Antony and Cleopatra

Infinite Virtue: A Close Reading of Antony and Cleopatra, IV.viii.12-18

IV.viii of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra is a short scene, less than 40 lines, and an entirely unexpected one. The preceding scenes of Act IV, such as Hercules' departure and Enobarbus' desertion, heavily foreshadow Antony's defeat. When Antony wins his battle against Caesar and returns to Cleopatra in IV.viii, the joy of their reunion contrasts with the despair of Act IV. Antony's victory is a strike against fate and a tribute, albeit short-lived, to the power of Egypt.

The association of royalty and divinity was a common tradition not limited to the Elizabethans' world picture. In this scene, Antony portrays Cleopatra as a goddess, revealing her connection not only to the macrocosm but also to the more specific functions of the love goddess Isis. Cleopatra is a "great fairy" (IV.viii.12), able to "bless" (IV.viii.13) soldiers with her speech. As the "day o'th'world" (IV.viii.13) who will "ride" (IV.viii.16) in Antony's heart, she more particularly resembles a sun deity, pictured by the Egyptians as riding in a barge and by the Romans as in a chariot. Cleopatra's association with the day continues up until her death; Charmian recognizes that...

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