Antony and Cleopatra | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Antony and Cleopatra | Act 4, Scene 13 | Summary

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Summary

Cleopatra enters with her female attendants and Mardian. She begs their help against Antony's insane fury. Charmian suggests she hide in "the monument"—the tomb Cleopatra has already had built for herself. "There lock yourself," says Charmian, "and send him word you are dead." Cleopatra seizes on this suggestion. "To th'monument!—Mardian, go tell him I have slain myself. / Say that the last I spoke was 'Antony.'"

Analysis

Ancient Egyptian rulers built their tombs in advance of their deaths, but it is unclear what is meant by "monument" here. For staging purposes Cleopatra's monument must fulfil three dramatic requirements:

  • Cleopatra and her attendants will be safe there;
  • There's a window to which a dying Antony can be raised by three women without being further injured;
  • Soldiers can enter without difficulty.

What kind of real-world structure could meet these conditions? Many imaginary images exist, but none seem to work in this play. Perhaps the monument's exterior is rarely shown onstage for this reason.

In earlier scenes Cleopatra has compared Antony to Hercules, the strongest man in mythological history. Here her two mythological references are more frightening. According to Ovid's Metamorphoses, Telamonian Ajax fought so valiantly in the Trojan War he expected the shield of Achilles as a reward. Denied it, and the accompanying honor, he used his sword to stab himself to death. Capturing the boar of Thessaly was one of the 12 labors of Hercules, who chased it through the snow before trapping it. In this allusion, Cleopatra compares Antony to an exhausted, cornered animal.

Cleopatra's situation is desperate, but even in the middle of her terror she manages one more typical Cleopatra performance: ordering Mardian to tell Antony she's dead "and bring me [news of] how he takes my death." It's not clear why she does this: she may be hoping that news of her death will calm Antony's rage, or she may simply relish the drama.

But even during a moment of supreme crisis, Cleopatra is interested in Antony's reaction to her performance. She wants Antony to believe she hasn't betrayed him, but this lie itself is a betrayal. By the time it occurs to Cleopatra the trick may be a bad idea, it will be too late.

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