From atop the monument with her maids, Charmian and Iras, Cleopatra declares that she will never leave her hiding place. Diomedes appears below and calls up to her that Antony’s guard has brought the wounded Antony. The lovers call to one another. Antony says that he is dying and wishes to embrace her one last time. She replies that she dares not come down from her monument, lest she be captured by Caesar and paraded through the streets as a prisoner of war. Instead, Cleopatra asks the soldiers to heave Antony up to her. As they do so, Cleopatra notes that the strength of Antony’s body has turned to heaviness. She pulls him to her and kisses him, the onlookers declaring this intimacy “a heavy sight” (IV.xvi.42). Antony advises the queen to cast herself upon Caesar’s mercy, trusting in the honesty of Caesar’s friend Proculeius. He then recalls his own greatness and says that he will die gloriously, “a Roman by a Roman / Valiantly vanquished” (IV.xvi.59–60). He dies, and Cleopatra curses the world as a suddenly very dull place. Without Antony, she feels that neither life nor she herself is the least bit remarkable: she might as well be a “maid that milks / And does the meanest chores” (IV.xvi.76–77). After her maids revive her from a fainting spell, Cleopatra decides that they must bury Antony in Roman fashion and then help her seek her own death.
Caesar orders Dolabella to deliver to Antony a command for his surrender. After Dolabella leaves, Decretas, one of Antony’s men, enters carrying Antony’s sword. When Caesar asks why the man would dare appear before him in such a way, Decretas explains that he was a loyal follower of Antony’s and now wishes to serve Caesar as faithfully. Caesar questions the meaning of this reversal, and Decretas explains that his master is dead, taken from this world by the same noble hands that committed the brave deeds for which Antony is so renowned. Caesar remarks that the passing of such a great man ought to be marked by great tumult and mourning—after all, the death of Antony, as one of the two triumvirs, “is not a single doom” but the end of one-half of the world (V.i.18). Agrippa notes the irony of their mourning Antony’s death after having fought him so fiercely. Caesar and his men agree that Antony was a great man, and Caesar declares it proper to mourn him.
A messenger arrives from Cleopatra to ask what Caesar intends for the queen. Caesar promises to be honorable and kind to her, and dispatches Cleopatra’s messenger with assurances, bidding her to be of good heart. Although Caesar tells Cleopatra that he intends to cause her no shame, he plans to force her to live in Rome, where she will be his eternal triumph. Toward this end, he orders some of his men, led by Proculeius, to prevent Cleopatra from committing suicide and thus robbing him of renown.Read a translation of Act V, scene i →
Antony’s understanding of himself cannot incorporate military defeat or romantic betrayal: he would rather die thinking of himself as a hero and conqueror than live a life of shifting (and potentially ignoble) identities. Thus, Antony’s suicide is his last—and most lasting—triumph. In dying, Antony not only understands himself as a victor but also convinces the world of his honor and might. Cleopatra agrees with her lover that no one but he is worthy to conquer Antony, and even Caesar musters awe for his vanquished foe, remarking that Antony’s death represents a calamity for half the world. Whether we share Caesar’s awe, we cannot help but feel sympathy for the dying Antony. His love for Cleopatra has led him to destroy himself, but his love does not wane. Antony’s steadfastness contributes to the depth of his tragedy. He spends his dying breath advising Cleopatra to trust in Caesar’s mercy and Procu-leius’s care. Antony is a Roman nobly vanquished by a Roman, but he is still a misguided politician and lover (IV.xvi.59–60). The sword on which he falls does not excise the blemish of his soldier’s opening remark: he remains both a fool and a hero. Just as any complete understanding of the play must take into account the competing forces of East and West, reason and passion, discussion of Antony’s character must account for both his glory and his baseness.
Even in the face of her lover’s death, Cleopatra is unable to stop performing. For Cleopatra, the public display of emotions corresponds directly to their genuineness; preparing to meet Antony’s death, the queen resolves that “[o]ur size of sorrow, / Proportioned to our cause, must be as great / As that which makes it” (IV.xvi.4–6). These words echo her opening lines, in which she begs Antony to outdo himself and all others with professions of love. The importance of performance becomes clear as Antony begins to speak his dying words:
ANTONY: I am dying, Egypt, dying.
Give me some wine, and let me speak a little.
CLEOPATRA: No, let me speak, and let me rail so high
That the false hussy Fortune break her wheel,
Provoked by my offence.
Here, Cleopatra’s self-awareness in her role as grief-stricken lover rises to a near comedic level when she interrupts Antony as he tries to deliver his last words.
In the Bard's hands and the amorous arms of Egypt, the courageous, gifted Antony of Julius Caesar becomes the doting fool of Antony and Cleopatra.
I just finished A&C in my attempt to read all of Shakespeare by his birthday next year. If you're interested, check out my blog on the play:
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