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Antony and Cleopatra

Antony and Cleopatra tells the story of a romance between two powerful lovers: Cleopatra, the queen of Egypt, and Mark Antony, who rules the Roman Empire with Octavius Caesar and Lepidus.

Although he is needed in Rome, Antony lingers in Egypt with Cleopatra. He finally returns to Rome when Pompey, another military leader, tries to gain control of the empire. Once in Rome, Antony marries Caesar's sister Octavia.

After Pompey is defeated, Caesar imprisons Lepidus and turns on Antony. Octavia attempts to reconcile them, but fails.  Antony returns to Cleopatra. He challenges Caesar at sea, adding Cleopatra's ships to his own. When she and her navy flee in mid-battle, Antony follows, abandoning his men.

Antony fails in a second battle at sea. At first, he blames Cleopatra and plans to kill her. He responds to false news of her death, however, by attempting suicide; fatally wounded, he reunites with her as he dies. Faced with Caesar's plans to humiliate her in Rome, Cleopatra kills herself with poisonous snakes.

Early printed texts

Antony and Cleopatra was printed for the first time in the 1623 First Folio, and that text is the source for all later editions of the play.

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First pages of the First Folio edition of Antony and Cleopatra
Item Title: 
Works. 1623] Mr. William Shakespeares comedies, histories, & tragedies : published according to the true originall copies.
Item Call Number: 
STC 22273 Fo.1 no.68
Item Creator: 
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.
Item Date: 
1623

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Opening of Antony and Cleopatra in the Second Folio
Item Title: 
Mr. VVilliam Shakespeares comedies, histories, and tragedies. : Published according to the true originall copies.
Item Call Number: 
STC 22274 Fo.2 no.07
Item Creator: 
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.
Item Date: 
1632

Picturing Antony and Cleopatra

As part of an NEH-funded project, the Folger digitized thousands of 18th-, 19th-, and early 20th-century images representing Shakespeare’s plays. Some of these images show actors in character, while others show the plays as if they were real-life events—telling the difference isn't always easy. A selection of images related to Antony and Cleopatra is shown below, with links to more images available in our digital image collection.

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Drawing by A. M. Faulkner of Cleopatra greeting Antony (1906)

Cleopatra greeting Antony (1906)

Item Title: 
Antony and Cleopatra [graphic] / A.M. Faulkner.
Item Call Number: 
ART Box F263 no.1 (size L)
Item Creator: 
Faulkner, A. M., artist.
Item Date: 
1906

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Photograph of Lillie Langtry in the role of Cleopatra (1891)

Lillie Langtry as Cleopatra (1891)

Item Title: 
[Lillie Langtry as Cleopatra in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra] [graphic] / W. & D. Downey.
Item Call Number: 
ART File L286.3 no.5 PHOTO (size M)
Item Creator: 
W. & D. Downey, photographer.
Item Date: 
[London, England : s.n.], 1891.

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Painting by Alexandre Bida of Cleopatra holding the dead Antony (Act 4, scene 15; 19th century)

Cleopatra holding the dead Antony (Act 4, scene 15; 19th century)

Item Title: 
[Antony and Cleopatra, IV, 15, Cleopatra holds the dead Antony] [graphic] / [Alexandre Bida].
Item Call Number: 
ART Box B584 no.8 (size S)
Item Creator: 
Bida, Alexandre, 1813-1895, artist.
Item Date: 
[19th century]

More images of Antony and Cleopatra can be found in our digital image collection. (Because of how they were cataloged, some images from other plays might appear in the image searches linked here, so always check the sidebar to see if the image is described as part of a larger group.)