Antony and Cleopatra

Antony and Cleopatra Summary and Analysis of Act Four, Scenes 12-15


Scene Twelve. In the midst of battle, Antony sees that his fleet is surrendering to Octavius. He blames Cleopatra, and resolves to kill her for her treachery. Cleopatra enters, apparently ignorant of what has happened, but Antony is in such fury that she flees in terror. Antony resolves to execute her.

Scene Thirteen. Alexandria. Cleopatra's palace. At Charmian's recommendation, Cleopatra decides to lock herself up in her monument, and send false word to Antony that she is dead.

Scene Fourteen. Alexandria. Cleopatra's palace. Antony gives a marvelous speech to Eros about clouds, likening himself to the cloud that has a shape for brief moments before it dissolves. He tells Eros that he should not weep, because they have their own suicides to attend to. Mardian the eunuch arrives with the news that Cleopatra is dead by her own hand. Mardian says she died calling Antony's name. After the eunuch leaves, Antony asks Eros to give him a moment alone. He resolves to kill himself, to rejoin his life. He calls Eros back, and orders him to kill him. To escape the duty of killing his beloved master, Eros kills himself. Antony falls on his sword, but the wound is not fatal. Decretas and three guards arrive, and ignore Antony's pleas to finish the job he started. Decretas remains when the guards leave, and takes Antony's sword, hoping to gain favor with Caesar by showing it to him. Diomedes enters, and Decretas leaves. Diomedes has been sent by Cleopatra to fetch Antony, because she feared he might do harm to himself. Some more guards arrive, and they carry Antony to her.

Scene Fifteen. Cleopatra and her maids are in an elevated monument. Diomedes arrives, with the guards carrying Antony. Antony is dying, and wants to kiss Cleopatra one last time. Cleopatra resolves to kill herself rather than be captured by Caesar. The women use ropes to heave Antony up to the monument. Antony tells Cleopatra to look to her own safety, and warns Cleopatra to trust no one of Caesar's company but Proculeius. He expresses satisfaction at dying by his own hand, in some sense unconquered by Octavius. He dies. Cleopatra swoons, recovers, and speaks of the world as a worthless place without Antony. She resolves to prepare his body for burial, and then kill herself.


Antony has lost much of himself for the sake of his love of Cleopatra. Actium was partly Cleopatra's fault, but the final responsibility lies with him. When he believes that Cleopatra has betrayed him, he loses all sense of his identity. His honor, manhood, and sense of self as a Roman are destroyed when he casts aside valor and duty and Actium. In the East, his persona has been linked to Cleopatra and his love for her. He played the soldier-lover and magnanimous ruler who laid whole kingdoms at her feet. When he believes she has betrayed him, his sense of himself disappears. He speaks of clouds that seem to make pictures, but just as quickly dissolve into vapors: "My good knave Eros, now thy captain is / Even such a body: here I am Antony, / Yet cannot hold this visible shape . . ." (4.14.12-14). Empire and honor were lost first. Then Antony believes his lover has been lost, and feels as if his whole identity is evaporating. We have seen Antony as a general, a lover, a magnanimous friend and leader. This speech touches on what makes Antony great. He has something of the poet in him, sensitive to beauty and life's sensuous pleasures. The clouds become a metaphor for a universal condition, the ephemeral nature of power and life, both of which end all too quickly.

Antony is as quick to forgive as ever when he hears news of Cleopatra's death. He resolves to die, to be with her, even though he has reason to believe she betrayed him. His love for her is his ultimate priority. Most Romans cannot respect that. When the first set of guards arrives with Decretas, Antony cries out, "Let him that loves me strike me dead" (4.14.107). The First, Second, and Third Guards' replies are unequivocal: "Not I," "Nor Me," and "Nor anyone." The use of the word "love" is significant. Antony has traded away love of his countrymen and fellow soldiers for love of Cleopatra.

In Antony's last moments, he concerns himself with giving Cleopatra advice, having forgiven her immediately for the deception about her own death. Antony's last words, however, are not about love. They concern his honor, and how he has met his end nobly by his own hand, "a Roman by a Roman / Valiantly vanquished" (4.15.57-8). Since Actium, Antony has been struggling to retain some sense of himself. Suicide is the only way that he has lived up to the Roman conception of honor, and it is this thought that comforts him in the end. Antony has lived torn between two conceptions of what life should be. The pomp and decadence of his life in Egypt seduced him, and his love for Cleopatra ultimately destroyed him. But he is not a failure in every sense. His love for Cleopatra will become legend, and he is untarnished to Cleopatra herself, who calls him "noblest of men" (4.15.59), proclaiming that the gods have taken him because "this world did equal theirs / Till they had stol'n our jewel" (4.15.76-77). She does not understand him completely. Cleopatra could never understand all the nuances of what it means to be Roman, any more than Octavius could understand what it means to be an Egyptian queen. But she adores Antony without qualification.

To emphasize Cleopatra as wily lover and decadent Queen, Shakespeare never brings her children on stage. We are nearly made to forget that she is a mother, and he excludes those parts of Plutarch that deal with Cleopatra's concern for her children's fate. Cleopatra will face Caesar not as a woman concerned with her line, but primarily as an individual who will not have that individuality compromised.