we see a cloud that’s dragonish,
sometime like a bear or lion,
A towered citadel,
a pendent rock,
A forked mountain, or blue
With trees upon’t that nod unto
And mock our eyes with air. Thou
hast seen these signs;
They are black vesper’s
. . .
which is now a horse even with a thought
rack disdains, and makes it indistinct
water is in water.
. . .
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,
Packed cards with Caesar, and false-played
Unto an enemy’s triumph.
weep not, gentle Eros. There is left us
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.”