Antony and Cleopatra

by: William Shakespeare

Act V, scene ii

Summary Act V, scene ii

These doubts and questions testify to the complexity and the contradictions inherent in the queen’s character. There are depths to Cleopatra that we glimpse but to which we never gain total access. She is beyond neat categories and tidy synopses. Indeed, as she prepares to make her final exit, she dons a role that, like her previous incarnations of hussy, enchantress, queen, and shrew, reflects only one aspect of her character. Ironically, she now strikes a pose as wife and nursing mother. As she applies the poison snakes to her skin, Cleopatra fulfills her desire to effect the quickest death in proper Roman fashion. In her quest to win a kind of Roman nobility worthy of Antony, she brags of becoming as constant as marble, her self no longer ruled by “the fleeting moon” (V.ii.236). But to understand Cleopatra in her final moments as a mere domestic, as an uncompromised lover and dutiful wife, is to reduce her to a single aspect of her character. She may claim to be as solid as marble, but before dying she reminds the audience (and herself) that she is made of something much less constant than stone: “I am fire and air; my other elements / I give to baser life” (V.ii.280–281).