The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra Summary
The complicated plot of Antony and Cleopatra has numerous twists and turns, and takes us across an ocean and back several times. We begin in Egypt with Mark Antony, one of the three leaders (or triumvirs) of the Roman Republic, reveling with his powerful lover Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt. This drunken merry-making is getting in the way of his being an effective ruler in Rome, and the people at home are beginning to resent it. He gets news that his wife, Fulvia, alongside his brother, has been making war against the other triumvirs, and also that Sextus Pompeius, son of Pompey the Great (a former ruler of Rome), is threatening Rome as well. Also, there are pirates. Argh!
Antony finds out that his wife is dead, which solves the war problem—but he really does need to be getting back to Rome to address the Pompey situation. He leaves Egypt with Cleopatra’s half-hearted blessing and begins to fix stuff back home in Rome. He and Octavius Caesar (another triumvir) have a fight about the personal things between them, and decide to fix the situation by marrying off Caesar’s sister, Octavia, to Antony. Even though Antony hasn’t proven to be Mr. Marrying-Kind, the idea is that Octavia will form a bond between the two men—because she loves them both, they’ll love each other. It’s not two minutes before Antony meets with a soothsayer who tells him to get away from Caesar, because Caesar mutes his power. Antony agrees that he should head back to Egypt, where his pleasure lies.
Then, the triumvirs meet with Pompey to see if they can negotiate instead of going to war. Pompey is fighting to avenge his father’s death, but he gives in to the others and makes a truce. They agree that he gets a little piece of southern Italy, as long as he gives wheat to the Romans. They all celebrate drunkenly onboard Pompey’s ship that night. One of Pompey’s servants, Menas, suggests that they kill the drunk triumvirs while they have them, but Pompey is too honest to do this (though he wouldn’t have minded if someone else had done it without involving him). Murder aside, they go back to drinking. So much partying goes down that Lepidus (the third triumvir) gets carted out of drunken scene.
Later, the plan is for Antony is to head back to Athens with his new bride while Caesar stays in Rome. Caesar charges Antony to take good care of his sister, and Antony promises to do so. Also, Antony’s men have been fighting a war in Parthia (modern-day Iraq) with good success, even without his leadership. Back in Egypt, Cleopatra has found out about Antony’s marriage, whipped the messenger, threatened to stab him, and then sent him to see if Octavia’s assets rival her own. Cleopatra is pleased to find out that Octavia looks plain, since it means she has a good chance of winning Antony back.
Back in Athens, Antony reports to Octavia that Caesar has already violated the pact with Pompey, is trash-talking Antony in public, and has dismissed Lepidus from office. Antony can’t abide by this and needs to fight for his honor. Octavia is torn between her brother and her husband, and asks to go back to Rome to see if she can make peace with her brother. Antony sends her off, and then promptly heads back to Egypt to begin preparing war for and also to hang out with his lover.
In Egypt, Cleopatra lends her ships to Antony while he gets ready to meet Caesar at sea. Although it’s not his arena of choice, Antony’s going for the sea showdown because Caesar has challenged him to a face-off on the ocean and he doesn’t want to be a chicken. Cleopatra stubbornly refuses to sit at home while all the action is outside, but once in the battle, even as things are looking up for Antony’s side, she runs away. Antony, essentially whipped, follows her and totally forfeits the battle. He admits she’s conquered his heart, and laments that he’s no longer a soldier. But then she gives him a kiss. He sends a schoolmaster, his children’s tutor, to give conditions of surrender to Caesar. He asks to either be left alone in Egypt, or to be allowed to be a private citizen in Athens.
Caesar won’t grant any of Antony’s wishes, but says Cleopatra can have anything she wants if she’ll either exile Antony or have him murdered in Egypt. Hearing this, Antony is not a happy camper, and resolves to murder Caesar in hand-to-hand combat (no more of this sea business). While he goes off to write an "I’m going to murder you in hand-to-hand combat" letter, another messenger from Caesar (named Thidias) slips in. This guy is supposed to use his cunning linguistic skills to whet Cleopatra’s appetite for treachery against Antony. She’s just about to give her allegiance to Caesar when Antony walks in, has Thidias whipped, and gives Cleopatra a piece of his mind. She says she’s sorry, and he forgives her. Then they party hard, preparing for a new battle the next day.
