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.
Honor, Loyalty, and Betrayal ThemeTracker
Honor, Loyalty, and Betrayal Quotes in Antony and Cleopatra
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.
Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide arch
Of the ranged empire fall! Here is my space.
These strong Egyptian fetters I must break,
Or lose myself in dotage.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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?
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!
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.
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.
One word, sweet queen:
Of Caesar seek your honour, with your safety. O!
They do not go together.
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!
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.
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.