Thursday 5 January 2012

Antony and Cleopatra - William Shakespeare

Since the death of Julius Caesar Antony has ruled Rome alongside two others. However, instead of looking after his affairs at home he spends all his time with Cleopatra in Egypt. This leads to discontent among his people and with Octavius Caesar and Lepidus who rule beside him. News of his wife rising up against Caesar and then dying for it doesn't even move him to leave Cleopatra's side. Eventually Caesar demands that he returns to do something about Pompey and his pirates. Whilst home their friendship is mended through a marriage between Antony and Caesar's sister. It doesn't last though and Antony is soon back in the arms of Cleopatra. Caesar has had enough  and soon the two friends are at war.

I have to confess that this is the first Shakespeare I have read since school. It's something I have always wanted to do but the longer I left it the more worried I became about not understanding the language. I must admit that it did take getting used to but I soon forgot about how odd it felt and got into the swing of the story. It helped that this edition has an excellent introduction and a section at the back to explain all those odd words (highly recommend the Penguin books).

I loved the story. Poor Antony is so ensnared by Cleopatra that he is willing to lose everything on her behalf. Snubs his friends by handing over lands to her. I loved Cleopatra. I thought she was a fantastic character. So selfish and spoiled and vain. Yet the ending showed that she did love Antony and that she had some pride. My favourite scene was the messenger coming to tell her that Antony had married. You had to feel so sorry for the messenger who was clearly terrified of telling her. Especially when she didn't take it well. This was followed by her being reassured that Octavia was a plain woman and had nothing in the way of Cleopatra's beauty. Like the jealous ex being told that the new girlfriend isn't pretty. I'm sure we have all seen this in other books/films/tv.

Antony on the other hand wasn't exactly a favourite of mine. I should feel sorry for him as he was so besotted with Cleopatra that he was willing to lose everything (and did). Yet I couldn't. Through out the play he is criticised for losing his manhood to Cleo. He gives up everything for her and yet when he is away and trying to mend his friendship with Caesar he marries a woman he doesn't love. When it comes to battle he ignores his friends advice and loses. When Cleopatra loses confidence and runs he blames her and wants to kill her (so much for love). Even one of his closest friends turns his back on him.

Whilst I did enjoy the play and would like to see it performed I couldn't help but have other images in my head as I was reading it. On Christmas Eve my dad had us watch "Carry On Cleo". Not exactly a Christmas film but we sat and watched it. As a result I couldn't help but picture the cast of Carry On in these roles. Bit difficult to take seriously when you have that running through your head. Managed to get over it though.

I read this as part of Shakespeare Reading month hosted by Allie of A Literary Odyssey (a fantastic blog, especially if you like your classics). If you want to see other reviews she has posted links here.


  1. Great post. I haven't read Anthony and Cleopatra yet but I really want to. I'm currently reading one of his comedies, A Midsummer Night's Dream. Isn't Shakespeare Month a great idea?

  2. Thank you. I haven't read A Midsummer Night's Dream. Plan to eventually though. Antony and Cleopatra was great. A good way to ease myself in I think. I just finished Macbeth though which I liked even more.

  3. I started out with Othello and Hamlet, which dramatically exceeded my expectations! This was also the first Shakespeare I've read since School. Very impressed and I hope to head to the library tomorrow and pick up a few more of his plays.

  4. I have Hamlet sitting there. I am saving that until last. I might have to treat myself to a couple more too. Or maybe a wee biography. Haven't decided yet. Will look to see what else you pick up.