Act IV
Scene ix In Caesar’s camp at night sentries discuss the battle, accepting that the previous day was “shrewd [cursed]” for their side before they hear the voice of Enobarbus dying, as he threatened, of a broken heart. He calls upon the moon (associated in the play with Cleopatra) to record his repentance for desertion. He believes that he is speaking to himself alone when he again asks the moon, associated with grief, to let fall fatal dampness upon him and then, with a change of imagery, to allow his heart to break against the hard surface of his fault. To him Antony is thoroughly noble and any wordly attitudes he may have held are forgotten in his shame: he begs forgiveness and wants to be reviled in history for his turpitude. There is true pathos and a sense of tragedy here as Enobarbus advised Antony correctly and could not be expected to stay with him in his downfall, although others remained loyal despite all. One sentry wants to talk to him and this might have saved him but another, more calculating, thinks he might reveal truths of interest to Caesar. The scene ends with his body carried to the guard room since he is an important person.
Scenes X-XII Elemental imagery infuses Antony’s speech when he rejects the simple opposition of earth/land and water/sea and, in a fantasy, wishes they could fight in fire or air. He orders the infantry to stay with them to observe from a high place as he and Caesar are weighing each other up physically and mentally. Caesar decides to be inactive on land (unless attacked) as Antony’s best troops have headed for sea. Antony climbs a pine tree for a better view whilst Scarus is sceptical since there is a bad omen in the swallows’ nests in the sails of Cleopatra’s ships and the fortune tellers are looking grim and refusing to speak. His clearly visualised description also tells us that Antony’s mood is unstable and we soon learn that he has lost his advantage by a tactical error and that Cleopatra has betrayed him. The disappointment is enormous as he reveals that his sailors have surrendered and are celebrating with Caesar’s. Calling her a “triple-turn’d whore” because of her former liaisons with Julius Caesar, Cneius Pompey and probably in future with Julius Caesar, he accuses her of causing his defeat by a novice and declares that she is his only enemy, threatening revenge on her.
He now accepts total loss and the end of his life, summarising simply: “All come to this?” More imagery of melting reveals his sense that former followers whom he treated well have defected and he, himself, like the tree he has climbed is stripped and defeated. He looks back to his infatuation with Cleopatra whose eyes commanded him and whose heart was the object of his labours, calling her a true gipsy (with a reference to her being Egyptian) who, at a cheating game, “beguil’d [him], to the very heart of loss.” When she enters he threatens to kill her to spoil Caesar’s triumphal procession but describes the scene where she will be paraded alive like an unnatural being before the lowest people in the crowds and where the long-suffering Octavia will be allowed to scratch her face. He sees his own tragic suffering as akin to that of Hercules in legend when he wore a poisoned shirt and vows to have Cleopatra murdered for her betraying him to Caesar.
Scene xiii Cleopatra also uses mythological terms in describing him, and Charmian, with a reversal of her former advice not to cross him, advises her to go to her monument and send word that she is dead. Cleopatra fails to realise the seriousness of this deceit and, ever the actress, adds the pathos of her pretended last word being his name. We feel this is her last trick as she wants to know how it will be received.
Scene xiv In the changing shape of the clouds, Antony sees a correspondance with his own sense of identity slipping away as his position has gone. With the loss of Rome, he has lost more than power: something spiritual has vanished and with it his sense of selfhood. This speech is the culmination of the imagery of mingling that has recurred throughout and, finally, water slides into water. The words “rack dislimns” suggest drift as well as torture of limbs on the rack and reflect his pain as such a body. He knows who he is but “cannot hold this visible shape”. The direct and monosyllabic diction of “Whose heart I thought I had, for she had mine” remains in our minds even as we question its ultimate truth, whilst accepting the power they both held over millions of lives. Eros is moved but Antony is cheered by the thought of suicide. The entry of the eunuch, Mardian, reminds us of the sexual connotations of the term “sword”: Cleopatra has rendered Antony impotent politically. Mardian stresses Cleopatra’s fidelity to Antony whilst, with dramatic irony, telling him that she is dead: he carries out his task with fluency and emotion and the picture is credible and moving, despite its falsity.
