Antony and Cleopatra
Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA
Caesar is outraged at Antony’s letter and refuses the personal combat challenge. Maecenas advises they strike now, and Caesar agrees, as their ranks are swelled with soldiers who have abandoned Antony.
Antony is sworn to fight to victory or at least to an honorable death. He announces a bounteous dinner, compliments his servitors, and speaks of the uncertain future. Cleopatra asks what’s up and Enobarbus whispers, “‘Tis one of those odd tricks which sorrow shoots / Out of the mind” (IV.ii.14-15). Antony continues with the histrionic party announcements on the eve of battle until Enobarbus interrupts:
What mean you, sir,
To give them this discomfort? Look, they weep,
And I, an ass, am onion-ey’d. For shame,
Transform us not to women.
Antony claims, “You take me in too dolorous a sense, / For I spake to you for your comfort” (IV.ii.39-40). He puts on a cheerier disposition at this criticism of his oversentimentality from Enobarbus, but says also, “Let’s to supper, come, / And drown consideration” (IV.ii.44-45).
After a nighttime changing of the guard, nervous soldiers hear oboes and take it to be a sign or ill omen that Antony’s god Hercules is abandoning him. The last line of the scene is interesting: “Content. ‘Tis strange” (IV.iii.22).
The scene opens with Antony crying, “Eros, mine armor, Eros!” (IV.iv.1) — an interesting implication to a companion soldier’s name. Cleopatra wants Antony to sleep longer, but Antony refuses. With comical incompetence, Cleopatra tries to help arm Antony. He is optimistic: “This morning, like the spirit of a youth / That means to be of note, begins betimes” (IV.iv.26-27) — a lovely poetic sentiment, but one that would refer better to Caesar! Off to the famous Battle of Actium, Antony bids a hearty farewell to Cleopatra and she retires to her chamber.
A soldier reports to Antony that Enobarbus has deserted to Caesar’s camp. Antony laments this — “O, my fortunes have / Corrupted honest men!” (IV.v.16-17) — but he orders that Enobarbus’ belongings be sent to him with best wishes. What a guy!
Caesar wants Antony taken alive and commands that Antony’s deserters be placed in the vanguard (a military psychological strategy). Enobarbus notes that most of Antony’s deserters are faring poorly — Alexas was hanged and Canidius and the rest are not really trusted. When Enobarbus finds out that Antony has sent him his treasures, he is heartbroken: “I am alone the villain of the earth…. / This blows my heart” (IV.vi.29, 33). He would rather die in a ditch now than fight against noble Antony: “the foul’st best fits / My latter part of life” (IV.iv.37-38).
The battle is going well for Antony and he encourages his men to continue snatching up the enemy like hares. A wounded Scarus (a good soldier of the faithful dog variety) boldly announces, “We’ll beat ’em into bench-holes [toilets]. I have yet / Room for six scotches [cuts] more” (IV.vii.9-10).
It nears the end of a good day and Antony tells his men, “you have all shown Hectors” (IV.viii.7). He has Cleopatra give her hand to Scarus to kiss, as he fought especially well. Antony boldly anticipates success tomorrow.
Caesar’s sentry and the watch (omitted from the BBC film production) overhear Enobarbus apostrophize to the moon, “sovereign mistress of true melancholy” (IV.ix.12), his repentance, “That life, a very rebel to my will, / May hang no longer on me” (IV.ix.14-15). He has probably inflicted wounds upon himself, and he declares,
Nobler than my revolt is infamous,
Forgive me in thine own particular,
But let the world rank me in register
A master-leaver and a fugitive.
O Antony! O Antony!
Enobarbus dies. The watchmen are slow to grasp this fact.
The rather nice irony here is that Shakespeare completely made up a character for the name Enobarbus, so any talk of fame or infamy — e.g., “he is of note” (IV.ix.31) — reminds us that no one ever really heard of him before. Shakespeare seems to plunge into the issues surrounding this notion in Troilus and Cressida, which I’m sure he wrote after this play, not the other way around. (The food imagery in this play, for example, becomes rot imagery in Troilus and Cressida.)
Antony has kicked butt on land and now notes to Scarus that Caesar is preparing for sea battle. Antony will fight him anywhere. (The scene is 9 lines long.)
