A Workshop on

Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra



A Revisionist Antony and Cleopatra

 The idea will be to create a revisionist version of the story behind the play. Participants will play the game of adopting the role of one of the 3 main counselor-aides from Antony and Cleopatra (e.g. Enobarbus for Antony, Agrippa for Octavius or Charmian for Cleopatra.) At the end of each act, participants will question their situation and analyze the scenario in which their characters find themselves. Based on this information the participants will give their best advice. If the advice is different and provides a different trajectory than the one the characters in the play follow, conjecture what would be the outcome?

 Through this mechanism we will hopefully be able to use the characters and their plights as a mirror, not to explore the passions and histories of an ancient time, but to provide insight into ourselves as players in our own historical drama.

The three main protagonists of the play are Antony, Cleopatra and Octavius. Each is a rich character with forceful personalities. They are such fully rendered creations that it might be difficult for the average audience member or reader to fully identify, no less actively participate in their stories. After all not many of us have seduced multiple world leaders, personally lead thousands into hand-to-hand combat, or made personal decisions that decides the fate of Empires.

However, Antony and Cleopatra also features the subsidiary characters that provide a more open-ended tabla rasa with whom to create a meaningful bond.  

For our purposes we will focus on the 3 counselors to the main characters. Antony, Octavius and Cleopatra each have an intimate friend and counselor in which they confide.

Domitius Enobarbus: Friend to Antony. An officer, one of Antony's closest friends and supporters. Enobarbus is a cynical observer of the events of the play, disapproving of Antony often but always speaking from a complex and sophisticated perspective. His sense of irony runs deep, and he is completely outspoken until his master begins to lose self-control. After he has betrayed Antony, Enobarbus' keen insight is turned on himself, and he dies of grief. (For more on Enorabus, see selection below.)

Agrippa -  One of Octavius Caesar’s officers. Agrippa is a confident of Ocatavius and a leader of his army.  He leads the retreat from Antony’s unexpectedly powerful forces. (For more on Agrippa, see selection below.)

Charmian: Attendant on Cleopatra. This devoted lady in waiting follows her mistress even unto death. (For more on Chariman, see below.)

We will try to look at the situations in the play through their eyes. For in our world we often find ourselves in the role of consultant, counseling friends or business associates on the difficult scenarios that they face. And how often have we found meaning and insight into our own lives, when we help another work through their issues? 

During the course of the play, even at the most desperate of times, our advice is critical for it can change the course of history. For example, did Charmian advise Cleopatra correctly? Given different questions, might have Cleopatra chosen a wiser path that might have saved her kingdom and her life with dignity? Was her choice of suicide selfish? Did she fail in her civic responsibility to find a third solution that would preserve her throne’s lineage? Did her actions undermine Antony and ultimately lead to the ascension of Octavius as the singular emperor/dictator of Rome and the demise of the world’s most powerful republican government?

History tells us that Octavius won this power struggle. But what if Antony had won? What decisions would he have to have made to be triumphant? And what if Cleopatra played the winning hand?

 And all of this leads to even more provocative albeit speculative questions: Would the course of history been different if Antony’s personal loves had not interfered with the power sharing arrangement of the triumvirate? Could have the Roman Senate retuned to power, eventually leading to a true popular democracy? And finally, what would our world look like today, if Rome had remained a strong republic? Would there have been a Dark Ages? Would the technologies that we enjoy today been in place a thousand years prior (What if Broadband and Britney had arrived in 1000AD)? Are the broad strokes of our civilization’s evolution engraved or can the choices made by a specific man or woman change the flow of history?

Templates of Questions – A Path to Wisdom

 The goal of the exercises is not necessarily to find answers. Rather it is to learn to deepen one’s ability to ask questions… of oneself and of the world. Once a question is asked, answers in general are easy to find. Perhaps it is the depth and quality of our questioning is the difference.