We learn that Enobarbus, Antony’s loyal friend, has defected to Caesar’s camp because he thinks even Cleopatra has abandoned Antony (seeing her flirt with Thidias). He thinks Antony has no chance of winning. Later that same night, soldiers on watch hear strange music playing, and they conclude that this is the sound of Hercules (an ancestor of Antony’s) abandoning Antony.
The next morning, everyone is in high spirits about battle. Antony hears that Enobarbus has fled and instead of being angry he feels sorry for the guy, sending treasure chests after him. He laments that his own bad fortune has driven Enobarbus to switch teams. In that day’s battle, Antony soundly trounces Caesar’s troops, and there’s much celebrating. Antony is all courage again, and they have a big march in Alexandria, which they’ve won back. Meanwhile, Enobarbus stands under the moon and laments his broken heart. He regrets that he’s betrayed Antony, and wishes the world to remember him as the worst traitor ever. Some soldiers are watching him, unnoticed, and see him die of a broken heart.
It’s morning again, and perhaps with renewed courage from yesterday’s victory, Antony meets Caesar at sea. This time, he watches his fleet greet Caesar’s men as friends. Oops. The battle is lost and he’s furious. He blames Cleopatra, not the men, because he’s convinced that her treachery is at the root of his loss—she must have betrayed him to Caesar. He goes to the palace in a rage, resolving to kill her.
Seeing her lover’s rage, Cleopatra flees to her monument and locks herself up. She has her servant send word to Antony that she’s killed herself, to see how he’ll respond. He responds by deciding to kill himself too—thinking it was noble of Cleopatra to be the one who decided when her life was over. He’d like to be his own conqueror. He asks his friend Eros to kill him, and Eros chooses to kill himself instead rather than go through with it. Antony then takes it upon himself to fall on his sword, and he’s done a bad job of it apparently, so he doesn’t die immediately. Just then Diomedes enters, bringing the news that Cleopatra isn’t really dead. Antony, hearing this, asks to be taken to her, so he can die near her. He’s not even that mad.
Antony, bleeding all over the place, tells Cleopatra she should yield herself to Caesar for her safety and honor. He says she can’t trust anyone around Caesar except this one guy, Proculeius. Cleopatra says she won’t trust anyone but her own resolution and her own hand, which seems to mean she’s going to kill herself. As Antony’s dying, he asks to be remembered as a noble Roman who was conquered by himself and no other, especially not Caesar. He dies, and Cleopatra beings the preparations to kill herself, too.
Just then, Caesar’s guy Proculeius comes into the monument to negotiate with Cleopatra and give her basically whatever she wants. She asks for her kingdom, Egypt, to be given to her son. As Proculeius leaves, Cleopatra is overtaken by some of Caesar’s guards. She tries to kill herself, but they’re fast and stop her. Dolabella, one of Caesar’s more kindhearted guys, takes over, pitying Cleopatra as she tells him of Antony’s greatness. Dolabella confirms her fear that Caesar means to make her a central attraction in his victory parade. Caesar shows up, and there’s an episode where Cleopatra claims to have given him all her treasure. Unfortunately, her treasurer says she lied, so fighting follows. Anyway, Caesar says she can keep her stuff, and she shouldn’t worry, as she will direct how the Romans will treat her.
Once Caesar leaves, Dolabella tells Cleopatra that Caesar will send for her and her children in three days to be put in the victory march. Cleopatra wails that she doesn’t want to be breathed on and scowled at by filthy Romans. So, instead, she has a plan. She has her women dress her in her finest robes and then receives a rather harmless looking visitor. It turns out this harmless visitor brought her some figs in which he’s hidden some poisonous snakes (asp) at her request. Cleopatra, all dolled up, says she’s going to meet her husband (that would be Antony). She kisses Iras, her servant, who dies immediately. Then, she puts an asp to her breast, and says some insulting things about Caesar. As Charmian cries out that there is a snake on her breast, Cleopatra applies another asp to her arm and dies. Charmian is very sad about this, so naturally she fixes her lady’s crown. Just then, Caesar’s guard enters, so Charmian applies an asp to herself. She says Cleopatra’s work was befitting for a royal princess descended of many kings, and then she dies.
