Antony and Cleopatra | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Antony and Cleopatra | Act 4, Scene 15 | Summary

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Summary

Cleopatra and her retinue wait fearfully in the monument for Diomedes to return. When he arrives, he tells Cleopatra to look out of the other side of the monument: there she'll see Antony with his guards. "I am dying, Egypt, dying," says Antony, and asks her to come to him so he can kiss her one last time.

Cleopatra will not leave the building for fear of being captured. She'll never allow Caesar to claim her as an ornament to show off. Octavia will never have the chance to look at Cleopatra and gloat. Desperately she calls her ladies, and they begin to haul Antony up into the monument. "Quick," warns Antony, "or I am gone." Finally, and with great effort, they get Antony aloft to Cleopatra. She kisses him, saying that if kissing had the power to bring him back to life, she would kiss him until her lips wore out.

Antony asks for wine and the chance to "speak a little." He counsels Cleopatra to seek safety with Caesar and to trust none of Caesar's followers except Proculeius. Cleopatra answers she'll trust only her strength of will and her hands. Antony then asks her not to grieve over what he has become but to remember him when he was "the greatest prince o'th' world." Now he is dying honorably—"a Roman by a Roman valiantly vanquished."

Seeing her lover is dead, Cleopatra faints. When she revives, she tells her ladies she's no longer an empress but an ordinary woman. While Antony lived, Earth was as marvelous as the realm of the gods; now that the gods have "stolen our jewel," nothing is left. "Our lamp is spent; it's out." It's time to bury Antony and then die "after the high Roman fashion"—by suicide.

Analysis

One of Shakespeare's most famous lines, which he uses twice in this scene, is Antony's "I am dying, Egypt, dying." These five words, two of them the same, are among the most memorable in Shakespeare's works and reward close study.

For one thing, the message is direct and straightforward. Antony hasn't always been this blunt. Yet the phrasing of the sentence turns it into poetry. The line cannot be rephrased without losing its effectiveness. Consider how much weaker it becomes when the word Cleopatra replaces "Egypt" By composing the line this way and repeating the word dying, Shakespeare produces an almost songlike rhythm that twice stresses the word die.

When Antony asks Cleopatra to come down and kiss him, her reply (which features even more repetition) lacks the poetic precision. "I dare not, dear, / Dear my lord, pardon, I dare not, / Lest I be taken." Her words are equally direct. She's not putting on a performance—at least not with those lines. True, she follows them with a lofty speech about Caesar and Rome in which, once again, she becomes the center of attention. It's a short speech, though, and for the remainder of the scene, Cleopatra's attention is focused on Antony.

This scene between Antony and Cleopatra contrasts directly with the couple's first appearance in Act 1, Scene 1. Clearly conscious of their audience in Scene 1, they expressed their love in grand style. It was almost as if they were saying, "We hope someone is writing all this down." In this later scene Charmian and Iras are still in the room, yet Antony and Cleopatra seem unaware of their presence. They love each other, and both know this is their last conversation; they don't waste a word.

Just after Antony has died, Cleopatra stops thinking of herself as an empress. Within seconds she seems to transform into a new person, plain spoken and resolute. Her words to Charmian and Iras, "Our lamp is spent; it's out. Good sirs, take heart," make her sound as if she were putting on Roman armor and will die an honorable Roman death.

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