Antony and Cleopatra | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Antony and Cleopatra | Act 4, Scene 4 | Summary

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Summary

Early the next morning Antony calls for Eros to bring his armor. Cleopatra does her best to help Eros dress Antony for battle. An armed soldier arrives and tells Antony a thousand other armed men await him at the port. A captain arrives and says the weather is good. Antony, either cheerful or pretending to be, comments the morning looks fresh and promising, "like the spirit of a youth / That means to be of note."

Antony kisses Cleopatra goodbye, saying he's leaving her "like a man of steel." Urging his men to keep close, he leads them away.

Left alone with Charmian, Cleopatra says, "He goes forth gallantly." She adds if only the two generals were meeting in single combat, "then Antony—but now—." She breaks off, afraid to finish the sentence.

Analysis

This is a domestic scene with simple dialogue that could almost be spoken today. Cleopatra's cheerful clumsiness with Antony's armor is a gentle way of distracting them from the reality that the battle's outcome does not look hopeful. A few scenes ago Cleopatra was insisting she command her own fleet of ships; now she seems determined to play the loving wife who waits at home: Cleopatra is being a good sport. Yet the scene has its own dramatic irony: the two lovers are most likely pretending to be optimistic in order to cheer one another up. While their language is simpler, they are still performing, and this time, the performance prevents them from connecting or taking comfort from one another.

Shakespeare portrays Antony's nervousness in his actions. Although he tries to be patient with Cleopatra, his anxiety keeps bubbling over. "Ah, let be, let be!" he cries as she fumbles with his armor. "False, false. This, this!" On his way out the door, he's almost chattering. "So, so.—Come, give me that. This way. Well said."

Loyal Charmian is sensitive to her mistress's needs. "Please you retire to your chamber?" she asks, knowing Cleopatra probably wants nothing more than to collapse onto her bed. Portraying a bustling, optimistic wife would be a strain at any time for Cleopatra; it is far greater when little reason for optimism exists.

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