Antony and Cleopatra | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Antony and Cleopatra | Act 4, Scene 8 | Summary

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Summary

Antony, Scarus, and some others enter. Antony's army has forced Caesar's to retreat to their camp. Antony orders a soldier to bear the good news to Cleopatra. Then he delivers a speech of praise to the soldiers, saying they've fought like Hector, leader of the Trojan army.

Cleopatra enters; she's heard the good news. Antony tells her to let Scarus, hero of the hour, kiss her hand. Cleopatra promises Scarus a suit of armor made of gold, and Antony says Scarus deserves gold armor studded with rubies. He orders his army to make as much noise as possible while they parade triumphantly through Alexandria.

Analysis

At this moment in Act 4, Antony's chances look good, but a 17th-century audience would be familiar with Roman history and thus would know the play's ending. No matter how much he draws out the suspense—and Act 4 is indeed suspenseful—Shakespeare had no need to fool the audience into thinking Antony would win. However, modern readers and audiences might be less enlightened.

Antony's pride and excitement function almost like a scrim here, giving extra poignancy to what the audience knows is a foregone conclusion. Shakespeare's language also provides hints of the darker fate awaiting Antony.

  • Antony promises the following morning, "we'll spill the blood that has today escaped." He's referring to the blood of the enemies who have managed to get away unscathed. But he is also unknowingly predicting the fate of his own army; the words "we'll spill all the blood" have a double meaning. Today Antony's soldiers, too, have escaped; tomorrow, it's the blood from their own bodies that will spill.
  • Antony tells his men they have fought as bravely as Hector, the most famous warrior of the Trojan War described in The Iliad. But despite his military brilliance, Hector is killed, and his body suffers the shame of lying outside the gates of Troy for 12 days before it's allowed to be buried.
  • Cleopatra tells brave Scarus she'll reward him with a suit of gold armor that belonged to a king. Can she be referring to her own brother, the boy-king Ptolemy who drowned in the Nile while wearing a golden suit of armor? Perhaps not—but Ptolemy's drowning, and that suit of armor, would likely come to mind for Shakespeare's audience.

Once again Antony reveals ambivalence about his age. Though his brown hair is mixed with gray, he says, his brain and experience outmatch those of a younger man. Simply mentioning his age at such a triumphant moment shows being old is never off his mind.

Antony all but commands Scarus to kiss Cleopatra's hand in this scene—an uncomfortable echo of the earlier scene in which he has Thidias flogged for doing the same thing. It's almost as if he's saying, "I'm the one who decides whether her hand gets kissed." Kissing the hand of the Queen doesn't necessarily bring good luck.

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