Nay, ’tis most certain, Iras. Saucy lictors
Will catch at us like strumpets, and scald rhymers
Ballad us out o’ tune. The quick comedians
Extemporally will stage us, and present
Our Alexandrian revels. Antony
Shall be brought drunken forth, and I shall see
Some squeaking Cleopatra boy my greatness
I’ th’ posture of a whore.
Soon after Antony’s death, Cleopatra determines to follow her lover into the afterlife. She commits to killing herself and, in Act V, scene ii, convinces her handmaids of the rightness of this decision. She conjures up a horrific image of the humiliation that awaits her as Caesar’s trophy, employing the vocabulary of the theater, fearing that “quick comedians / Extemporally will stage us.” She imagines that Antony will be played as a drunk, and a squeaking boy will portray her as a whore. Given that, throughout the play, Cleopatra is a consummate actress—we are never quite sure how much of her emotion is genuine and how much theatrical fireworks—her refusal to let either Antony or herself be portrayed in such a way is especially significant. To Cleopatra, the Roman understanding of her character and her relationship with Antony is a gross and unacceptable wrong. It does not mesh with the grandness of her self--perception—rather than being a queen of the order of Isis, she will go down in history “[i]’ th’ posture of a whore.” Just as Antony cannot allow his self-image to expand to include defeat, Cleopatra refuses to allow her image to be stripped to its basest parts.