How we formulate the questions that we choose to explore the quandaries, we as advisors find ourselves, is key. For the very kinds of questions that we ask of ourselves reveal much as to who we are, how we view the world, and how we will create our strategic plans of action.

 Ultimately each individual must seek out their own questions and find the answers to them. Below though is a suggested template of questions, with which we may begin our quest. Each template provides a different prism through which to view Shakespeare’s world. Each template of questions, viewing the same scenario, will generate different data, different sets of answers. Though we will get different and sometimes paradoxical answers to our different template of questions, it is not an imperative to integrate the answers into one overall system. Rather alternative sets of answers can exist parallel to each other, operating independently, paradoxically, yet jointly.

 With all these multi-dimensional answers, systems and data, we will find ourselves with many more choices. And with time and experience, as simple answers to complex choices elude us, perhaps we achieve wisdom – and finally discover how to apply what we have learned to our own world.

 Shakespeare and the Unspeakable – The Politically Incorrect

One of the great weaknesses about most self-development and business seminars is that so many important topics are simply unspeakable and off the table for discussion – that many of the most important topics are too politically incorrect to speak about directly. But the truth is that often decision making is influenced by political influences, cross-cultural differences, differences between the sexes, personal jealousies and envy. In fact, the very power of Shakespeare is that he demonstrates how people’s most petty, prejudiced and neurotic facets often do affect the fates of families, businesses, and nations. By viewing Shakespeare’s play openly, by discussing other peoples’ problems -- people who lived in ancient times and different worlds, we can explore many politically incorrect issues freely. And then apply the insight gained into our own lives in private.

Shakespeare’s universal appeal is that the challenges faced by his characters are timeless. We can often learn more from these characters dressed in the regalia of another age than we from modern pop psychology texts. The point of the exercise is to look as honestly as we can into the depths of Shakespeare’s characters -- as a mirror into our own lives.

 The 3 Questions

Tina Packer says that there are three questions all of Shakespeare’s characters confront. And through the experience of a Shakespeare play, questions that we must also ultimately ask of ourselves:

  1. What is the meaning of life?
  2. What can we – as a group –do [to improve the world, life, community, the problem presented, etc.]?
  3. What can I do?

3 Ways of Seeing

We will also ask our questions in 3 contexts.  Each context represents a realm of our lives. And within each context there is a range in which to explore. The idea is to explore the important questions of our lives within these contexts and in a dynamic relationship with the other contexts.

Personal ↔ Relationships ↔ Group

The first context explores how we view and relate to ourselves, how we relate to others, and finally how we function in larger groups. Specific questions that might arise include: Who am I (as Enorabus, Agrippa or Charmian)?  How do I react and respond to specific relationships… to myself, my family, friends, lovers, business associates. How do I act in a group? How do groups affect me and affect who I am and how I act?  How do I affect other in relationships, in a group? How do Antony, Cleopatra and Ocatvius interact? How is it similar to myself?

 Business/Economic ↔Political ↔ Societal

All our lives take place in business, socio-economic and political spheres. How do we function in this larger context? What were the economic and political forces at play in the age of Antony, Cleopatra, and Octavius? How does the off-stage character Ptolemy affect the dynamic? How were Shakespeare’s characters affected by these realities? How did their personal lives affect the course of history (or did it)? Are what parallels are there in our time?  And are their significant parallels in our personal lives? Are our personal lives affected by political and business decisions? Does the personal lives of political and/or business/corporate leaders end up affecting our lives? How do our personal decisions affect the course of our histories?

Superstitious ↔ Religious ↔ Spiritual

We also live in spiritual/metaphysical, religious and supernatural/superstitious realms. Shakespeare’s worlds (as well as our own) are filled with the influences of spiritual and the supernatural. In Antony and Cleopatra there are fortunetellers, as well as references to the gods. To what extent does superstition affect the decisions of the characters? To what extent do the spiritual culture and/or conventions of the day affect the characters world view and how they make decisions and think about themselves? In the same way, what are our superstitions? Under what spiritual laws do we operate? Is there a spiritual culture of today that affects our decision making? Does it affect world politics and economies?


