Antony and Cleopatra | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Antony and Cleopatra | Act 3, Scene 11 | Summary

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Summary

Deeply shamed, Antony enters with some of his attendants. The land, he says, "is ashamed to bear me." He urges them to take the gold from his ship and make their peace with Caesar. He will try to intervene with Caesar on their behalf. Meanwhile, he begs his followers to leave him; his actions have proved him unfit to command.

Charmian, Iras, and Eros enter, leading Cleopatra. In his distress Antony doesn't notice them, and they urge Cleopatra to comfort him. Thinking aloud, Antony remembers how he defeated Cassius and Brutus while Caesar himself refused to fight. "Yet now—no matter."

While Eros tries to alert Antony that Cleopatra is in the room, Iras urges Cleopatra to speak to Antony, undone by shame. When Antony finally pays attention, he upbraids Cleopatra. "O, whither hast though led me, Egypt?" Cleopatra begs forgiveness, saying she never imagined Antony's ship would follow hers. Antony protests she knows the hold she has on him and should have known he would follow her even if the gods had ordered otherwise.

"O, my pardon!" begs Cleopatra again, but Antony isn't really listening. Cleopatra apologizes again, but Antony is thinking of how he—who once "with half the bulk o' th' world played as I pleased"—will now have to humiliate himself with Caesar. When Cleopatra asks a third time for forgiveness, Antony tells her not to cry; even a single one of her tears is worth more than everything he's won and lost. They kiss. As they leave, Antony calls for food and wine.

Analysis

Antony and Cleopatra have often used inflated rhetoric, so it's startling to see how plainly and directly they speak now that fortune has turned against them. Antony's two opening speeches are heartbreaking in their simplicity, especially his wrenching attempt to sound casual in "I'll see you by and by."

Antony has often referred, scornfully, to Caesar's extreme youth. Now, for the first time, he speaks of himself as old. "My very hairs do mutiny, for the white / Reprove the brown for rashness ... " But when he first sees Cleopatra, he babbles "No, no, no, no, no" like a baby. The two rulers' subordinates treat them not like royalty but more like children who have been hurt and do not know how to behave. "Go to him, madam, speak to him," coaxes Iras, since her mistress seems lost in the face of her lover's grief. Meanwhile, Eros must tell Antony five times that Cleopatra has come into the room.

Readers may wish Antony and Cleopatra would go back to being high-handed and imperious. Yes, they both deserve an "I told you so." However, it is disheartening to see this couple, who have called themselves gods, behave simultaneously like old people and young children.

Also painful is seeing Cleopatra so penitent. Like Antony she speaks plainly. At first she tries to excuse herself by saying she had no idea Antony would follow her. Maybe she expects Antony to comfort her, but instead he answers, "Egypt, thou knew'st too well / My heart was to thy rudder tied by th'strings, / And thou shouldst tow me after." After that, all Cleopatra can do is ask his pardon. There's no more self-justification. She has sometimes blamed others, especially messengers, for giving her bad news. Now, perhaps for the first time, she is accepting the blame for her own actions.

But is she entirely responsible? In effect, Antony is telling her he was powerless once she'd turned her ships around. "O'er my spirit / Thy full supremacy thou knew'st." Once again he is treating her like someone with magic powers, a sorceress whom he is helpless to resist. At this point it would be tactless for anyone to point out that Cleopatra does not actually have Antony under a spell. What "made" him leave the battle was his own impetuousness.

In fact, at this time more than any other, Antony should have stayed at his post. During a battle a commander's first responsibility is to protect those under his command. It doesn't work to stretch the point and say Cleopatra was under Antony's command during the battle. He would not have followed anyone else in his fleet and therefore should not have followed her.

To maintain his self-respect, Antony rallies at the end of the scene. He seems to shake himself out of his gloom. "Fall not a tear, I say ... Give me a kiss. / Even this repays me." This is another significant kiss. It is the first time in the play the pair have expressed their love without trying for effect.

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