The world's pre-eminent dramatist is bound to give us some of the world's best quotes.
This particular quote comes from a longer passage at the beginning of the final act of Antony and Cleopatra. Upon hearing of Mark Antony's death, Octavius Caesar laments:
The breaking of so great a thing should make
A greater crack. The round world
Should have shook lions into civil streets
And citizens to their dens. The death of Antony
Is not a single doom. In the name lay
A moiety of the world.
This wasn't the death of just one man, it was the death of half the world, therefore the world should have been fractured & confused, sending lions into the streets and citizens into lion dens.
Antony & Cleopatra tells the story of the relationship between Egyptian Queen Cleopatra and Roman General Mark Antony, from the time of the Sicilian revolt (44-36 BCE) through Cleopatra's death in 30BCE, during the Final War of the Roman Republic.
In Roman history this period of time covers the transition from the Roman Republic, into the beginnings of the Roman Empire.
At the start of the play Rome is governed by The Second Roman Triumvirant. A triumvirant is a political structure with three powerful individuals at the top. The Second Roman Triumvirant was made up of Mark Antony, Octavius Ceasar, and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus.
Set in Rome and Egypt, Shakespeare's play follows the political rivalries, the rebellions, the plotting, and the intrigue that characterized the end of the Roman Republic.
Throughout the play, wars are fought and lost, alliances made and broken, rebellions put down, power gained, lost, redistributed, and by the end of the play the Triumvirant is broken, Antony and Cleopatra are both dead, and Octavius Ceasar is positioned to become the first Emperor of Rome.
The world as it was known is broken, yet lions did not prowl the streets, and citizens did not live in lion dens. The Republic was doomed, a great man was dead, but there was no greater crack.
"The breaking of so great a thing should make a greater crack."
- Shakespeare's 'Antony & Cleopatra'