, Antony's honesty and love come across as particularly poignant and tragic. 

Act 4, Scene 6 Quotes

I am alone the villain of the earth,
And feel I am so most. O Antony,
Thou mine of bounty, how wouldst thou have paid
My better service, when my turpitude
Thou dost so crown with gold! This blows my heart:
If swift thought break it not, a swifter mean
Shall outstrike thought: but thought will do't, I feel.
I fight against thee! No: I will go seek
Some ditch wherein to die; the foul'st best fits
My latter part of life.

Related Characters: Enobarbus (speaker), Mark Antony
Page Number: 4.6.34-44
Explanation and Analysis:

Enobarbus emerges, having just received both his chests and good wishes from Antony. In agony, he calls himself "the villain of the earth," now remembering Antony as the most generous and loyal master who ever lived. So anguished is Enobarbus that he wishes for his heart to literally break. Realizing that he can never fight against Antony, he resolves to "die" in a "ditch," because he nowdeserves such a foul and dishonorable death.

Antony and Cleopatra's misfortune has spread outward, infecting all who were once loyal to them. Despite making a perfectly rational and even justified choice, Enobarbus is now unable to live with himself, having lost his own identity as a loyal soldier and faithful friend. He has gone from rational and detached to a tragic figure in his own right, unable to deal with the dishonorable action that he has taken. In short, his love for Antony has destroyed him--just as Antony's love for Cleopatra will soon destroy him

Act 4, Scene 15 Quotes

Not Caesar’s valour hath o’erthrown Antony,
But Antony’s hath triumph’d on itself.

So it should be, that none but Antony
Should conquer Antony; but woe ’tis so!

I am dying, Egypt, dying; only
I here importune death awhile, until
Of many thousand kisses the poor last
I lay up thy lips.

Related Characters: Mark Antony (speaker), Cleopatra (speaker), Octavius Caesar
Page Number: 4.15.18-25
Explanation and Analysis:

Believing Cleopatra to be dead, Antony has killed himself. In fact, however, she is still alive, and the two reunite in her tomb as he takes his last breaths. Antony is glad that at least he has killed himself, rather than Caesar doing so, and Cleopatra agrees. Calling his lover "Egypt," Antony says that he will delay death until he can kiss Cleopatra one last time--the final kiss out of "many thousand kisses."

Literally, Antony has "conquer[ed]" himself, since he has killed himself with his own sword. Metaphorically, however, the statement still remains true: Antony has defeated himself with his own pride, ill-judgment, and passion. At every turn, he has done what he wants rather than what is wise. He has been honest instead of cunning, and emotional rather than logical. Now, he is paying the price. 

After all of their squabbling and betrayals, Antony and Cleopatra at last agree, united by tragedy. Antony's words to Cleopatra contain no bitterness, but only heartbreak, as he strives to kiss her one more time before death. 

One word, sweet queen:
Of Caesar seek your honour, with your safety. O!

They do not go together.

Related Characters: Mark Antony (speaker), Cleopatra (speaker)
Page Number: 4.15.53-55
Explanation and Analysis:

Even in his final moments, Antony has an exchange with Cleopatra that illustrates the radical differences between their worldviews. The honest and idealistic Antony believes that Octavius will give Cleopatra "safety" while also allowing her to retain her "honour." Cleopatra, however, knows that this is not true. If she yields to Caesar and bets for safety, he will not allow her to keep her honor; and if she chooses honor, it will only be retained through her death.

As is always the case, Antony has shown himself to be deeply honorable, but also innocent in the harsher ways of the world. The cunning Cleopatra has a much more clear-eyed view of the reality of the situation, and knows that she will soon be forced to choose between her honor and her life. 

Act 5, Scene 2 Quotes

Sir, I will eat no meat, I'll not drink, sir;
If idle talk will once be necessary,
I'll not sleep neither: this mortal house I'll ruin,
Do Caesar what he can. Know, sir, that I
Will not wait pinion'd at your master's court;
Nor once be chastised with the sober eye
Of dull Octavia. Shall they hoist me up
And show me to the shouting varletry
Of censuring Rome? Rather a ditch in Egypt
Be gentle grave unto me! rather on Nilus' mud
Lay me stark naked, and let the water-flies
Blow me into abhorring! rather make
My country's high pyramides my gibbet,
And hang me up in chains!

Related Characters: Cleopatra (speaker), Octavius Caesar
Page Number: 5.2.59-72
Explanation and Analysis:

Cleopatra attempts to kill herself, but is foiled by Octavius's messenger. Thus kept from her goal, she vows not to eat, drink, or sleep until her "mortal house"--her body--is "ruin[ed]." Despite the Roman's attempts to fool her, Cleopatra knows that she will be imprisoned and humiliated in Rome. Rather than live with this dishonor, she instead wishes to die in "a ditch in Egypt," drown in the mud of the Nile, or be hanged from the top of a pyramid.

Having lost both her love and her country, Cleopatra has only one remaining desire: not to be dishonored. She knows, however, that the only way to do so is through death. This speech makes clear Cleopatra's resolve to die rather than be humiliated, and her terrible fear of what Octavius will do to her if she lives. While the Romans may still believe that they will prevail over Cleopatra's weak, womanly willpower, the audience knows all too well that the strong-willed Cleopatra will accomplish what she has set out to do. 

Now, Charmian!
Show me, my women, like a queen: go fetch
My best attires: I am again for Cydnus,
To meet Mark Antony: sirrah Iras, go.
Now, noble Charmian, we'll dispatch indeed;
And, when thou hast done this chare, I'll give thee leave
To play till doomsday. Bring our crown and all.

Related Characters: Cleopatra (speaker), Mark Antony, Charmian
Page Number: 5.2.276-282
Explanation and Analysis:

With Octavius gone, Cleopatra's manner now changes completely. She regally commands her women to bring her finest robes and crown, wishing to look just as she did the first time she met Mark Antony.

Of course, Cleopatra wishes to die in part because she does not want to live without Antony; also at play is her fear of humiliation in Rome. In this speech, however, we witness a third cause: her wish to be immortalized as a beautiful, powerful, and tragic queen. Like many other characters in the play, Cleopatra is fully aware of her place in history. She knows that she will be remembered, and wishes to control the narrative that others will one day tell about her. And indeed, she is the ultimate "star" of the play and the legend that surrounds it—Octavius is technically the victor, but he isn't even mentioned in the play's title.

Take up her bed;
And bear her women from the monument:
She shall be buried by her Antony:
No grave upon the earth shall clip in it
A pair so famous. High events as these
Strike those that make them; and their story is
No less in pity than his glory which
Brought them to be lamented. Our army shall
In solemn show attend this funeral;
And then to Rome. Come, Dolabella, see
High order in this great solemnity.

Related Characters: Octavius Caesar (speaker), Mark Antony, Cleopatra
Page Number: 5.2.427-437
Explanation and Analysis:

Discovering that Cleopatra is dead, Octavius reacts not with anger, but with respect honor. He orders his soldiers to bury the queen with "her Antony," reflecting that there will never be a "pair" as "famous" as them again. He concludes that he feels moved by these events, even though he caused them, and that he pities the couple. Lastly, he resolves that the whole army shall honor the two with a funeral.

Like Cleopatra and Antony, Octavius here displays that he, too, understands his place in history. Although a crafty and manipulative man, he still feels "pity" and admiration for his fallen foes, even though he has, in many respects, caused their deaths.

Although Antony and Cleopatra is tragic in that it ends with the deaths of its title characters, the two are not defeated in death. Instead, they are honored by their most bitter foe, and take their place in the history of the civilizations that they have both served for their entire lives.