The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra Transformation
By William Shakespeare
PHILO Those his goodly eyes, That o'er the files and musters of the war Have glow'd like plated Mars, now bend, now turn, The office and devotion of their view Upon a tawny front. His captain's heart, Which in the scuffles of great fights hath burst The buckles on his breast, reneges all temper And is become the bellows and the fan To cool a gypsy's lust. Flourish. Enter Antony, Cleopatra, her Ladies, the Train, with Eunuchs fanning her.
Look where they come! Take but good note, and you shall see in him The triple pillar of the world transformed Into a strumpet's fool. (1.1.2-14)
Antony’s men marvel at the change that’s come over him, how his temper rages and cools to suit Cleopatra’s needs. They claim love has made him a fool, but what of the idea that his life has been transformed and given new meaning by this new love? He no longer has to dwell on Roman power, but instead can stop repressing his human feelings.
PHILO Sir, sometimes, when he is not Antony, He comes too short of that great property Which still should go with Antony. (1.1.66-68)
Antony in Egypt is not himself, at least not the Roman Antony. He doesn’t live up to his Roman reputation or name, and has instead transformed into some other person the Romans would not recognize.
ANTONY Forbear me. [Third Messenger exits.] 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 low'ring, does become The opposite of itself. She's good, being gone. The hand could pluck her back that shoved her on. I must from this enchanting queen break off. Ten thousand harms, more than the ills I know, My idleness doth hatch. (1.2.136-145)
Antony often has wished Fulvia dead, but getting what he wants transforms his wishes. He then changes his mind about needing to stay with Cleopatra for love. Instead, he wants to leave her, and thus changes his priorities. Duty replaces love as his highest priority (at least for now).
CLEOPATRA See where he is, who's with him, what he does. I did not send you. If you find him sad, Say I am dancing; if in mirth, report That I am sudden sick. (1.3-6)
Cleopatra is again tempestuous—she constantly judges how Antony should see her and transforms herself accordingly. She’s not driven by the truth of how she’s feeling, but how she imagines she should feel or be, given the circumstances of their relationship.
CAESAR Antony, Leave thy lascivious wassails. When thou once Was beaten from Modena, where thou slew'st Hirtius and Pansa, consuls, at thy heel Did famine follow, whom thou fought'st against, Though daintily brought up, with patience more Than savages could suffer. Thou didst drink The stale of horses and the gilded puddle Which beasts would cough at. Thy palate then did deign The roughest berry on the rudest hedge. Yea, like the stag when snow the pasture sheets, The barks of trees thou brows'd. On the Alps It is reported thou didst eat strange flesh Which some did die to look on. And all this—
It wounds thine honor that I speak it now—
Was borne so like a soldier that thy cheek So much as lank'd not. (1.4.64-81)
Caesar describes just how ideal Antony used to be, which emphasizes how much he has changed by avoiding his duty as a soldier. Love has transformed Antony into a less-than-ideal Roman.
ANTONY The beds i' th' East are soft; and thanks to you, That called me timelier than my purpose hither, For I have gained by't. (2.6.63-65)
Antony thanks Pompey for being the occasion by which he is a changed man—he wouldn’t have left the East if there hadn’t been something worthy to draw his attention to his duty as a soldier over his pleasure as a lover.
ANTONY Friends, begone. I have myself resolved upon a course Which has no need of you. Begone. My treasure's in the harbor, take it. O, I followed that I blush to look upon! My very hairs do mutiny; for the white Reprove the brown for rashness, and they them For fear and doting. (3.11.9-16)
Antony rails against himself for becoming a different person—he’s just fled the sea battle chasing after Cleopatra, and he admits he’s no longer a respectable soldier. Further, even his transformation into old age rebels against him—his wiser side (white hairs) condemns his youth (brown hairs) for their rashness, and his youth condemns his age for its cowardice in the battle, and the fact that his age lets his affection for Cleopatra overpower his strength and nobility.
ANTONY You were half blasted ere I knew you. Ha! Have I my pillow left unpressed in Rome, Forborne the getting of a lawful race, And by a gem of women, to be abused By one that looks on feeders? CLEOPATRA Good my lord—
ANTONY You have been a boggler ever. But when we in our viciousness grow hard—
O misery on't!—the wise gods seel our eyes, In our own filth drop our clear judgments, make us Adore our errors, laugh at 's while we strut To our confusion. (3.13.132-144)
Antony flies into a passionate rage. It seems, having seen that Cleopatra is capable of betraying him, he is transformed. He realizes that he hasn’t judged clearly, and has been acting a fool for love. Worse, he admits that he transformed himself into something of a vagrant. He could’ve had children with the nice Octavia at home and made some very legitimate heirs, but he’s disgraced himself in Egypt with Cleopatra instead.
ENOBARBUS Now he'll outstare the lightning. To be furious Is to be frighted out of fear, and in that mood The dove will peck the estridge; and I see still A diminution in our captain's brain Restores his heart. When valor preys on reason, It eats the sword it fights with. I will seek Some way to leave him. (3.13.236-242)
Enobarbus hits on the great change that’s come over Antony—he has just flown into a murderous rage over Cleopatra’s betrayal, had a man beaten within an inch of his life, forgiven Cleopatra, called for wine, and resolved to murder so many people that he’ll compete with Death itself. Antony’s valor has gotten the better of him. He has forgotten his fear of death, and seems to have forgotten his reason.
ANTONY The witch shall die. To the young Roman boy she hath sold me, and I fall Under this plot. She dies for 't.—Eros, ho! (4.12.53-56)
Antony’s passionate love has transformed into a rage just as passionate—one that likely can’t be satisfied.
ANTONY My good knave Eros, now thy captain is Even such a body. Here I am Antony, Yet cannot hold this visible shape, my knave. I made these wars for Egypt; and the Queen. Whose heart I thought I had, for she had mine— Which, whilst it was mine, had annex'd unto 'tA million more, now lost—she, Eros, hasPacked cards with Caesar, and false-play'd my gloryUnto an enemy's triumph. (4.14.16-24)
Antony’s failure has transformed him from the strong and resolute man he once was; now he is no more substantial than the clouds. He has also changed his thoughts on Cleopatra; thinking he now sees her as she really is, he realizes she made him a fool, and it has cost him his honor.
ANTONY The miserable change now at my end Lament nor sorrow at, but please your thoughts In feeding them with those my former fortunes Wherein I lived the greatest prince o' th' world, The noblest, and do now not basely die, Not cowardly put off my helmet to My countryman—a Roman by a Roman Valiantly vanquished. Now my spirit is going; I can no more. (4.15.60-68)
Antony’s final act of suicide, though it was induced by others and not himself, is held up as a vindicating act. He seems to think that, because he took his own life, he is carrying on the tradition of nobility that characterized his life. He also admits that he’s now a broken man. Which is he really—noble or broken—and which does he see himself as?
CLEOPATRA Pray you tell him I am his fortune's vassal and I send him The greatness he has got. I hourly learn A doctrine of obedience, and would gladly Look him i' th' face. (5.2.32-36)
Cleopatra claims she is learning obedience and so will submit to Caesar, but we know she has already planned to kill herself. Perhaps she has been transformed by the gravity of these events. Interestingly, this transformation seems to occur while Cleopatra is calm, whereas all her other, more sudden changes were in a passionate state. There’s some indication that either she really has transformed to an obedient woman, or is content with her secret purpose to take her own life.