The Shakespeare plays Coriolanus, Julius Caesar and Anthony and Cleopatra can be read as a brief history of democracy based on the example of ancient Rome.
In its early stages (Coriolanus), the idea of democratic participation by people’s tribunes emerges as a confession to the angry mob. But the representatives of the people are promptly confronted with the war hero Coriolanus, who has a low opinion of participation and fickle public opinion. In the time of Julius Caesar, Roman democracy is again threatened by a powerful man. On the night before Caesar’s coronation, a group of conspirators around Brutus decide to take the last resort in order to save democracy: tyrannicide. However Anthony, Caesar’s closest confidant, manages to turn public opinion against the democrats with his funeral oration.
A few years later, in Antony and Cleopatra, we see the paranoid circle of power which is far removed from reality. Anthony reigns in a triad together with Caesar’s adoptive son Octavius and a veteran soldier. In the face of political machinations, Anthony feels nothing but disgust and exhaustion. He immerses himself in his love for Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. But Rome’s power games draw him back in and have him turning the big wheel of politics once again before the Roman House of Cards finally collapses.