Dolabella and then Caesar march in to find all the dead women, and wonder how they died. Dolabella discovers the wounds on Cleopatra’s chest and arms, and another guard finds the slimy trail of the poisonous snake in the figs. Caesar admits it was in Cleopatra’s royal nature to do what she pleased, and decrees that she’ll be buried next to Antony. The funeral will be attended by the solemn Romans, and then they’ll go back home to the former Roman Republic, which is now the new Roman Empire.
Act I, Scene i
- Two Roman soldiers, Demetrius and Philo, are at Cleopatra’s palace in Alexandria, Egypt. They discuss how their dear leader and friend, Mark Antony, is totally smitten with Egypt’s queen, Cleopatra. Because of this, he acts less like a ruler and more like a teenager in love.
- Cleopatra and Antony show up, and Cleopatra demands that Antony tells her how much he loves her. He does so with much fawning.
- A messenger arrives with news from Rome, and Cleopatra taunts him that the message is either from Antony’s wife Fulvia, who’s angry about his absence, or maybe orders from Octavius Caesar in Rome.
- Antony insists he won’t hear the message, because everything he cares about is in front of him. Cleopatra again taunts her love: she wonders whether Antony might care as little for her as for Fulvia, his wife back home.
- Antony scolds her for being so hot and cold. They leave the messenger without hearing the message, and Demetrius and Philo lament that all the rumors in Rome about Antony having fallen off the manly wagon are true.
Act I, Scene ii
- Charmian and Iras, Cleopatra’s maids, chat with a soothsayer (a.k.a., a fortuneteller). He tells them their fortunes are alike in that their pasts are better than their futures and that they’ll both outlive the woman they serve. They tease the soothsayer and dismiss his prophecies.
- The giggle-fest is broken up when Cleopatra comes in looking for Antony, who was all revelry until he suddenly went into a bad mood thinking about Rome.
- Cleopatra is a feisty one: she exits when Antony enters so as not to see him, even though she had just sent his man Enobarbus to go find him. Oh, the games!
- A messenger is telling Antony some bad news: his wife Fulvia went to war with his brother Lucius, but then joined forces with Lucius against Octavius Caesar, who promptly beat them both. Further, Labienus, an old enemy of the Roman triumvirate, has begun to conquer the territories of Asia and the east that Antony is supposed to be ruling.
- The servant hesitates to hint that maybe this wouldn’t have happened if somebody had been paying attention, and Antony admits he needs to hear about his faults.
- Antony resolves to leave Egypt when he gets the news that his wife is dead. He’s often wished for her to be dead, but now that she is, he wishes that it hadn’t happened.
- When Antony tells Enobarbus that he has to leave Egypt, Enobarbus says that will kill Cleopatra. He also suggests to Antony that the death of his wife, Fulvia, is actually a blessing. It makes things far less complicated.
- Still, Antony is resolved to finish the business Fulvia started in Rome. To make matters worse, Sextus Pompeius, son of Pompey (who fought Julius Caesar and lost), has begun to gain power at sea and is now challenging Octavius Caesar. Someone’s got to help.
- Antony sends Enobarbus to let Cleopatra know he’s got work to attend to in Rome. He’s got to go.
Act I, Scene iii
- Meanwhile Cleopatra sends Alexas, her servant, to see what Antony is doing and tells her if she finds him upset, she should tell him Cleopatra is super happy; if he's happy, she should tell him Cleopatra is sad. But most importantly, she can't let Antony know that Cleopatra sent her. Cleo believes the best way to keep a man’s interest is to seem as disinterested in him as possible.
- Charmian tries to advise Cleopatra against playing these games with Antony, but Cleopatra tells her she doesn't know what she's talking about. Cleo knows how to keep a man around—Charmian only knows how to lose one.
- Just then, Antony shows up with the news that he’s leaving for Rome. Cleopatra swoons this way and that, wishing she’d never met him.
- He finally explains that he needs to take care of the war brewing with Sextus Pompeius. Further, Cleopatra should feel okay about him going because Fulvia is dead.
- Cleopatra has a moment of seriousness. She is shocked by Fulvia’s death, but also at Antony’s calmness over the death. Cleopatra worries that Antony would be equally unaffected by her death.
- They argue a bit over how much Antony loves Cleopatra, and whether Antony will forget Cleopatra as quickly as he forgot Fulvia.
- Finally Cleopatra concedes he should go to Rome and take care of his affairs. She wishes him well, and they both promise they’ll be with each other in spirit while they’re apart physically.
