Antony and Cleopatra | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Antony and Cleopatra | Act 4, Scene 9 | Summary

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Summary

A sentry from Caesar's army enters with other guards. Enobarbus follows them unnoticed. The sentry says that unless he and the other watchmen can be relieved within the hour, they'll have to return to the spot where the other guards are gathered. The next stage of battle is supposed to begin the next morning.

The sentry and his men are startled when Enobarbus suddenly speaks, asking the moon to witness his repentance for deserting Antony. If only the moon, "sovereign mistress of true melancholy," would send a poison through the air to kill him! If only Antony could forgive him! "O Antony! O Antony!" he cries out—and dies on the spot.

Thinking Enobarbus has only fainted—and wanting to hear anything he might say concerning Caesar—the guards try, unsuccessfully, to rouse him. The sentry announces the death, but another watchman thinks he may still be alive. They carry him off, planning to bring him to back to camp.

Analysis

Antony and Cleopatra features few soliloquies (and none by Cleopatra), but this scene does include a soliloquy from Enobarbus. For a modern reader, however, it may not have the dramatic effect Shakespeare intended.

Enobarbus is given to poetic language, so he is in character when he suddenly begins to address the moon—in character, but perhaps out of place in the scene. The sentry and his company have been talking in short, functional sentences about war logistics when they are interrupted by Enobarbus's poetic apostrophe: "O, bear me witness, night—." They are trying to decide whether to return to camp, and now here is Enobarbus declaiming to the moon. Contrasting prosaic characters with a poetic speech takes a lot of the dignity and dramatic effect away.

The modern reader may also doubt anyone could actually die of shame and grief, as Enobarbus appears to do. His death merits authorial attention—but if he is going to die, Shakespeare doesn't have much choice about how to kill him off. Enobarbus can't be killed in battle: he's a deserter, and it's too noble a death. He can't commit suicide; that's reserved for Antony and Cleopatra. Because he is not crucial to the action of the play, his death scene shouldn't be too long. And yet he's an important enough character that the scene needs a little something extra. Thus Shakespeare gives him a soliloquy in this slightly ridiculous setting.

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