Business Management

Business Management often addresses numerous issues. Thus it provides many ways to view business challenges and an alternative way to view a Shakespearian scenario.

Though there are endless questions or ways to view business we will choose a limited set of topics as referred to in the book Power Play – Shakespeare’s Lessons in Leadership and Management by Tina Packer and John Whitney.

 A few of the topics to look at include: 

  • POWER – How it is gained and lost. Why should one want power? How it can be beneficial. How it can be dangerous.
  • COMMUNICATION – How to feel comfortable in leadership roles. Leadership as theater.
  • TRUST – Whom should you trust? Every leader needs to know whom to trust, why and how to earn trust.
  • DECISION – Understanding the importance of decision making. How to make effective decisions.
  • ACTION – How to implement decisions. How to control your destiny instead of being a victim of fate.
  • HEIRARCHY – Leadership in relation to group. Managing the conflicts within the groups you lead, protecting your position, sowing discontent with your opponents groups. 
  • WOMEN IN MANGEMENT – The battle between the sexes. What are the differences? How that can be used to your benefit or destruction.

(At the end of this document is a more complete list of business management issues that can be used to create a custom made template of questions.)

How the Advice is Given 

Another consideration is how we offer the advice. We have all been in situations of trying to provide important advice or critical information to colleagues who are in the midst of stressful scenarios. How often have they simply not been able to hear the advice? Or simply reject obvious truths and important intelligence.  Or that they have such preset ideas of the shape of reality that they obviously distort critical intelligence (e.g. Iraq).

So what are the best ways to offer your advice? To get unwilling ears to listen? And if it is rejected how to you act?  To help your patron…  or just protect your self… or to further the larger cause?

These questions cover a vast area of possibilities. Still, they are only suggestions to stimulate a participants own personal enquiry.

A Mirror Into One's Own Life

The next step is to find parallels in one's own life, applying Tina's 3 questions to one’s self and then in the larger contexts of relationships, socio-economic-political and spiritual.

After exploring the issues presented in the play and how it relates to one’s own life, there is the opportunity to read the text, or sit back and enjoy an actual performance, or, if lucky, perform in the play. With this kind of questioning in mind, the play may now resonate in totally new ways. Conceivably, we will see the world as an intricate web of the constantly shifting dynamics of many dimensions that play out simultaneously -- and perhaps have the chance to learn the real wisdom of how to choose shrewdly from a rich and complex maze of opportunities.

Summary of Workshop Exercises

Adopt the position of one of the 3 main counselor-aides from Antony and Cleopatra (e.g. Enobarbus for Antony, Agrippa for Octavius or Charmian for Cleopatra.

Based on the scenario that you and your leader find yourselves at the end of ACT I what would be your advice? Your advice may be the same as what the Shakespearian advisor suggests or it may be different.

When formulating your suggestions take into consideration the 3 questions, originally presented by Tina Packer that all Shakespearian characters ask of themselves:  What is the meaning of life? What can we do as a group?  What can I do?

Also when thinking through the issues at hand ask the questions in at least 3 contexts:

1.) Personal-Relationship – Group, 2.) Business/Economic – Political - Societal, and 3.) Superstitious -  Religious - Spiritual.

(For example, if you were Enorbabus advising Antony, a sampling of questions that you might ask yourself could include: What are my personal ambitions, that of my friends and family? How should I consider Antony’s relationships, my relationship with him, his relationship with Cleopatra and Octavius? Whom should he trust? Whom should I trust? How would I advise him on his military endeavors? How are other economic and historical forces affecting the scenario? How will the gods affect the outcome? Do we offend any deities? Should we regard any omen? What ultimately would be the ideal outcome? How shall you communicate with Antony?  How do you act if Antony fails to heed your advice? (In Enorabus' case, he eventually leaves Antony to join Octavius.)

