Antony and Cleopatra | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Antony and Cleopatra | Act 4, Scene 12 | Summary

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Summary

Antony and Scarus enter. Wondering why Caesar's navy hasn't begun fighting, Antony looks for a better vantage point. Left by himself Scarus worries about the swallow nests in the sails of Cleopatra's ships. Is it a lucky or unlucky sign the birds have built them there? The soothsayers aren't talking. Meanwhile, says Scarus, Antony alternates between courage and despair depending on how the battle is going.

Antony returns from his lookout point and announces all is lost. His fleet has surrendered, and are celebrating the battle's end. Cleopatra, "this foul Egyptian," must have betrayed him. He orders Scarus to tell the land army to retreat; once he has avenged his cause by killing Cleopatra, there will be nothing left for him to do.

Alone, Antony mourns he will never again see a sunrise. "Fortune and Antony part here." His followers have abandoned him, and Cleopatra has been false. How could Cleopatra do this to him? All he cared about was pleasing her!

Cleopatra enters, and Antony shouts at her to leave. Astonished, Cleopatra asks why. Antony orders her away unless she wants him to kill her. Caesar can have her! He can display her as a captive, and "patient Octavia" can tear Cleopatra's face with her fingernails.

Cleopatra flees, leaving Antony to rail against her. If only he had killed her earlier, these other deaths could have been prevented! But now, let his ancestor Alcides guide him in his rage. "The witch shall die"—she's sold him to Caesar.

Analysis

Having ignored advice from loyal and experienced advisors, Antony must suffer the consequences of defeat. As his followers desert him, he must confront his fury and remorse alone. He is completely vanquished not only militarily but emotionally and personally as well. His humiliation brings him to the only end for a Roman in such a defeat: suicide.

He rages at Cleopatra for betraying him, "Triple-turned whore! Tis thou / Hast sold me to this novice, and my heart / Makes only wars on thee" and bitterly regrets having been so devoted to her. Having persisted with his ill-advised plans, he can direct his rage at Cleopatra, knowing he himself is most at fault. The dignity and self-awareness he displayed earlier are nowhere to be seen here.

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