- Antony leaves.
Act I, Scene iv
- Back in Rome, Octavius Caesar conferences with Lepidus, another member of the triumvirate (group of three) that leads Rome.
- Caesar complains that Antony, the third member of the triumvirate, has been fishing, drinking, and partying in Egypt, instead of doing his duty to Rome.
- Lepidus tries to defend Antony, suggesting his faults are in his nature, maybe inherited, and that they’re not that big of a deal compared to his good traits.
- Caesar’s not having any of it, though. He says it’s one thing for Antony to give up his manhood and follow a woman in drunken revelry, but he leaves too great a burden on the other two members of the triumvirate. Basically he’s been letting everyone down. This is no time for him to be fooling around in Egypt, there's serious business is afoot in Rome.
- A messenger enters with the news that Pompey’s forces at sea are strong. Worse, it turns out that Caesar’s men are defecting and joining Pompey’s army because they were only with Caesar out of fear, not out of loyalty.
- Even worse news soon arrives: the sea is overrun with pirates.
- Caesar wishes Antony, who has already proven himself as a soldier, would hurry up and get there, as they need his help.
- He and Lepidus agree to raise their forces together against Pompey, and presumably wait for Antony.
Act I, Scene v
- We’re back with Cleopatra in Alexandria. She’s verbally toying with Mardian, her eunuch (male servants who were castrated so they could protect women without the usual distractions), about whether he can feel anything for women, alluding to her self, obviously.
- She then returns to sighing over Antony, and laments that when she was Julius Caesar’s mistress, she was "a morsel fit for a monarch." Her other lover, one of the elder Pompeys, was overcome by her looks alone. She worries she’s past her prime.
- Just then, Alexas, another of her servants, enters with a pearl. It’s a gift from Antony, who made a big deal about the thing before giving it to Alexas to take to the Queen. Antony promises Cleopatra will soon be called mistress of the East, because of the kingdoms he’ll win for her.
- Cleopatra asks Alexas how Antony looked, and is glad to hear he wasn’t really sad or really happy. She praises his moderation: seeming sad would make his followers sad, while seeming merry would make it seem like he took his job in Rome lightly.
- She’s so pleased that she demands twenty messengers immediately, so she can write a ton of love letters to Antony. She claims she never loved Julius Caesar this way, but Charmian points out she has a habit of being in and out of love.
- Cleopatra dismisses her sighs over Caesar as youthful folly, and goes back to penning her affections for Antony.
Act II, Scene i
- At Pompey’s house in Messina, Pompey confers with his friends Menecrates and Menas about the upcoming battle. He’s convinced they’ll win, because his army is strong at sea and the Romans love him.
- He is most confident, however, because he knows he won’t have to face Antony, whom he thinks is being distracted by Cleopatra’s feminine wiles in Egypt.
- Pompey thinks Caesar can win money, but not loyalty. Since Lepidus is fawning, he believes that the two men can’t really compete with him.
- Menas, with great timing, announces that, actually, Caesar and Lepidus have raised a strong army in the field.
- Worse, Pompey gets the news that Antony is on his way back to Rome. Antony’s soldier skills are twice the other men’s. Pompey chooses to take it as a compliment to his own strength that Antony should come specifically to fight him.
- Menas points out that Antony and Caesar might not get along so well together, especially since Antony has been out carousing with the Egyptian Queen. Pompey, however, responds that the threat he (Pompey) poses to both men will surely be enough to get them fighting together against him.
Act II, Scene ii
- At Lepidus’s house in Rome, Lepidus talks to Enobarbus, Antony’s confidante. Lepidus tries to get Enobarbus to convince Antony to go easy on Caesar, but Enobarbus is certain that Antony shouldn’t back down.
- Caesar and Antony enter with their attendants, and the talk begins with Lepidus encouraging everyone to just be friends.
- Caesar is clearly unhappy—Antony’s behavior in Egypt has made him a joke in Rome. Further, Antony’s wife and brother waged war against Caesar, which was not cool.
- Antony insists his brother didn’t consult him about the war, and his wife was a difficult woman who did what she pleased.
- Caesar continues to list his grievances, and is upset that Antony ignored his messages while away.
- Antony points out he was too drunk to deal with messages (inexcusable), but he did, to his credit, apologize to Caesar’s messenger the next morning in a hung-over state.
