English 366B, Section S02: Shakespeare's Histories and Tragedies   >   Antony and Cleopatra: Antony To the previous page To the next page

Antony: Rome and Roman thoughts

The story so far

Many in Shakespeare's audience would have seen his earlier tragedy, Julius Caesar, and would thus have been familiar with the events that precede Antony and Cleopatra. The earlier play begins at a time when Julius Caesar had overcome his Roman rival Pompey the Great. Caesar was both popular and powerful, and was offered the "crown" by a crowd of citizens. Had he accepted, the effect would have been to end the rule of the Roman Senate, substituting a kingship\or what we might think rather more like a dictatorship. Cassius led a group of conspirators against Caesar, intending to assassinate him before he could assume absolute power; at his urging, Brutus, a dignified and noble senator who loved Caesar, reluctantly joined the conspiracy (Brutus is the protagonist of the play, though it is named after Julius Caesar). Caesar was duly killed in the Senate House, where Brutus explained to the frightened crowd the reasons for their action. He made the mistake, however, of permitting Caesar's supporter, Antony, to give an oration over the body. Antony's famous speech swayed the crowd, with the result that Brutus and Cassius were forced to flee Rome. In the power vacuum that followed, a "triumvirate" (rulership of three men) ensued, with Antony, Lepidus, and Caesar's adopted son, Octavius Caesar, taking command. Brutus and Cassius were defeated at the battle of Phillipi, and Rome was left for the time under the rule of the triumvirs. The action of Antony and Cleopatra begins some years later.




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This page last updated on 4 March 2007. © Michael Best, 2002.