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Antony and Cleopatra | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Antony and Cleopatra | Act 4, Scene 3 | Summary



Some soldiers enter and settle themselves for the night watch. One asks another if he's heard a strange rumor but won't say aloud what it is.

As the soldiers discuss the next day's battle, they suddenly hear music that seems to be rising from underground. One of the soldiers asks if this is a good omen. No, answers another; it's a sign Hercules, Antony's constant inspiration, is abandoning him. The soldiers decide to find out whether other night watchmen hear the music and leave the stage, worried at this strange event.


This is a mysterious scene, and it's hard to decipher Shakespeare's intent, other than strong foreboding before the final battle. If the soldiers hear the music, but the audience does not: is it real or not? And why should music signify the departure of Hercules? Is there a legend in which he is accompanied by music?

Perhaps the men are sharing a musical hallucination inspired by the rumors floating around the camp. Mass hysteria is often triggered by rumors. It seems more likely, though, that Shakespeare wrote this scene to give the audience a pleasant shiver and a break from the war. In addition, ghosts, omens, and eerie phenomena appealed to Elizabethan audiences, and Shakespeare uses them to set the stage for important scenes that determine what will happen to the characters or how the play will end.

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