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Marc Antony

Born into an ancient and noble family in 83 BCE, Marc Antony entered a Roman world already beset with stresses and showing strain with age that, as a noble, he was expected to politically and militarily serve. His father died in 71 BCE and by his mid-twenties Marc Antony was in Greece to study after which he served in the Roman Cavalry stationed in Palestine. Antony’s father and grandfather had both led turbulent, yet affluent political lives which placed young Antony in good favour with a family relative, Julius Caesar. During Caesar’s Galic Wars, begun in 58 BCE, Antony distinguished himself in battle and afterwards came to defend Caesar as Tribune in the Senate. During this time, his character was distinguished as being bold and loyal to allies and friends, but ruthless when it came to exacting revenge on enemies. Plutarch, who chronicled Antony’s life in Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans was heavily consulted for Shakespeare’s play and stated, ‘He had a noble mind, as well to punifh offenders, as to reward well doers: and yet he did exceed more in giving, then in punishing.’ [1] Marc Antony was calculating but could be short-sighted in decision-making and often focussed on the short rather than long term. Utterly sure of himself, he became a confident leader and well-seasoned soldier. [2] Plutarch described him as being ‘full of ostentation, foolish bravery, and vain ambition.’ [3]

The Civil War begun in 49 BCE between Julius Caesar and Pompey Magnus did much to elevate Antony’s power and prestige within Rome at Caesar’s side. Caesar often relied upon Antony to control matters both home and abroad. In 48 BCE at Pharsalus, Antony and Caesar fought together against Pompey who was defeated and fled to Egypt. Caesar pursued him and found Ptolemy, the Egyptian king, had murdered Pompey, after which Caesar became involved in a small Egyptian War. Winning the war, Caesar met the king’s sister, Cleopatra, who bore him a son. During this time Antony was in Italy serving as ‘Master of the Horse’ (Caesar’s substitute) where he proved ineffectual in dealing with the details of state administration resulting in civil unrest which necessitated Caesar’s return to Rome. [4]
With Caesar’s murder in March of 44 BCE, Antony gained power within a triumvirate alongside Marcus Aemilius Lepidus and Octavian, a nephew of Caesar's named in his will as successor. Shakespeare’s story of Antony & Cleopatra begins at this point, with Antony’s trip to Egypt in 41 BCE to meet with Cleopatra, and his marriage to Octavia in 40 BCE. [5] The relationship between Antony and Cleopatra in Shakespeare’s play takes precedent. Plutarch suggests that Cleopatra, in her prime, beautiful and clever, bewitched Antony. [6] ‘Being so ravifhed and enchanted with the fweet poifon of her love, that he [Antony] had no other thought but of her, and how he might quickly return again, more then how he might overcome his enemies.’ [7] Thus within the first few lines of Shakespeare's play, Philo states ‘Take but good note, and you shall see in him/ The triple pillar of the world transformed/ Into a strumpet’s fool. Behold and see.’(1.1.11-13).

Gregory Sheridan


1. Plutarch. Plutarch: Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans Englished by Sir Thomas North anno 1579. (London, 1579, 1676), p. 762. Shakespeare also consulted the 1578 translation from the Greek of Appian of Alexandria’s An Avncient Hiftorie and exquifite Chronicle of the Romanes Warres, both Ciuile and Foren. Return to text

2. Eleanor Glotz Huzar. Mark Antony. (London: Croom Helm, 1978), p. 23; John M. Carter. The Battle of Actium The Rise and Triumph of Augustus Caesar. (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1970), p. 117. Return to text

3. Plutarch, p. 755. Return to text

4. Golts, Mark Antony, pp. 63-80. Return to text

5. These are the historical dates for the events in Antony & Cleopatra: Julius Caesar died in 44 BCE, the triumvirate fell apart in 36 BCE and the Battle of Actium occurred in 31 BCE with Antony and Cleopatra dying the year after. For a shorter and more concise story Shakespeare compresses the dates for the story, having the events play out over a few weeks. Return to text

6. Plutarch, pp. 762-763. Return to text

7. Plutarch, p. 767. Return to text



Appian of Alexandia. An Avncient Hiftorie and exquifite Chronicle of the Romanes Warres, both Ciuile and Foren. (London: Henrie Bynniman, 1578)

Carter, John M. The Battle of Actium The Rise and Triumph of Augustus Caesar. (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1970)

Gillespie, Stuart. Shakespeare’s Books: a dictionary of Shakespeare’s sources. (London: Continuum 2001, 2004)

Glotz Huzar, Eleanor. Mark Antony. (London: Croom Helm, 1978)

Plutarch. Plutarch: Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans Englished by Sir Thomas North anno 1579. 6 Vols. (London, 1579, 1676)



General Background
Antony and Cleopatra
King Lear
A Brief Overview Of British Social And Political History
The Politics of the Catholic Church
The Influence of Montaigne on Shakespeare
International Relations and Politics
James VI and I and his Patronage of the Arts
Kingship in the Renaissance
Early Modern Attitudes to Madness
Political Theatre
Elizabethan and Jacobean Revenge Tragedy
The Religious Reformation, 1529-1559
The Influence Of Machiavelli On Shakespeare
The Succession of James I
Suicide in the Renaissance
Textual Variations in Shakespeare’s Plays
The Tragic Hero
The Transition from Medieval to Renaissance Drama
The Battle of Actium
Sources for Antony and Cleopatra
Marc Antony
The Contrast Between the Renaissance Prince Hamlet and Old Hamlet
New Words in Hamlet?
Is Hamlet a Problem Play?
Sources for Hamlet
Concepts of Heaven, Hell and Purgatory in Hamlet
‘And My Poor Fool Is Hanged’
The Double Role Of Cordelia And The Fool In King Lear
The Enclosure Acts
The Theme of Nature in King Lear
Nature and Cosmic Order in King Lear
Sources for King Lear
The Publishing and Performance History of Othello
Race in Othello
Sources for Othello
The Wife as Property in Othello