- As they continue to argue, Maecenas breaks in and asks that they kiss and make up so they can deal with the whole Pompey situation, as imminent invasion is slightly more important than past slights.
- Agrippa, another of Caesar’s men, suggests that the best way to put the past behind them is to have something that will bind them in the future. Caesar’s sister Octavia is a widow, and they all decide it’s a good idea for Antony to marry her. Never mind that Antony’s wife is fresh in the grave, his heart is in Egypt, and he’s generally a player. Octavia will be symbolic of the bond between Caesar and Antony, the glue that will hold them together.
- Antony accepts the marriage, and the men shake hands, promising to be brothers.
- Having traded the woman Octavia like a horse, they return to the present matter of the war. Pomey has recently been throwing gifts Antony’s way. Still, he’s an enemy. His force at sea is masterful and he’s only getting stronger on land. The men agree to head toward Pompey’s army at Misena, in southern Italy.
- Then they remember that Lepidus (the third member of the triumvirate). Since he’s supposed to rule the world with them, they invite him to come too.
- Once the big dogs leave, Enobarbus is left with Agrippa and Maecenas, whom he regales with "dude, we were so drunk" kinds of stories about fun times they had in Egypt. He describes Cleopatra’s pomp and beauty, and the time Antony first met her. She showed up in a pimped-out ride on the water, and Antony, at the marketplace, invited her on a dinner date solely based on her fancy ride.
- Cleopatra refused his original invitation and asks him to dine with her instead. This was aggravating but intriguing, seeing as no women ever refused Antony.
- Antony was smitten as soon as he saw this woman, and then, as Shakespeare delicately puts it, "He ploughed her, and she cropp’d," meaning he had sex with her and then she bore him a child.
- Enobarbus is sure that Antony is so beguiled by this wonderful woman that even marriage to Octavia won’t keep him away from her long.
Act II, Scene iii
- Antony, Octavia, and Caesar are back at Caesar’s palace in Rome.
- Antony promises Octavia that though his work will take him away from her often, he won’t indulge in any monkey business, no matter how naughty he’s been in the past.
- Caesar leads his sister away, and Antony meets with a soothsayer who tells him he should have never left Egypt, and should get back there ASAP.
- Antony asks whether he or Caesar will have better fortune, and the man replies that Caesar will.
- Further, Antony should stay as far away from Caesar as possible, as Antony’s fortune is muted, and his greatness lessened, whenever Caesar is around. Antony agrees, and announces that though he married Octavia to make peace, he needs to return to his girl in Egypt as "I’ th’ East my pleasure lies."
- In a totally unrelated side note, he sends his soldier Ventidius to Parthia (modern-day Iraq) to fight on his behalf. (Parthia was one of Rome’s last surviving major enemies in the East.)
Act II, Scene iv
- Lepidus meets with Maecenas and Agrippa. They are to gather their troops and meet together at Mount Misenum, where they’ll face off with Pompey’s army.
- Lepidus has some other stuff to do, so he’ll be there two days later than the other men.
Act II, Scene v
- Cleopatra misses Antony, and jokes with her servants about the times they had.
- She likens Antony to a fish she caught in the river, and notes that last time she caught him she kept him for quite some time, "Ere the ninth hour, I drunk him to his bed," (i.e., they were rather voracious in their appetites for each other).
- Interestingly, Cleopatra dressed him up in her headdresses and clothes, and she wore the sword he used in the battle against Brutus and Cassius at Philippi. This moment of sharing is interrupted by a messenger who brings news from Rome.
- Cleopatra can tell by his face that it’s not great news. She worries that Antony is dead, or that he’s Caesar’s captive or something terrible. She keeps interrupting the messenger, threatening him if he brings bad news and promising gold if he brings good.
- Finally, the messenger points out Antony is alive and well, but bound to Octavia "for a turn i’ th’ bed."
- Cleopatra, Antony’s former partner for such bed turns, flies into a rage, beats the messenger herself, and eventually draws a knife. He runs away, thinking his job was to tell the truth, not to bear its consequences.
- She eventually calms out of crazed mood, and calls the messenger back, admitting she has acted like she’s on Jerry Springer. She says it’s not the poor messenger's fault that Antony sleeps around.
- She has the messenger repeat that Antony’s married a few more times, adding to the drama.
