Antony and Cleopatra | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Antony and Cleopatra | Act 5, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

Caesar, Agrippa, Dolabella, Maecenas, Gallus, and Proculeius are holding a war council when Dercetus arrives with Antony's sword. Dercetus tells them Antony is dead; if Caesar wishes, Dercetus will serve him as well as he once served Antony.

Caesar is appalled at the news. Antony was more than a person; he represented half the world! Although the world wasn't large enough to hold the two rivals, Antony nonetheless was like a brother and "my mate in empire." Caesar's companions, too, are shocked and saddened.

An Egyptian man enters, sent by Cleopatra to ask Caesar how she should prepare herself to serve him. Caesar bids Proculeius visit the Queen and assure her they "purpose her no shame." Keep her calm, Caesar advises, and don't do anything that might cause her to kill herself! Being able to display the captive Cleopatra to the Romans would bring Caesar eternal triumph.

Analysis

This is the first time Caesar's shell of icy rectitude seems to crack. Caesar's words serve as a reminder of how great Antony once was. He is already a diminished figure by the time the play begins, so the emotions aroused by his death lie mostly in the suggestion that a broken man is finally going to rest. By the time Antony dies, it is hard to remember he was "one of the triple pillars of Rome," especially since, in the play, he spent little time governing or in Rome. But for Caesar, another of the triple pillars, Antony's passing is a striking blow not only to himself but to the entire world order. It would be impossible for Antony and Cleopatra to include scenes from Antony's earlier life during his years of glory; the play is sprawling enough as it is. But readers may feel a pang at never having seen the protagonist at his height.

An indication of Caesar's rattled state at hearing of Antony's death is his having forgotten he sent Dolabella to speak to Antony before he heard about it. When his staff calls for the lieutenant, Caesar suddenly remembers where Dolabella is.

Antony's death marks the first time Caesar shows even the slightest doubt he acted correctly. Until now he has been certain he was right. Now he suddenly seems to need to prove it. Caesar can think only of showing his followers the letters Antony has sent and trying to justify himself: "You shall see / How hardly I was drawn into this war, / How calm and gentle I proceeded still / In all my writings." He may be worried others will judge him harshly or troubled he might have been able to prevent the death of this former hero. Although there is no way to know the reasons, this stern man's sudden loss of confidence is striking.

Furthermore, no one in this play is all good or all bad. As Caesar reels from the news about Antony, his sudden vulnerability makes him seem more likable. At the same time, however, he does not waver from his plan to exhibit the captured Cleopatra in public. In addressing the Egyptian man, Caesar reveals nothing but tender concern for the Queen's welfare. He may fool the Egyptian; he may even fool the audience. But he still wants his allies and enemies to fear him.

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