Study Guide

The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra Guilt and Blame

By William Shakespeare

Guilt and Blame

ANTONY
There's a great spirit gone! Thus did I desire it.
What our contempts doth often hurl from us,
We wish it ours again. The present pleasure,
By revolution lowering, does become
The opposite of itself. (1.2.137-141)

Antony regrets that his wife is dead, and it seems he regrets that he wished her dead as well…now that it’s done. Only by getting what he wanted could he see how it wasn’t a good event to wish for at all. This retrospective thought is a kind of regret.

CLEOPATRA
Though age from folly could not give me freedom,
It does from childishness. Can Fulvia die? (1.3.69-70)

Cleopatra admits that she is old enough to be full of vices and foolishness, but not childishness. She clearly has a moment of compassion over Fulvia’s death, even though the woman was her enemy in love.

MENECRATES
We, ignorant of ourselves,
Beg often our own harms, which the wise powers
Deny us for our good; so find we profit
By losing of our prayers. (2.1.7-10)

Menecrates is prophetic here when speaking to Pompey about winning the war. Pompey will indeed triumph by the truce he’ll make, but he doesn’t know now that he’ll live to regret it.

ANTONY
As nearly as I may
I'll play the penitent to you. But mine honesty
Shall not make poor my greatness, nor my power
Work without it. (2.2.110-113)

Antony will admit his wrongs where he’s performed them, but he’s careful to say that his repentance of those actions doesn’t diminish his power. Antony claims that his ability to be honest and admit his flaws is actually a source of his greatness.

CLEOPATRA
In praising Antony, I have dispraised Caesar.
CHARMIAN
Many times, madam.
CLEOPATRA
I am paid for 't now. (2.5.135-137)

Cleopatra admits that she’s wronged Julius Caesar by praising Antony, and she now pays her dues for this. She is reminded of her ills against former lovers, but repents only after she is punished for them.

ANTONY
Go, Eros, send his treasure after. Do it.
Detain no jot, I charge thee. Write to him—
I will subscribe—gentle adieus and greetings.
Say that I wish he never find more cause
To change a master. O, my fortunes have
Corrupted honest men! Dispatch.—Enobarbus! (4.5.20-25)

Antony feels real compassion for Enobarbus. Rather than curse him for the betrayal, Antony berates himself, feeling guilty that his bad fortune has made honest men do what they otherwise would not.

ENOBARBUS
O sovereign mistress of true melancholy,
The poisonous damp of night disponge upon me,
That life, a very rebel to my will,
May hang no longer on me. Throw my heart
Against the flint and hardness of my fault,
Which, being dried with grief, will break to powder,
And finish all foul thoughts. O Antony,
Nobler than my revolt is infamous,
Forgive me in thine own particular,
But let the world rank me in register
A master-leaver and a fugitive!
O Antony! O Antony! (4.9.15-26)

Enobarbus dies with his friend’s name on his lips, lamenting the wrong he has done to Antony. Enobarbus regrets what he has done to Antony, but that he could do it breaks his heart. Most importantly, he recognizes that his regret and repentance will not absolve him or change the past. For his personal friendship, he wishes Antony to know he’s sorry. For the world, though, he’d rather bear the mark of a traitor, so everyone can know the depth of his crime. Here, Enobarbus proves he’s aware that no amount of regret he feels can outweigh the sorrow he’s caused.

ANTONY
I will o'ertake thee, Cleopatra, and
Weep for my pardon. So it must be, for now
All length is torture. Since the torch is out,
Lie down, and stray no farther. (4.14.44-47)

Only on hearing of Cleopatra’s death does Antony repent the rage he felt against her. Death moves Antony the way life could not, and against his reason, he follows his passion to chase after Cleopatra even in death.

CAESAR
Go with me to my tent, where you shall see
How hardly I was drawn into this war,
How calm and gentle I proceeded still
In all my writings. Go with me, and see
What I can show in this. (5.1.87-91)

Caesar seems to try to clear himself of blame. Is this motivated by his actual knowledge of his own hand in Antony’s death, or does he feel compelled by other reasons?