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.
Strategy, Manipulation, and Power Theme Icon

As various political players struggle for control over the crumbling Roman republic, most of the play’s characters attempt to strategize and manipulate their way to safety and power. Alliances shift throughout the play, as Antony and Octavius begin on the same side (against Pompey), before Octavius turns on Lepidus, and Antony and Octavius turn on each other. Lesser commanders must figure out their own strategies, as well. Enobarbus leaves Antony, hoping it will get him a better chance at prospering with Octavius, while Menas hopes to leave Pompey in order to attain more power for himself. And Antony’s general Ventidius decides not to pursue the fleeing Parthians so as not to accomplish too much and rival Antony’s authority.

All the characters in the play must plan their actions carefully, as any wrong move can result in making the wrong enemy. All this strategy and manipulation trickles down into the personal and domestic spheres, as well. Cleopatra often tries to manipulate Antony (sending him a false message that she is dead, for example, in order to see his reaction), and Antony strategically marries Octavius’ sister Octavia. From the battlefield to the bedroom, Antony and Cleopatra is full of plotting characters striving against one another. Octavius can be seen as the one character whose plans actually come to fruition, but Cleopatra is able to thwart him with one last stratagem: by ending her own life she takes control over her fate and refuses to be taken as a prisoner of war. Octavius may have defeated her in battle, but Cleopatra’s clever plotting allows her to find some form of victory in defeat, some power amid powerlessness.

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Strategy, Manipulation, and Power Quotes in Antony and Cleopatra

Below you will find the important quotes in Antony and Cleopatra related to the theme of Strategy, Manipulation, and Power.
Act 1, Scene 3 Quotes

See where he is, who's with him, what he does:
I did not send you: if you find him sad,
Say I am dancing; if in mirth, report
That I am sudden sick: quick, and return.

Related Characters: Cleopatra (speaker), Mark Antony
Page Number: 1.3.3-6
Explanation and Analysis:

Unable to find Antony, Cleopatra orders her servants to seek him out, and to fool him when they find him by lying about her own emotional condition.

As is so often the case with Cleopatra, this command is a highly complex one. On one hand, Cleopatra is clearly manipulating Antony, controlling his every move and emotion in order to keep him under her influence. On the other hand, Cleopatra's words are also those of an obsessive lover who feels neglected and jealous.

This mixture of love and strategy sits at the heart of Cleopatra's character. She thinks of the two as interchangeable, and it is often impossible for her (or her audience) to determine which is which. As a female leader in a man's world, she has learned to use every tactic at her disposal in order to retain her power and autonomy. 


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Act 2, Scene 1 Quotes

My powers are crescent, and my auguring hope
Says it will come to the full. Mark Antony
In Egypt sits at dinner, and will make
No wars without doors: Caesar gets money where
He loses hearts: Lepidus flatters both,
Of both is flatter'd; but he neither loves,
Nor either cares for him.

Related Characters: Sextus Pompey (speaker), Mark Antony, Octavius Caesar, Lepidus
Page Number: 2.1.13-19
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Pompey, a rebel and the enemy of the co-consuls Mark Antony, Octavius Caesar, and Lepidus, discusses the situation in Rome with his generals. His comments reveal just how tangled and twisted the political reality of the Roman Empire really is right now. Pompey notes how Antony is currently wasting himself in Egypt, how Caesar is greedy and uncharismatic, and how the weak Lepidus attempts to "flatter" both other leaders, even though none of the three actually like each other.

Although Pompey is of course inclined to think of his enemies as disconnected and dysfunctional, his words still paint a troubling picture of the Roman Empire's leaders. Jealous and power-hungry men, they are supposed to rule together, and yet actually are constantly seeking to undermine each other.

In this environment, Antony's love for Cleopatra is a huge handicap. It gives him a weakness for his fellow leaders to exploit, and takes his attention away from the power games that all those around him are playing. 

