Antony and Cleopatra

by: William Shakespeare

Act IV, scenes ix–xv

Summary Act IV, scenes ix–xv
Read a translation of Act IV, scene xiv →

Summary: Act IV, scene xv

Antony arms himself to kill his lover, telling Eros that he no longer knows who he is now that Cleopatra’s love has proven false. Mardian arrives with his false report of the queen’s death, adding that her last words were “‘Antony! most noble Antony!’” (IV.xv.30). Antony tells Eros to unarm. Overcome with remorse, he declares that he will join Cleopatra in death and beg her forgiveness for thinking him false. He asks Eros to kill him. Horrified, Eros refuses, but Antony reminds him of the pledge he made long ago to follow even Antony’s most extreme wishes. Eros relents. He prepares to stab Antony but stabs himself instead. Antony praises his soldier’s honor and says he must learn from this example. He falls on his own sword but fails to kill himself. A group of guardsmen refuses to finish the task, and Diomedes, a servant of Cleopatra, reports that the queen is alive and well. It is too late, however, to save Antony’s life. Dying, Antony commands his guards to bear his body to Cleopatra.

Read a translation of Act IV, scene xv →

Analysis: Act IV, scenes ix–xv

In Act IV, scene xv, Antony, who has been betrayed by his lover and has lost the war to Caesar, offers one of the play’s most profound reflections on the connection between character and circumstance: “Here I am Antony, / Yet cannot hold this visible shape, my knave” (IV.xv.13–14). As his fortune changes from good to bad, so, he believes, his character slips from honorable to dishonorable. He likens himself to a cloud that shifts from one shape into another. Given the play’s investment in spectacle—neither love nor war truly matters unless one has something to show for them—Antony’s disturbance at being unable to hold a “visible shape” is particularly interesting. His honor, it seems, is primarily a function of whether the world sees him as honorable. When it fails to do so, Antony no longer fits into it. His rigid definition of himself as a victorious general and as Cleopatra’s lover betrays his Roman sensibilities, which cannot and will not allow him to assume the contradictory roles of the conqueror and the conquered. He will, he decides, either be the hero or cease to exist at all by killing himself. His statement “Here I am Antony” reflects his search for a glimpse of his former, simpler self: the indomitable hero who will put an end to his life. Thus, he thankfully notes to Eros, all that remains to him is suicide.

Once the second sea battle is lost, the play belongs to Antony until his death—Cleopatra recedes, as does Caesar. In the scenes leading up to his death, Antony’s feelings of betrayal, regret, and, ultimately, love give way to some of the finest language in the play.

Oh, sun, thy uprise shall I see no more:
Fortune and Antony part here; even here
Do we shake hands. All come to this? The hearts
That spanieled me at heels, to whom I gave
Their wishes, do discandy, melt their sweets
On blossoming Caesar, and this pine is barked
That over topped them all.
         (IV.xiii.18–24)

Here, as Antony bids goodbye to “Fortune,” he comes to an important realization from which he cannot recover. Comparing himself to a tree that once towered above all others, he now feels that Cleopatra’s inconstant love, which once “spanieled” at his heels, has stripped him of his bark. This metaphor expresses that he feels raw, unprotected, and doomed to die. Cleopatra enters soon after Antony delivers these lines, and he scares her away with vicious threats. More than anger, however, Antony feels a keen sense of loss. He laments, “I made these wars for . . . the Queen— / Whose heart I thought I had, for she had mine, / Which . . . had annexed unto’t / A million more, now lost” (IV.xv.15–18). This utterance of regret confirms Antony’s lost sense of self: he no longer possesses either of the identities—military giant or lover of Cleopatra—that have defined him so well.

The news of Cleopatra’s suicide suffices to cool Antony’s temper and returns him to thoughts of reconciliation. By killing himself, Antony envisions joining his love in the afterlife: “I come, my queen . . . / Where souls do couch on flowers we’ll hand in hand, / And with our sprightly port make the ghosts gaze” (IV.xv.50–52). This consummation in death of their love moves the couple toward its ultimate victory over Caesar and the Roman Empire.