Antony and Cleopatra are one of Shakespeare’s more tragic plays. It tells the story of Antony, a Roman general who falls in love with Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. They marry and have three children together before Rome declares war against Alexandria.
The play follows their relationship as it deteriorates from lovers to enemies before finally ending in tragedy. The play is notable for its strong female characters.
Cleopatra and her servant, Charmian, are two of the most complex and powerful women in Shakespeare’s entire body of work. They defy convention by taking lovers who do not love them as well as order military campaigns on their own accord.
This unique take on gender roles caused some controversy at the time because it changed from what was considered appropriate behaviour for a woman to be seen doing in society – namely staying home with children while waiting for her husband to return from war.
It has been speculated that these early feminist views influenced his later works such as Twelfth Night and Henry VII which feature many significant female protagonists. The tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra ends tragically.