Caesar commands that the forces hold their own on land. His sea preparations are a ruse to draw off Antony’s best men. (The scene is 4 lines long.)
Antony and Scarus lament that the sea battle is lost. The fleet has surrendered, the land battle is quickly over, and Antony somehow blames Cleopatra, “This foul Egyptian,” “Triple-turn’d whore!” (IV.xii.10, 13). Antony bids good-bye to his better fortunes. Cleopatra enters to Antony’s threats:
Vanish, or I shall give thee thy deserving,
And blemish Caesar’s triumph. Let him take thee
And hoist thee up to the surrounding plebians!
Follow his chariot, like the greatest spot
Of all thy sex; most monster-like, be shown
For poor’st diminutives, for dolts, and let
Patient Octavia plough thy visage up
With her prepared nails. (IV.xii.32-39)
Cleopatra quickly leaves. Antony is extreme: “one death / Might have prevented many” (IV.xii.41-42). “The shirt of Nessus is upon me” (IV.xii.43), he claims, referring to Hercules’ torment and death. “The witch shall die. / To the young Roman boy she hath sold me, and I fall / Under this plot. She dies for ‘t” (IV.xii.47-49).
Cleopatra tells her ladies that Antony is mad. Charmian recommends that Cleopatra go to her monument (or tomb) and send word to Antony that she is dead. Cleopatra thinks this a workable scheme and adds that her last word was his name. The two lovers are misjudging each other’s motives now.
Antony has been dismantled, like Osiris (Bloom 550). He asks Eros if he can see him, as he feels he has become a cloud or shadow of his former self. Then Mardian reports Cleopatra’s death. Antony mourns that “the torch is out” (IV.xiv.46) and longs to join her, reconciled, in the hereafter. He calls back Eros and appeals to Eros’ duty to slay him “when I should see behind me / Th’ inevitable prosecution of / Disgrace and horror” (IV.xiv.64-66), “for with a wound I must be cured” (IV.xiv.78). Antony expects Eros to kill him, but Eros bids farewell and kills himself instead: “Thus I do escape the sorrow / Of Antony’s death” (IV.xiv.94-95). “Thrice-nobler than myself!” (IV.xiv.95), says Antony, now needing to run into his own death “As to a lover’s bed” (IV.xiv.101). He falls on his own sword, but botches the suicide attempt.
Soldiers enter and Antony asks, “Let him that loves me strike me dead” (IV.xiv.108). “Not I,” “Nor I” (IV.xiv.108-109), are the responses. Diomed(es) enters (see? Troilus and Cressida is on Shakespeare’s mind), and Antony begs for death, but again is denied. Cleopatra sent Diomed, sensing that her scheme to purge his rage might backfire, as it obviously has. Antony asks to be carried to her.
Cleopatra and her maids are somehow situated aloft at her tomb. She asks about Antony and is told, “His death’s upon him, but not dead” (IV.xv.7). Antony is brought in and Cleopatra exclaims, “none but Antony / Should conquer Antony” (IV.xv.16-17). They pronounce tributes to each other and attempt is made to hoist up Antony. He has a difficult time getting a word in edgewise given her histrionics, but he advises her to seek Caesar’s mercy and trust only Proculeius. She refuses: “Shall I abide / In this dull world, which in thy absence is / No better than a sty?” (IV.xv.60-62). As Antony dies, she laments, “The crown o’ th’ earth doth melt” (IV.xv.63), “And there is nothing left remarkable / Beneath the visiting moon” (IV.xv.67-68). She swoons, and her ladies think she too is dead; but she comes to, and ends the act with a promise to follow his example: “Come, we have no friend / But resolution and the briefest end” (IV.xv.90-91).
from the moment when the dying Antony is lifted into her monument and she finds no word of reproach on his lips for what she has done, scales seem to drop from her eyes, and never from then on does she waver in her undeviating resolution to join him in death. What looks like hesitation and toying with the thought of life is but deception utilized with the highest art to make certain that her determination to die is not thwarted. The fact is that the new Cleopatra, with all the histrionic devices of the old Cleopatra at her command, acts so consummately in these last hours of her life that she deceives not only Octavius Caesar but full half the readers of the play. (Goddard, II 199)
But that’s still to come in the final act.