Antony and Cleopatra, one of William Shakespeare's plays 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.
Scholars believe that Shakespeare wrote this play in 1606-07. It was published in the 1623 First Folio. Sources include North's translation of Plutarch's Lives and Appian's Roman Wars.
The Folger owns almost fifty stand-alone translations of Antony and Cleopatra in various languages (not including collected works). Cataloging of these works is ongoing as of early 2015, and many have full-level catalog records, but some works still have only partial records. Translations can be found Hamnet in by searching for "Translations"in the Genre/Form Term field, or by searching the Call Number (Left-Anchored) field for call numbers starting with PR2796 (see the list of Sh.Col. translations call numbers for specific language call numbers). Since not all translations are fully cataloged, some items may only turn up in one of these searches.
Listen to author Adrian Goldsworthy on NPR's Talk of the Nation discuss "The True Story of Antony and Cleopatra" and why this famous couple is so perenially misunderstood. (September 28, 2010)
Explore the curated image group for Antony and Cleopatra in the Folger digital image collection.
Content Advisory: this image group contains representations of nudity and of suicide.