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Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra - Success and LeadershipShakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra - Success and Leadership


Antony and Cleopatra


Key characters

Mark Antony, Octavius and Lepidus, co-rulers of the Roman empire.

Cleopatra, queen of Egypt and Mark Antony’s lover.

Octavia, Octavius’s sister (later Antony’s wife).


Fun facts

Cleopatra (1963) is the most famous film about the love affair between:Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra - Success and Leadership

  • Cleopatra (Elizabeth Taylor), and
  • Mark Antony (Richard Burton).

Taylor and Burton became real life lovers and got married (pictured right together in the film).


The story

Mark Antony, the Roman governor of Egypt, has a love affair with its queen, Cleopatra, sparked off by her impressive appearance on her stunning barge.Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra - Success and Leadership

She is distracting him from his job as co-ruler of the Roman Empire with Octavius and Lepidus. Pompey's honour stops him killing all three to seize power.

But, having heard about the death of his wife, Fulvia, Mark Antony returns to Rome to fight against Pompey. 

To make an alliance with Octavius, Mark Antony marries his sister, Octavia. Cleopatra is devastated, but Mark Antony secretly returns to her in Egypt.

Mark Antony and Cleopatra are defeated by Ocatavius in the naval battle of Actium after a sudden withdrawal of Egyptian ships by Cleopatra. Mark Antony abandons his men and blames himself and Cleopatra for the defeat, turning to drink and feasting.

She then tries to win him over by ordering a servant to lie about her suicide. On hearing this, he stabs himself and eventually dies in her arms.

Cleopatra also kills herself with an asp (poisonous snake), and Octavius arranges for the two lovers to share a tomb.

Having crushed all opposition, Octavius becomes the first Roman Emperor.


Lessons for success and leadership

 Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra - Success and Leadership

1. First impressions matter

It is love at first sight for Mark Antony when he sees Cleopatra on her beautiful barge with its:

  • golden poop (raised rear deck).
  • silver oars.
  • purple sails.

The barge is pictured right above in the 1963 film Cleopatra. 

 Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra - Success and Leadership

2. Love should free you to do your best

Mark Antony is so sexually enslaved to Cleopatra that he degenerates into a pale shadow of his former greatness as a politician and general.

Dying, he is more concerned about:

  • his reputation as a soldier than his love for Cleopatra.
  • being remembered as an honourable Roman “valiantly vanquished”.


3. Results matter more than reputation

Mark Antony is continually called “noble” because of his brilliant past. But his character and leadership deteriorate, resulting in his final defeat by Octavius.Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra - Success and Leadership

He fights at sea (where he is weakest and least experienced) against the advice of his generals. One of them, Enobarbus, is driven to join Octavius’s army because of:

  • Mark Antony’s incompetence.
  • Cleopatra’s control over him.

But Enobarbus is still loyal and the guilt of his desertion leads to his madness and death.

 Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra - Success and Leadership

4. Self-discipline is important

Mark Antony can’t resist his extravagant and decadent lifestyle in Egypt, even though he realizes it will ruin him.

 Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra - Success and Leadership

5. Deceit doesn’t pay

Cleopatra’s lie about her suicide leads to Mark Antony’s death.


6. We are all equal in death

Everybody dies, destroying any distinctions of wealth and status.

So Cleopatra sees herself as no longer a queen on her death but only a woman, humbly identifying herself with “the maid that milks”.

Pictured right above is Cagnacci's 1659 painting of Cleopatra's death.Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra - Success and Leadership


7. Women can make great leaders

Cleopatra’s charisma and enormous willpower make her one of Shakespeare’s strongest characters.


8. Hang on to honour

Honour (putting your principles first) is vital to:Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra - Success and Leadership

  • Mark Antony (whose downfall is caused by putting Cleopatra before his responsibilities as a leader and soldier).

  • Pompey (who refuses to gain power by killing Mark Antony, Lepidus and Octavius) 

“If I lose my honour, I lose myself”, Mark Antony says, and he lost both.


Key quotes on ethics and integrity

If I lose my honour, I lose myself, Mark Antony.


Key quote on business ethics

‘Tis not my profit that does lead my honour, Pompey.


Key quote on work and motivation

To business that we love we rise betime [meaning early]. And go to’t [to it] with delight, Mark Antony.


Key quote on health

I love long life better than figs, Charmian, Cleopatra’s servant and advisor.


Key quote on fear and anxiety

In time we hate that which we often fear, Charmian.


Key quote on age

My salad days, when I was green in judgment, Cleopatra.

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