Any true sense of tragedy is centered in the final two Acts where we might question Cleopatra’s view that all evil is purged away and notice the elemental imagery of fire, earth and water intensifying. We might also ask ourselves if the most tragic figure is that of Enobarbus who dies of a broken heart because he cannot live with his shame of desertion. The two main protagonists die at a moment when their powers are degenerating and death offers a way out accompanied by transmuting poetry.
Scene i Caesar is not motionless: here he is furiously angry with Antony, who has clearly poured scorn on his comparative youth and used an unjustified authoritative tone with him. He is also outraged that Antony beat his messenger, which is an insult to his person also, and that he has challenged him to single combat. Turning Antony’s mockery back against him by calling him an “old ruffian” he shows no inclination to accept the challenge and laughs at it in turn: his reason is firmly in charge of his feelings. Maecenas points out that Antony’s foolish temper is a sign that he is near his end and advises, cunningly, that Caesar should take advantage of his opponent’s weakness and keep himself calm as a protection. By contrast to the high poetry of the speeches of Antony and Cleopatra, Caesar’s verse is deflated and calculating as he announces the next, and final, battle. He has assessed his powers and knows that many deserters from the enemy are within his own ranks. We note the difference between his cold and joyless intention to reward his soldiers with a feast and Antony’s love of abundant revelry: Caesar has estimated his supplies and worked out that this gesture is appropriate since the men have earned an expenditure which is not strictly necessary.
Act IV scene ii This scene’s function is to show the character of Antony in sharp contrast to that of Caesar, centred round the topic of feasting their followers: whereas Caesar was cool and somewhat reluctant, Antony is liberal and magnanimous with expense and gratitude. In the first lines he reveals that he simply does not understand Caesar’s refusal to fight him in single combat but soon stresses his resolution to engage a battle on sea and land and yet he also shows his desperation in determining to salvage his “dying honour” in a bloody death, if necessary. He wants to be “bounteous” in festivity and has the common touch as he circulates around the gathered soldiers, taking their hands and commending their honesty and loyalty whilst reminding everyone of past glory when kings were his companions. Although he seems to have the capacity to live for the moment, he also dwells on the past. Enobarbus recognises that his attitude is founded on sorrow and loss.
Antony is genuine in his recognition of the merits of his men, humbling himself in front of them and wishing he could do them equal service in return. He asks them to be free with the wine and behave towards him temporarily as if he were at the height of his powers and still a leader of the Roman empire: such references move the hardened Enobarbus as Antony is begging for one last night of his old position before death or becoming a “mangled shadow” of his former self. As an act of empathy with them, he acknowledges that they will leave him to serve another master and thus makes it easier for them to do so by requesting a mere two hours of further loyalty. Enobarbus rebukes him for making the men weep like women with his speeches and is close to tears himself, touching on the theme of feminiszation which has run throughout. Antony accepts the criticisms and tries to laugh the melancholy tone away by saying he meant to make the night the merrier and “drown consideration” before a victory in the morning. There is a wildness to his generosity, courage and change of mood as well as his former tendency put the pleasures of the moment ahead of more serious matters but we recall the earlier account of his ability to endure hardship and realise that he has become softened and undermined.
Act IV scene iii In this brief scene we see a company of soldiers move across the stage: they are presumably Antony’s men, leaving the city and heading for Caesar’s camp, deserting their previous leader for Caesar and one of the functions of the cameo is to show in action Antony’s downfall and increasing isolation. It also has a note of the supernatural in the reference to Hercules and such touches, though common in some other tragedies, are rare in this play. The scene’s main effect is on the atmosphere with the dark of night, mysterious sounds from beneath and a strong sense of a crisis to come on the next day. The men speak of rumors and what is to come in battle and their short sentences, broken between lines when they hear music, show their nervousness and desire for some good omen. Hercules is Antony’s patron and they feel that his support is being withdrawn. Although they are leaving Antony, they do not seem to be mercenaries: they are concerned for the outcome and reveal the remnants of loyalty.
Act IV scene iv Another short scene shows us that Antony’s anger has been dissipated by a night’s feasting and, in this early morning interlude, he is confident and affectionate towards Cleopatra so that we are moved by their relationship although doubtful about the outcome of battle. Antony defies fortune as he puts on his armour and Cleopatra lovingly and deftly plays at helping him as he calls her the armourer of his heart as distinct from his body. Clearly she enjoys this game and their mood is intimate with no bickering. Antony issues a vague threat to anyone who attempts to remove his armour without permission and Enobarbus is too distraught to buckle the straps properly. Both Antony and Cleopatra have the gift of living for the moment which can also be their undoing. He boasts to her of his prowess at warfare, “the royal occupation”, and gives a warm welcome to the efficient-looking soldier who enters to tell him that the men are ready and waiting. This speeds up the action and Antony welcomes the onset of battle.
When Antony describes the morning as resembling a youth we recall that he, by contrast, is well past his peak but his clipped instructions show that he can appear in charge. Before leaving he kisses Cleopatra: this and his attention to all around show his humanity even at a time of crisis as well as his capacity to lead and inspire others. Cleopatra needs support from Charmian but, in her admiration of Antony’s brave manner, still wishes that he and Caesar could fight single-handed, a foolish and romantic desire.