Rework the questions you ask in terms of business management issues. Either use the template provided or create your own based on your experience (See list of topics at the end of this document.)

The questions that one chooses to consider, of course, are part of the game. You can always ask more and/or different questions. Given your new advice what are the possible outcomes.

Then given the scenario at the end of Act 2, repeat the exercise: What would you advise?

 Likewise consider what your advice might be at the end of ACTS 3 and 4, and at critical moments in Act 5.



Consider what you have learned through the above exercises that relates to our contemporary world and the specific issues in your own life.





The premise: How to use the experience of a Shakespearian play-- as reader, audience member or actor -- to gain insight into our personal lives, especially as we interact in an increasingly complex world-tapestry of economic and political forces. And reciprocally, how do these new understandings of our own lives deepen our resonance and enjoyment of Shakespeare.

American society is in the throes of a self-development mania (and the rest of the world, as is typical, is quickly following suit). Business seminars and spiritual groups, self-help workshops and schools of every stripe, busily market their secret knowledge to greater success. But does all this industrious work on ourselves, actually take us anywhere? For all our diligence, in the long run do we get richer, thinner, happier? Or does fulfillment always remain just around the corner?

Perhaps on occasion we do achieve momentary clarity. But do any of these epiphanies translate into measurable success. It is the rare self-development aspirant who actually does become wealthy. And in the less statistically-measurable realms, it is questionable whether spiritually-minded devotees achieve greater depths of relationship and intimacy (with God or their significant other) than their less dutiful peers.

We are told that the fault inevitably lies within – we don’t stick with the program, we lack the discipline, it’s proof of our lack of self-worth and more.  But perhaps there are underlying reasons why all these forms of self-improvement, from business to metaphysics, simply don’t work as well as advertised. Is it merely our existential fate? Or is there an answer, though more subtle: that we, and the world of which we are a part, are far richer and more complex than any one truth, system or any meta-system can encompass. Is it that business forecasting and management cannot calculate the impact of one’s personal loves, backroom politics and a thousand other emotional nuances that affect the decision-making process?  And that spirituality (from Jesus to Buddha) and psychology (from Freud to Werner Erhard) simply cannot adequately measure and incorporate the impact of economic indicators, world politics and other historical forces on an individual’s psyche?

The substratum that is reality and the analysis of it are simply different. Since our analyses, be it business, psychological, or spirited, emerge from this reality, it can at best be a fraction of the whole, and all our reflections of who and what we are must be incomplete. So if our analyses are merely limited maps of reality, then what are the alternatives?

One traditional response, of course, has always been art.  An a priory posit, offered not for argument but as a foundational premise --is that the artist perceives his or her world, interprets its, and forms an expression of that internal/external perception. Art, in this context, does not necessarily explain or seek answers. It does not have to offer advice or solutions. It can leave paradox and conflict unresolved. It is not impelled to clarify. 

Yet, because of the very multi-dimensional dynamism that is art, we might discover insights that can help us see of ourselves in different lights, find ways to understand our world and place in it. And through such understanding – an understanding that includes the recognition that there may not be simplistic answers -- perhaps live the wiser and more productive lives that we all seem to seek.

And thus… Shakespeare.

For many, there is no other author in Western literature that so encompasses such a multi-faceted worldview. Whether it was his intent or not, his work inevitably dissolves all boundaries between the cosmic and the neurotic, demonstrates how the profane and sacred are the most intimate of bedfellows, and reveals how the course of history often balances on the cusp of egomania.

So here’s the proposition: If we could inhabit a Shakespearian play, say Antony and Cleopatra, and see the world through its main characters’ eyes, might we gain more understanding into our own? The parallels that we may find within ourselves to the experiences of Shakespeare’s players might provide the startling recognition that our lives are not that different from the tribulations they faced 2000 years ago. The fact that these characters’ stories have resonated with audiences throughout the generations speaks to the universal truths which they express. We may even find that we are all characters in our own Shakespearian play… tragedy or comedy. 







