Antony And Cleopatra
Following the assassination of Julius Caesar, Marc Antony joined forces with Octavius Caesar and Lepidus to defeat the army led by Brutus and Cassius at the Battle of Philippi. However, at the outset of Antony and Cleopatra, Antony is not in Rome ruling her vast lands with his fellow triumvirs, but is living in Alexandria, enthralled by the captivating Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra. News comes from Rome that Fulvia, Antony's wife, has led an unsuccessful revolt against Octavius, but thereafter has unexpectedly died. More sobering to Antony, though, is the news that Sextus Pompeius (called Pompey), son of Julius Caesar's great rival Pompey the Great, is also rebelling against the authority of the triumvirate, and has annexed some of the conquered Roman territory for himself. Much to Cleopatra's dismay, Antony makes plans to return to Rome and join in the military campaign against Pompey. In Rome, Octavius repeats to Lepidus the reports of Antony's debauched lifestyle with Cleopatra and hopes that Antony will return in time to help them. From Alexandria, Cleopatra sends countless messengers to inquire after her beloved Antony. The three triumvirs meet and Octavius and Antony agree to set aside their differences. To cement this alliance, Antony agrees to marry the recently widowed sister of Octavius, Octavia. However, Enobarbus, Antony's trusted friend, knows his captain well and proves correct in his prediction that Antony will be unable to stay away from Cleopatra. The war with Pompey is averted, and the former enemies celebrate the peace with a feast. In Egypt, Cleopatra hears the news of Antony's marriage and takes her anger out on the messenger, but she is mollified to learn that Octavia cannot rival her in beauty. An uneasy peace concluded, Antony determines to leave for Athens with his new wife and Octavius and Octavia bid each other an emotional farewell. However, the peace is short-lived. Octavius renews his war against Pompey, defeats him easily, imprisons Lepidus, and publicly speaks disparagingly of Antony. Octavia arrives in Rome to intercede for her husband with her brother, but instead learns that Antony has left Athens and returned to Egypt to declare himself, Cleopatra and their children the monarchs of Egypt. Octavius declares war on Egypt. Octavius pursues Antony to Egypt where a battle both by sea and land is about to be fought. One the first day of battle, Antony loses a possible victory when he, and thereby his fleet, follows a fleeing Cleopatra. Fearing defeat, Antony advises his followers to join Octavius. Octavius sends an overture of peace to Cleopatra, who appears to accept, and Antony thinks he has been betrayed. Knowing that the next few days of battle and their outcome will seal their fate forever, Antony and Cleopatra, attempt to navigate a treacherous labyrinth of warfare and diplomatic statesmanship but in the end the future belongs to Octavius, the new Caesar.
In Antony and Cleopatra, the title characters are caught in an era of change. Antony and Cleopatra represent the old order, but their way of doing things: out in the open with hand-to-hand combat, loyalty to a charismatic leader, and no hidden agenda, is past. For director Robert Benedetti, Antony and Cleopatra takes place in a world that is in transition. "The old-line roll-up-your sleeves politicians like Dick Daley and Harry Truman," comments Benedetti, "are being lost in the passing of political power to a new elite of behind-the-scenes spiders spinning their international ideological webs." In the set designed by David Barber, the sleek clean lines of the new order in the metaphorical cities of Rome and Alexandria, architecturally reminiscent of Frank Gehry and I. M. Pei, have been built over the decaying grandeur of the old order, visible in the obelisks silhouetted against the skyline. Antony and Cleopatra, once titans, are adrift in this new order, where power is concentrated in the hands of a few who, safely removed from the front lines of war, command the fate of many. Though both Antony and Cleopatra attempt to navigate this new playing field, both are quickly lost in the ever-changing space as contracts are reneged upon, treaties broken, and loyalties are proven false. Perhaps part of what makes this shifting political arena such a seemingly uneven field is that their young principal rival, Octavian Caesar, is a new breed of leader, deceptively suave, youthful, and clever. Thus, Antony and Cleopatra return to each other, despite their flares of lovers' insecurities, drawn together by a code of honor to which they adhere. They are, as Benedetti remarks, "like the last of the dinosaurs, drawn together by both their shared passion and by the recognition that they are the last of their kind." In the end, the cold, intellectually brilliant Octavian Caesar must stop to admire their passing era, even as he leads the way into what is destined to the Roman Empire.
Nearly every biography of Cleopatra recounts the tale of how the young queen of Egypt smuggled herself wrapped in a rug into the presence of Julius Caesar, who had arrived in Alexandria in pursuit of rebel general, Pompey the Great. This ingenious feat won Cleopatra the respect of the great Roman general, and both mutually hoped the other would be a key on the road to domination over the world. Cleopatra had ascended the throne of Egypt only a few years earlier, the successor to the Ptolemaic dynasty of Pharoahs who had ruled Egypt since the fourth century B.C.E. The Ptolemaic dynasty had been founded by Ptolemy, a kinsman and general of Alexander the Great. Hence, Cleopatra herself, though queen of Egypt, was of Graeco-Macedonian descent, and through Julius Caesar and the son she bore him, she planned to reestablish the rule of the Egypt over the known world, in the tradition of her ancestors. Ancient historians write that Mark Antony fell in love with the fourteen year old Cleopatra, when he was a young lieutenant helping to put down a rebellion in Egypt. Later, Cleopatra took up residence in Caesar's villa as his foreign consort and mother of his son, Caesarion, but fled following Julius Caesar's assassination in 44 BCE. Returning to Egypt, she established her absolute rule by executing her brother-husband, Ptolemy XIV and replacing him with Caesarion as her co-regent. Antony met Cleopatra again when she came to him hoping to gain official recognition of her son's claim to the Egyptian throne. The lavish display she put on for Antony captivated him, and he spent the winter at her side. In Rome, Antony's current wife, Fulvia, who in her own right was a powerful, wealthy and politically astute woman, had joined with Sextus Pompeius, the son of Pompey the Great, against Octavius Caesar. Antony returned to Rome to make peace with Octavius, leaving Cleopatra pregnant by him. By the time Antony arrived, news arrived that Fulvia had (conveniently) died and the potential strife between the two triumvirs had been averted. To solidify the renewed promise of alliance, Antony married Octavius's widowed sister, Octavia. Almost immediately, Octavia presented Antony with a daughter, called Antonia, just a few scant months after Cleopatra had given birth to twins. Antony left to deal with a threat to the stability of Rome, sending a pregnant Octavia back to her brother. He quickly reunited with Cleopatra, acknowledged his children by her, and restored several of the provinces that Rome had taken away from Egypt. He and Cleopatra established themselves and their three children-Cleopatra had just borne Antony another son-as the monarchs of the East. Thus Antony broke with Rome completely, sent Octavia a bill of divorce and issued Roman coinage with Cleopatra's image. Octavius formally declared war against Egypt. The war ended with the suicide of Antony and Cleopatra. Octavius had Cleopatra's son by Julius Caesar executed. Cleopatra's other children by Antony were spared and were raised by Octavia. Though Antony and Cleopatra's dream of founding a political dynasty was never realized, through his children by Octavia, Antony could have counted among his descendents three Roman emperors: Caligua, Claudius and Nero.