Shakespeare's Antony and
Cleopatra - Success and Leadership
Antony and Cleopatra
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).
Cleopatra (1963) is the most famous film about the love affair
- Cleopatra (Elizabeth Taylor), and
- Mark Antony (Richard Burton).
Taylor and Burton became real life lovers and got married (pictured right together in the film).
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.
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
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
1. First impressions matter
It is love at first sight for Mark Antony when he sees Cleopatra on her beautiful barge
- golden poop (raised rear deck).
The barge is pictured right above in the 1963 film Cleopatra.
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.
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.
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.
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.
7. Women can make great leaders
Cleopatra’s charisma and enormous willpower make her one of
8. Hang on to honour
Honour (putting your principles first) is vital to:
“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
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.