Scene One.

Cleopatra's palace, in Alexandria. Philo complains to Demetrius that Cleopatra has transformed Antony from a great general to a whore's fool. Antony and Cleopatra enter, with Cleopatra pushing Antony to describe how much he loves her. A messenger comes from Octavius, but Antony, clearly annoyed, commands the messenger to be brief. Cleopatra, partly mocking, partly serious, chides Antony and tells him to hear the message. But in the end Antony refuses to hear the message, and he and Cleopatra set out for a night in the city. Philo and Demetrius do not approve.

Scene Two.

Cleopatra's palace, in Alexandria. The servants of Cleopatra's court ask a soothsayer to predict their futures. The soothsayer seems to start out well, telling Charmian that she will outlive her mistress, but then he warns that the days to come will be worse than the days past. When the soothsayer insinuates that Charmian's loose, she's had enough. The soothsayer tells Iras that her fortune will be like Charmian's.

Cleopatra enters looking for Antony, and the man himself enters shortly after. Cleopatra takes off with a huff, taking her servants with her. Antony hears the messenger: his wife, Fulvia, and his brother have united in a war against Caesar, and have been driven from Italy. The other news is worse: Rome's most powerful adversaries, the Parthians, have overrun the territories of the Near and Middle East.

A second messenger brings yet more grim news: his wife Fulvia is dead. Antony muses that he sometimes wished her dead while she lived, and now that she's gone he can only miss her. Antony resolves to stop dallying in Egypt. He summons Enobarbus, and informs him that they'll have to leave. Enobarbus talks, with irony and cynicism, about how their departure will shatter Cleopatra. When informed of Fulvia's death, Enobarbus continues with this lightness of tone. Antony has learned that Sextus Pompeius, the son of Pompey the great, now rules the seas in defiance of the triumvirate. Lepidus and Caesar will have need of Antony if they are to overcome him.

Scene Three.

Cleopatra's palace, in Alexandria. Cleopatra enters with Charmian, Alexas, and Iras. She tells them to find Antony, and exactly what deceptions to use to bring him to her. When Charmian suggests that honesty and obedience might be a better way to keep Antony's heart, Cleopatra replies that such behavior would be a sure way to lose him. When Antony appears and tries to tell Cleopatra that he must leave, her response is scathing. Even news of Fulvia's death only increases her distress: as Fulvia goes unmourned, Cleopatra says, so will she. Yet eventually she asks forgiveness for her behavior, and wishes Antony success. He promises that though they separate, they will be with each other in spirit.

Scene Four.

Caesar's house, in Rome. Octavius and Lepidus, followed by their train, discuss Antony. While Lepidus is inclined to defend Antony, Octavius condemns Antony's neglect of his duties. A messenger brings news that Sextus Pompeius' power by sea grows only greater. Lepidus and Octavius go their separate ways, to evaluate their capabilities before meeting tomorrow to discuss how to battle Pompey.

Scene Five.

Cleopatra, attended by Charmian, Iras, and Mardian, languishes without Antony. Alexas arrives with news from Antony, assuring her of his continued devotion and that his martial endeavors will make her mistress of the East. Cleopatra seems delighted to have news from her lover, and asks Charmian if ever she loved Caesar so. When Charmian teases her mistress, saying that once Julius Caesar was considered to be a paragon of men, Cleopatra replies that those were "salad days," when she was green, and therefore younger and knew less.


Counseling Form

Who are you? What character are you identifying with? Who are you advising?

From your perspective what do you see is going on? On personal relationships? In the political or economic arenas? On a spiritual level?

What is the outcome do you want to achieve? Why? For whose benefit would it be?

So what advice would you counsel?

  • End of Act 1?

  • End of Act 2?

  • End of Act 3?

  • End of Act 4?

  • During Act 5?

How will you get your protagonist to listen and best follow your advice?