Act 2, Scene 2 Quotes

To hold you in perpetual amity,
To make you brothers, and to knit your hearts
With an unslipping knot, take Antony
Octavia to his wife; whose beauty claims
No worse a husband than the best of men;
Whose virtue and whose general graces speak
That which none else can utter. By this marriage,
All little jealousies, which now seem great,
And all great fears, which now import their dangers,
Would then be nothing: truths would be tales,
Where now half tales be truths: her love to both
Would, each to other and all loves to both,
Draw after her.

Related Characters: Agrippa (speaker), Mark Antony, Octavius Caesar, Octavia
Page Number: 2.2.150-162
Explanation and Analysis:

As Mark Antony and Octavius Caesar passive aggressively trade barbs and jibes, Caesar's ally, Agrippa, suggests a solution: Antony should marry Caesar's sister, Octavia. He reminds Antony that Octavia is beautiful and virtuous, and urges both men to go ahead with the union, since it will bind the two of them together, and put to bed rumors of unrest and disunity. 

First and foremost, this suggestion shows how Roman women are considered objects in society rather than people. Octavia has no say in the matter; she is Octavius's to offer, and Antony's to accept. The Romans also place little importance on romantic love. Antony should not marry Octavia because she is lovable, but because it will be good for the Empire. Her virtue and beauty are added benefits, rather than reasons for affection.

In this dispassionate and manipulative world, it is easy to see why men like Octavius are so scared of and confused by Cleopatra. Although beautiful, she is certainly not traditionally "virtuous" and meek like Octavia. Ruled by her passions, her thirst for power, and her love of her country, she refuses to be objectified, instead making herself a player in the political sphere by whatever means necessary. 

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 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. 

Act 5, Scene 1 Quotes

Come hither, Proculeius. Go and say,
We purpose her no shame: give her what comforts
The quality of her passion shall require,
Lest, in her greatness, by some mortal stroke
She do defeat us; for her life in Rome
Would be eternal in our triumph: go,
And with your speediest bring us what she says,
And how you find of her.

Related Characters: Octavius Caesar (speaker), Cleopatra, Proculeius
Page Number: 5.1.72-79
Explanation and Analysis:

The triumphant Caesar instructs one of his men on how to greet Cleopatra. Wishing to parade his triumph over the queen in front of the Roman people, he is worried that she will thwart him by committing suicide. As such, he tells his messenger to say whatever it will take to soothe Cleopatra, reminding him that bringing Cleopatra back to Rome would make his victory "eternal." 

In this passage, Caesar is both cunning and mistaken. He has no strong relationship to truth, and is willing to do whatever it takes to ultimately humiliate Cleopatra in front of the Roman populace (thus reinforcing his own victory and mastery). At the same time, however, he believes that Cleopatra is weaker and less intelligent than he is. In truth, the queen is fully aware of what he intends to do, and cannot be swayed from her ultimate course--committing suicide. In believing that he can deceive her, Octavius is himself deceived. 

Act 5, Scene 2 Quotes

Sole sir o' the world,
I cannot project mine own cause so well
To make it clear; but do confess I have
Been laden with like frailties which before
Have often shamed our sex.

Related Characters: Cleopatra (speaker), Octavius Caesar
Page Number: 5.2.149-153
Explanation and Analysis:

Finally face-to-face with Octavius, Cleopatra kneels before him. In contrast with her formerly passionate speech, she is now subdued and humble. Instead, she hails Octavius as the conqueror of the world, and "confess[es]" that she is a frail woman who has made foolish mistakes.

As audience members and readers, we are aware of the falsity of Cleopatra's speech here. Determined to kill herself, she is brilliantly playing into Octavius's misguided perceptions of her. He is convinced that she is a weak and submissive woman, and so that is what she pretends to be. Just as she once manipulated Antony, she is now manipulating Octavius in a very different way, pretending to be something that she is not in order to achieve her ultimate aim.