Antony and Cleopatra

by: William Shakespeare

Important Quotations Explained

Sometimes we see a cloud that’s dragonish,
A vapour sometime like a bear or lion,
A towered citadel, a pendent rock,
A forked mountain, or blue promontory
With trees upon’t that nod unto the world
And mock our eyes with air. Thou hast seen these signs;
They are black vesper’s pageants.
. . .
That which is now a horse even with a thought
The rack disdains, and makes it indistinct
As water is in water.
. . .
Here I am Antony,
Yet cannot hold this visible shape, my knave.
I made these wars for Egypt, and the Queen—
Whose heart I thought I had, for she had mine,
Which whilst it was mine had annexed unto’t
A million more, now lost—she, Eros, has
Packed cards with Caesar, and false-played my glory
Unto an enemy’s triumph.
Nay, weep not, gentle Eros. There is left us
Ourselves to end ourselves.

After Cleopatra’s ships abandon Antony in battle for the second time, the general faces the greatest defeat of his military career. Antony is accustomed only to victory, and his understanding of self leaves little room for defeat, either on the battlefield or in terms of love. As a Roman, Antony has a rigid perception of himself: he must live within the narrowly defined confines of the victor and hero or not live at all. Here, he complains to his trusted attendant, Eros, about the shifting of his identity. He feels himself helplessly changing, morphing from one man to another like a cloud that turns from a dragon to a bear to a lion as it moves across the sky. He tries desperately to cling to himself—”Here I am Antony”—but laments he “cannot hold this visible shape.” Left without military might or Cleopatra, Antony loses his sense of who he is. Rather than amend his identity to incorporate this loss, rather than become an Antony conquered, he chooses to end his life. In the end, he clings to the image of himself as the unvanquished hero in order to achieve this last task: “[t]here is left us / Ourselves to end ourselves.”