The message comes as Antony is at his lowest, the long vowels and slow movement of his lines stressing his despair. In the tearing off of his battered armour his action reminds us of the scene in which Cleopatra took pleasure in buckling it on: the play is full of glances forwards and backwards in time. He feels his heart is cracking his sides open and now blames himself, feeling that any life left is torture. His physical strength is now an impediment to the suicide by which he could join her in the after-life where they could walk hand in hand with all the souls watching them rather than other legendary figures. This speech is a mixture of grandeur and repentance and gives a flavour of the old Antony but we see that he would die out of weariness and the desire, once again, to be an actor with an audience. This is not the spirit of a tragic end.
Although Antony sees their after-death figures as almost divine, the lexis in his account of his present situation is full of negatives: “dishonour,” “baseness,” “condemn,” “disgrace,” and “horror.” In the past he was great and ruled land and sea but now has less courage than a woman who can kill herself to say to Caesar that she is conqueror of herself. It is a final irony that he will die to emulate a faked death. Eros has promised that, when the emergency comes, he will kill Antony who feels that now is the moment since, if he is captured alive, he will be led in triumph and disgraced. Clearly Eros pales at the thought but Antony encourages him to see his death as a defeat of Caesar, again not a tragic element. Because Eros is unwilling and recalls the greatness of past warfare, Antony describes the inevitable shame that will come to him in Eros’ sight if kept alive: humiliated in procession with folded arms and bent neck led behind Caerar’s carriage. Antony calls upon his soldierly honour and the vow he made when freed but Eros tricks him, saying he can do the deed only if Antony’s noble face is averted: when it is turned away he kills himself out of love for his leader.
Again there is strong dramatic irony when Antony links his real death with the false one of Cleopatra to teach himself the lesson of what to do. In one of the many references to this as a history, he hopes to be recorded as noble in a Roman soldier’s suicide, linking love and death in his willingness to embrace both. Ironically he fails in this as he has failed in life and begs his men to finish him. The ironies mount as the dying Antony is told the truth: that Cleopatra, inside her unfinished tomb, has had a presentiment that he might do this on hearing of her dying. She rejects the suggestion that she would make arrangements with Caesar and lied out of fear of Antony’s rage but we see that Fate has intervened in the timing and the too late arrival of Diomedes. Antony begs them to carry him to see her and take Fate lightly, joking that he deserves them to lead him as he has led them so often. The keynote of the scene is the triumph over both Fate and Caesar in the finding of a way out and the attitude of not caring about either.
Scene xv Cleopatra has a sense of doom, feeling intuitively that she will never leave this monument, having locked herself in her own tomb prematurely. Even in this moment of crisis she is self-consciously regarding her own behaviour, welcoming sorrow and despising comforts. Her speech, when she sees Antony, is grandiloquent and she responds to Antony’s assertion that he has not been defeated by Caesar but by himself with his own courage. The poetry uplifts the situation as he declares: “I am dying, Egypt, dying” (repeated later) with its reminder of the scope of their power but we cannot help but notice that she will not immediately grant his last request of a final kiss out of fear of capture were she to come down. She knows various methods of suicide to escape the enemy and still regards Octavia as such but, by her refusal to descend, the wounded Antony has to be hoisted up to kiss her.
There is grim humour in her remark that he is so heavy it makes this a game but her lyrical speech and classical references still do not conceal her concern for her own safety. He is literally raised after his metaphorical fall and calls for wine as he always did. While she abuses Fate, he offers practical advice and is anxious for her, telling her to appeal to Caesar but trust only Proculeius. She resolves to die but he encourages her to dwell on her thoughts, which we know she is good at. She must not lament but should recall his former glory and accept his truly Roman death by his own hand; ironically he is now moved by those virtues and values he has rejected throughout – those of Rome. Even now she centres on herself, asking him to consider her plight in a world like a sty without him and he dies to imagery of a final melting as she calls to her women as audience, as she has always done.
Her world seems empty and dislocated now and there is nothing significant in it. After her faint, she stresses her own common humanity (in response to Iras’ term “Royal”) which gives her general validity although, when he was alive, she had thought they were gods. Nothing is worthwhile to her now and neither bearing trouble nor rebelling against it has value: therefore she must kill herself rather than wait for death to take her. She shows concern for her anxious women and, ironically, admires the Roman virtues of bravery and nobility in suicide. We note that she is full of energy and resolve and sees a way forward even if that is death.
At the end of Act IV one of the eponymous figures is dead: if this is a tragedy it is not that of Antony alone as the final act belongs to Cleopatra and we are tense as we wait to see how she will carry out her intentions.