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Antony and Cleopatra

A scene from Antony and Cleopatra

Introduction to the play

Antony and Cleopatra dramatizes a major event in world history: the founding of the Roman Empire. The future first emperor, Octavius Caesar (later called Augustus Caesar), cold-bloodedly manipulates other characters and exercises iron control over himself.

At first, he shares power with Mark Antony, Rome’s preeminent military leader, and the weaker Lepidus. Caesar needs Antony to fend off other Roman strongmen like Pompey; he even offers his sister Octavia to him as a bride, despite Antony’s reputation as a libertine and his past rivalry with Caesar. Once Caesar defeats Pompey, however, he needs no allies. He brings charges against Lepidus, denies Antony his spoils from Pompey’s defeat, and seizes cities in the eastern Roman colonies that Antony rules.

The play’s emphasis, however, is on those whom Caesar defeats: Antony and his wealthy Egyptian ally, Queen Cleopatra. The play does not sugarcoat Antony and Cleopatra’s famous love affair, including her calculated attempts to seduce Antony from his duties and his rage when he thinks she has betrayed him to Caesar. Nonetheless, the lovers find such sensual and emotional satisfaction that Caesar’s world conquest seems smaller than what they find in each other.

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Cover of the Folger Shakespeare edition of Antony and Cleopatra

The Folger Shakespeare

Our bestselling editions of Shakespeare's plays and poems

… We have kissed away
Kingdoms and provinces.

Act 3, scene 10, lines 9–10

Give me my robe. Put on my crown. I have
Immortal longings in me.

Act 5, scene 2, lines 335–336

Antony and Cleopatra in our collection

A selection of Folger collection items related to Antony and Cleopatra. Find more in our digital image collection

Act 4, scene 15: Cleopatra holds the dead Antony. By Alexandre Bida.
Cleopatra embarking on the Cyndus. Painted by F. Danby; engraved by E. Goodall.
Cleopatra snake girdle worn by Madame Modjeska. Gold with jewels, made in Paris, late 19th or early 20th century.
Sarah Bernhardt as Cleopatra

Essays and resources from The Folger Shakespeare

Antony and Cleopatra

Learn more about the play, its language, and its history from the experts behind our edition.

About Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra
An introduction to the plot, themes, and characters in the play

Reading Shakespeare’s Language
A guide for understanding Shakespeare’s words, sentences, and wordplay

An Introduction to This Text
A description of the publishing history of the play and our editors’ approach to this edition

Shakespeare and his world

Learn more about Shakespeare, his theater, and his plays from the experts behind our editions.

Shakespeare’s Life
An essay about Shakespeare and the time in which he lived

Shakespeare’s Theater
An essay about what theaters were like during Shakespeare’s career

The Publication of Shakespeare’s Plays
An essay about how Shakespeare’s plays were published

Related blog posts and podcasts

Teaching Antony and Cleopatra

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.