Shakespeare’s telling of the famous love affair between Marc Antony and the Egyptian queen Cleopatra is a drama of international politics as well as intimate passion. This depiction of the volatile lovers, whose entanglement affects the government of the Roman world, encompasses ideas of politics, moral judgement, theatrical unity and the mechanisms of tragedy.
Antony and Cleopatra was probably completed at the end of 1606 or early in 1607, and only survives in the Folio text.
Antony is captivated by Cleopatra, and neglects his political duties as one third of the Roman triumvirate to tarry with her in Alexandria. When unrest threatens Rome, he must leave Cleopatra in order to solidify his power against threats from Pompey and fellow triumvir Octavius Caesar. In the wake of continued power struggles, Antony returns to Egypt, where he and Cleopatra crown themselves absolute king and queen. The ensuing war between the lovers and Octavius Caesar engulfs the Roman world.
The relationship between Antony and Cleopatra has a long tradition in both history chronicles and literature. Recounted in detail by Plutarch, this and other such stories from the classical world enjoyed enormous popularity during the Renaissance. Other writers also dramatized their romance, which appeared frequently onstage in early modern England.