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’tis most certain, Iras. Saucy lictors
catch at us like strumpets, and scald rhymers
us out o’ tune. The quick comedians
will stage us, and present
Shall be brought drunken forth,
and I shall see
Some squeaking Cleopatra boy
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.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Antony and Cleopatra!