Antony and Cleopatra opens with a scene in which Antony professes his unfathomable love for Cleopatra and, while the play covers much of the political drama surrounding the crumbling of the Roman republic and creation of the Roman Empire under Octavius, it is also centrally about the romantic relationship between Antony and Cleopatra (after all, it’s not entitled Antony and Octavius). Antony tells Cleopatra that his love has no bounds, and often it certainly does seem excessive. It keeps him from important business in Rome, clouds his judgment, and is at the very least a contributing factor to his downfall. This is not to say that Antony’s love is wholly negative or that all love in the play is bad, though. One can view Antony’s love for Cleopatra as (at times) a powerful, genuine devotion to another person. Moreover, the close bond between Octavius and his sister Octavia suggests the positive nature of familial love. Antony’s love is so destructive to himself perhaps because it is mostly a matter of lust and reckless passion.
Enobarbus says that Cleopatra does not satisfy Antony’s appetite for love but rather “makes hungry / Where she most satisfies.” In this, he compares Antony’s desire to other forms of appetite. And indeed it is not merely love that Antony indulges in while in Egypt. He and Cleopatra feast, drink, and carouse decadently. Cleopatra herself seems at times obsessed with beauty and pleasure. All of Egypt becomes associated in the play with a decadent, luxurious lifestyle. This fits with long-standing cultural stereotypes by which western art and literature has often caricatured the east as a place of decadence and leisure, and contributes to a conflict between east and west personified by Antony and Octavius (between whom the world is divided politically). The individual dispute between Antony and Octavius can be seen as a conflict between Rome’s western austerity and Egypt’s eastern luxury. Antony is a Roman, but the play follows his transformation as he moves to Egypt and becomes more and more in thrall to his own desires for various forms of pleasure. At the end of the play, Octavius is victorious, suggesting that his practical austerity conquers Antony’s licentious lifestyle of pleasure. But the play is a tragedy: Shakespeare presents the downfall of Antony and Cleopatra sympathetically, bestowing some honor on them even as they lose themselves among the pleasures of the Egyptian court.
Love, Pleasure, and Decadence ThemeTracker
Love, Pleasure, and Decadence 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.
This is the news: he fishes, drinks, and wastes
The lamps of night in revel; is not more man-like
Than Cleopatra; nor the queen of Ptolemy
More womanly than he; hardly gave audience, or
Vouchsafed to think he had partners: you shall find there
A man who is the abstract of all faults
That all men follow.
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.
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.
The barge she sat in, like a burnish'd throne,
Burn'd on the water: the poop was beaten gold;
Purple the sails, and so perfumed that
The winds were love-sick with them; the oars were silver,
Which to the tune of flutes kept stroke, and made
The water which they beat to follow faster,
As amorous of their strokes. For her own person,
It beggar'd all description: she did lie
In her pavilion--cloth-of-gold of tissue—
O'er-picturing that Venus where we see
The fancy outwork nature: on each side her
Stood pretty dimpled boys, like smiling Cupids,
With divers-colour'd fans, whose wind did seem
To glow the delicate cheeks which they did cool,
And what they undid did.
Upon her landing, Antony sent to her,
Invited her to supper: she replied,
It should be better he became her guest;
Which she entreated: our courteous Antony,
Whom ne'er the word of 'No' woman heard speak,
Being barber'd ten times o'er, goes to the feast,
And for his ordinary pays his heart
For what his eyes eat only.
A more unhappy lady,
If this division chance, ne'er stood between,
Praying for both parts:
The good gods me presently,
When I shall pray, 'O bless my lord and husband!'
Undo that prayer, by crying out as loud,
'O, bless my brother!' Husband win, win brother,
Prays, and destroys the prayer; no midway
'Twixt these extremes at all.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.