Act IV scene v This part of the play is composed of very brief scenes which some have found confusing but they add to the sense of scope and swift movement. Here we meet again the soldier from Act III vii who advised Antony not to fight by sea: his wounds are now scars which shows the passage of time although this is not clearly demarcated during the course of the action. Antony willingly admits the man was right and wishes he had listened: we see how he regards his men as equals or even superior in judgement and this whole scene focuses on he relationship with his soldiers. This man now tells of the desertion of Enobarbus to Caesar, placed here by Shakespeare to point the irony as in Plutarch he left before Actium. There is poignancy is the fact that the news is delivered by the same soldier whose advice, had it been heeded, would have prevented Enobarbus’ departure along with that of royal allies.
Antony takes a moment to comprehend this act by his most loyal companion but, when he realises that Enobarbus has not taken his treasure with him, instantly gives orders that it be sent immediately after him. This is the open-hearted and generous Antony at his best, magnanimous and bearing no grudge. He is sorry for the dilemma of heart versus head that he caused Enobarbus and hopes he may find a true master. He blames himself for the apparently disloyal actions of loyal men: “O, my fortunes have/Corrupted honest men.”
Act IV scene vi Caesar, who scorned Antony’s challenge to single combat, wants him captured alive as this would add to his own glory. He is confident of victory and resulting peace; despite this worthy aim for an end to wars, he demonstrates a malignant cunning in ordering the men who have left Antony to be placed in the front lines of his troops. This will trouble Antony as he will feel he is attacking his own men and we feel there is something underhand and low about the scheme.
Presumably Enobarbus will be one of them and, as he ruminates, he runs through in his mind those whom Caesar has treated badly. Alexas has been hanged for his involvement: although the word “dissuade” causes problems of interpretation, the sense is that he has been punished for his attempt to persuade Herod to join Caesar (he probably did not revolt before going to Jewry.) Canidius and others who came over to Caesar have been given employment but not honoured positions and these examples add to Enobarbus’ sense of guilt and shame. It is important to note that he repents of his desertion before he receives his treasure back from Antony: his feeling that he done wrong is pure and free from any mercenary considerations. When the treasure arrives it is clear that Antony has sent an extra gift: Enobarbus is sceptical but the messenger insists on the truth of his statement and requests the Enobarbus offers the bringer of the wealth safe conduct back again.
Enobarbus is deeply pained by Antony’s act of generosity following his own desertion and his simple declaration of self-loathing rings in our ears long after it is spoken: “I am alone the villain of the earth.” Here is a true note of tragedy as Enobarbus praises Antony as ” a mine of bounty” and wonders how he would have repaid him for loyalty when he is so generous to his “turpitude.” His heart is broken and he cannot live with his shame: he feels that, if grief does not kill him, he must commit suicide. He cannot bear the though of fighting against Antony and thinks that sorrow himself will cause his death, choosing to find a ditch for his end as fitting his base behaviour. Ironically, it is Antony’s liberality that has led to this decision when Antony intended it to free him from any sense of guilt. His conflict was between reason and emotion and he will die of a broken heart.
Act IV scene vii Agrippa feels that both sides are experiencing difficulties as Antony enters with Scarus who is clearly still his companion despite Actium and who, with Eros, takes the place of Enobarbus as Antony’s close adviser. The two are exultant and Antony shows concern for Scarus’ wounds whilst he seems proud of one which, described with precision, has been added to. The language is rough as Scarus threatens to drive the enemy into privy holes and expects more wounds [“scotches”] in doing so. They have won a victory and Scarus wants to follow the retreating soldiers. Antony is warmly grateful for their “spritely comfort [cheerfulness]”and we see how he is capable of inspiring love in men as well as women.
Act IV scene viii Outside Alexandria, Antony is triumphant and wants to share the glorious moment with Cleopatra, reckoning on finishing their victory next day by killing those who have escaped but, at this point, we may wonder if the elation is premature. Antony thanks his men for their courage and for the fact that they fought, not as servants, but as if the cause were theirs. He praises and encourages them and, with humanity and imagination, paints a picture of them embracing their women and friends, relating thier deeds and being received with emotion. He can see into the lives of ordinary men and this contrasts with Caesar’s cold and superior manner towards the lower orders.
At the entry of Cleopatra, Antony promises to praise the bravery of Scarus to “this great fairy [enchantress]”: to her directly he speaks in hyperbole, calling her the light of the world and asking her to leap into his heart through his armour. She loves Antony as the great leader and admires his “infinite virtue [valour]” and seeing his smile as recognition that she has saved him from the trap of undue preoccupation with the ways of the world. There is some truth in these ringing words but also an explanation of Antony’s potential huge loss: he was a ruler and had strict and demanding duties. The irony is that she destroys what she most loves in him by feminising him. In his exultant mood, he is able to laugh at his own grey hairs as he feels his capacities have beaten those of younger men. We note the contrast with his earlier extreme jealousy when he invites Scarus to kiss her hand and, as promised, pays warm tribute to the god-like deeds of the soldier.
She offers him gold armour and Antony adds that it should be encrusted with jewels. He wants to enjoy this moment to itsfull with a parade through Alexandria, carrying their dented shields as signs of bravery. If there were space he would share the triumph by feasting and drinking heavily with all his men, confident of further victory next day. Military sounds will accompany their procession.