What’s your backup plan?

Then in this context ask yourself these 3 questions:

  1. What is the meaning of life?

  2. What can we – as a group –do [to improve the world, life, community, the problem presented, etc.]?

  3. What can I do?




The following two pages display ways to view one’s world. The first is a simple chart, integrating the three different dimensions in two dimensions. While it is an arbitrary prism through which to view the world, it may help underline more subtle ways how in how one can envision, seeing which part of a quadrant an issue may reside.


The subsequent image is 3 dimensional, all 3 dimensions integrating dynamically with 3 dimensions, thus going further to highlight how rich and subtle our world really may be.


The point of the exercise is not to see the world as increasingly complex, but rather, it is means to appreciate its multi-faceted richness. And through that appreciation, we may find wisdom instead of mere answers.   


Management Topics

·         Balanced scorecard

·         Benchmarking

·         Business intelligence

o    Industry or market research

o    Industrial espionage

o    Environmental scanning

o    Marketing research

o    Competitor analysis

o    Reverse engineering

·         Centralisation

·         Change management

·         Communications management

·         Conjoint analysis

·         Constraint Management

o    Constraint

o    Focused improvement

o    Donella Meadows' twelve leverage points to intervene in a system

·         Corporate governance

o    Corporation

o    Board of directors

o    Middle management

o    Senior management

o    Corporate titles

o    Cross ownership

o    Community management

·         Corporate image

·         Cost management

o    Spend management

o    Procurement

·         Crisis management

·         Critical management studies

·         Cultural intelligence

·         Decentralisation

·         Design management

·         Engineering Management

·         Enterprise content management

o    Content management system

§  Web content management system

§  Document management system


o    Contract management

o    Fixed assets management

o    Records Management

·         Facility management

·         Force field analysis

·         Freelancing

o    Freelancing on the Internet

·         Futures Studies

·         Growth-share matrix

·         Human Interaction Management

·         Information technology management

·         Knowledge management

·         Morphological analysis

·         Optimism bias

·         Organizational development

·         Management effectiveness

·         Management information systems

·         Peter Drucker's Management by objectives (MBO)

·         Management consulting

·         Management science and operations research

·         Manufacturing

o    Just In Time manufacturing

o    Lean manufacturing

·         News management

·         Planning

·         Planning fallacy

·         Quality management

·         Value Based Management

·         Operations

·         Popular management theories : a critique

·         Professional institutions in management


Business Management

Recast your questions now in terms of business management issues. Choose a list of topics. Experiment with different choices of topics that you might normally choose.


  • POWER – How it is gained and lost. Should I want power? How it can be beneficial?. How it can be dangerous?


  • COMMUNICATION – How can I feel more comfortable in leadership roles? How can I cat my leadership roles better?


  • TRUST – Whom should I trust? How can I earn others trust> How does trust leader to power? And vice versa?


  • DECISION – Do I hesitate in making decisions? Is my decision making too quick and not thought out? Do I over think? How can I make more effective decisions?


  • ACTION – How do I implement my decisions? How can I control my destiny instead of being a victim of fate.


  • HIERARCHY – How do I manage my group? How do I manage the political in-fighting? How do I protect my position? How do I sow discontent with my competitors? Should I?


  • WOMEN IN MANGEMENT –What are the differences between the sexes in management?. How that can I use that for my benefit? What should I be careful of?


Mirroring Your Own World

What are the parallels from Antony and Cleopatra to your own world?

Are their any parallels in the characters? Or in the nature of the relationships.


Analyze your world as you analyzed the world of Antony and Cleopatra. On personal relationships? In the political or economic arenas? On a spiritual level?

If you wee an advisor to yourself what would be your advice based on the insights you have gained?


Then in this context ask yourself these 3 questions:

  1. What is the meaning of life?

  2. What can we – as a group –do [to improve the world, life, community, the problem presented, etc.]?

  3. What can I do?