Author: John Dryden
First published: 1678
Locale: Alexandria, Egypt
Time: First century b.c.e.
Mark Antony, a Roman triumvirate who, in his role of leader, is caught between concern for his people and his love for a woman. Antony shows various human traits as he tries to recapture his position of leadership against invading forces, as he accepts the friendship of his faithful officers, as he considers reconciliation with his wife and family, as he is duped by clever antagonistic individuals, and as he is shown incapable of adapting to these various relationships because of his devotion to Cleopatra, his mistress. Not strong enough or discerning enough to determine her motives, Antony dies a failure.
Cleopatra (klee-oh-PA-truh), the queen of Egypt and mistress of Antony. Steadfast in her love, as she convinces him before his death, she is deluded by some of her servants and shows the vulnerability of the great at the hands of the crafty. Cleopatra is victorious over her peers, in that she averts Antony's return to his family. She takes her life to avoid the celebration of victory over Antony's troops, a defeat that prompts Antony's suicide. Cleopatra glories in imminent death as the poison of the asp she has applied to her arm flows through her body.
Alexas (eh-LEHK-suhs), Cleopatra's eunuch, opposed to his queen's and Antony's love. Scheming Alexas uses flattery, chicanery, and lies to influence people. Knowing that Antony's troops are about to be attacked, he encourages the troops to celebrate in honor of Antony's birthday. Learning that Antony has been persuaded by his own officers to defend his position, Alexas connives to have Antony intercepted by Cleopatra as he leaves the city. Alexas also conspires to arouse Antony's jealousy and to cast doubt on Cleopatra's fidelity, and he lies when he tells Antony that Cleopatra has taken her life. Alexas is brought to justice for his perfidy.
Ventidius (vehn-TIH-dee-uhs), Antony's general and faithful follower. Seeing through Alexas'devices, he is able to circumvent some of the disaster intended for his leader. Doubting Cleopatra's motives, Ventidius tries to divert Antony's attention from her. Although he is discerning, Ventidius becomes the tool of Alexas in one of his tricks. Feeling that he has unwittingly betrayed his leader, he tries to make amends too late. Ventidius takes his own life when he sees Antony dying.
Dolabella (doh-leh-BEH-luh), Antony's friend, who, although faithful, is banished because Antony fears that Cleopatra may fall in love with the handsome young Roman. Dolabella, dedicated to the Roman cause, attempts a reconciliation between Antony and his family. His affinity to Rome and Antony are reflected also in his willingness to see Cleopatra and to say farewell to her for Antony, who, realizing his lack of will, does not see his mistress before he attempts to renew his fight against the invaders. Dolabella's effort to serve is in vain: Antony believes, despite their denials, that Cleopatra and his young follower are in love.
Octavia (ok-TAY-vee-uh), Antony's wife and sister to Octavius, another of the triumvirate. Although she is a woman of charm and determination, Octavia is no match for Cleopatra in the fight for Antony's love. Octavia's announcement that Octavius will withdraw his army if Octavia and Antony are reunited and the sight of his two daughters cause Antony to give serious consideration to a reconciliation, but his contemplation is relatively short-lived. Octavia accepts the failure of her mission and returns to the Roman camp.
Charmion (KAHR-mih-ehn) and Iras (I-rehs), Cleopatra's maids. Loyal to their queen, they are frequent emissaries to Antony in behalf of Cleopatra. Unwilling to face life without her, Charmion and Iras follow the queen's example and allow themselves to be bitten by the asp that already has poisoned her.
Serapion (seh-RAY-pee-ehn), a priest of Isis. Although involved in the action of the play, he is principally a spokesman for the author. He opens the play with an announcement of the ill omens and what they portend for Egypt; he also speaks last in pronouncing the valediction over Antony and Cleopatra.
Agrippina (a-grih-PI-nuh) and Antonia, Antony and Octavia's daughters. Their appearance before their father and their delight in seeing him move him momentarily to consider returning to his family.
Myris (MI-rihs), another priest. He discusses with Serapion the events that bode no good.