- As she dismisses the servant, she’s still in a sad rage, and points out that praising Antony has made her dispraise Julius Caesar (her original lover). She’s sure this is punishment for her short memory.
- Cleopatra sends her servant, Alexas, to follow the messenger and ask that he bring back word of what Octavia is like—her age, manner, height, hair color. She’d like to size up the competition.
Act II, Scene vi
- Back at Mount Misenum, in southern Italy, Pompey’s crew has just walked in to meet with the triumvirate and attendants. They’re ready to do some old-school negotiating before they fight. Caesar refers to a letter the triumvirs sent that outlines some terms the enemies can discuss.
- Pompey points out he’s fighting to avenge the death of his father.
- (A history lesson: Pompey (the elder) was defeated by Julius Caesar and had to flee to Egypt, where he was murdered.)
- Ignoring this, Antony points out that although Pompey’s force at sea is masterful, Rome’s land forces far outweigh Pompey’s.
- Pompey knows they're right about his troops being out of their league on land, and when pressed, he goes over the terms that have been offered. The triumvirs have said that Pompey can have Sicily and Sardinia if he rids the sea of pirates and sends wheat to Rome on occasion. (Remember with Pompey’s sea control, he strangled shipping lanes, so goods to Rome were blocked. Hungry Romans = angry Romans.)
- Pompey is ready to agree to the terms except for one little thing. It seems that he entertained Antony’s mom in Sicily while Caesar and Antony’s brother Lucius was at war. Pompey just wants his generosity to be acknowledged.
- Antony apologizes and admits he owes Pompey some big thank yous. Thousands of lives are saved and war is averted.
- They shake on it, and agree to feast together, but not before Pompey gets in a few jibes at Antony about how being with Cleopatra means that he’s getting Julius Caesar’s sloppy seconds.
- Enobarbus, Antony’s friend and confidante, stops the joking around before someone gets their throat cut, and they all go carousing on Pompey’s ship.
- Menas, Pompey’s friend, and Enobarbus, from Antony’s camp, are left alone to discuss the newly made truce. They’re friends, though they admit there’s a little edge to this whole affair. Pompey the elder would never have done what Pompey the younger has done. Having made this compromising pact, the younger Pompey can kiss his good fortune goodbye. You weren’t supposed to make nice with the enemy, it seems. It wasn’t the manly, Roman thing to do.
- They then discuss how Antony has married Octavia, which was clearly for political purposes, as Octavia is a quiet and cold, especially compared to the sultry Cleopatra waiting in Egypt.
- Enobarbus predicts that, rather than seal the bond between Antony and Caesar, the marriage will ruin any goodwill between the men because there's no way that Antony will remain faithful to Octavia. Antony’s inevitable betrayal of Octavia is bound to anger Caesar.
Act II, Scene vii
- Back at Pompey’s ship, the former enemies are all making merry together.
- The servants note that Lepidus is wasted, and the others tease him. He’s clearly not as great as the others, and hangs on like a third wheel.
- Antony and Lepidus have a long exchange about life in Egypt, and Lepidus is really interested in Egyptian pyramids, snakes, and crocodiles.
- Meanwhile, Pompey’s man Menas has been whispering in his ear to get him away from the table.
- Pompey finally gets up to hear what the man won’t tell him in his ear. Menas proposes that he cut the boat from the dock, and murder the three drunken triumvirs. This would make Pompey ruler of their shares of the world.
- Pompey laments on hearing the plan: while he would’ve been glad if Menas had done it without asking, now that Menas has told him, he has to admit the murders would be dishonorable.
- He tells Menas to go back to drinking, and forget the whole thing. Menas is angry and vows to leave Pompey’s service becausethe man won’t answer opportunity when it knocks him about the head.
- Meanwhile, Lepidus has to be carried out from too much drinking, and the remaining men dance the "Egyptian bacchanals." Hand-holding, singing, and drinking continues late into the night. Eventually, Caesar leaves and Antony stays on Pompey’s boat. Enobarbus stays with Menas.
Act III, Scene i
- Now we’re in Syria, where Ventidius (the soldier Antony sent to fight at Parthia, remember?) has returned victorious from his earlier battle. Ventidius brings with him the body of the King of Parthia's son, Pacorus. He thinks of this as revenge for Marcus Crassus (one of the three in the original Roman triumvirate with Julius Caesar and the elder Pompey), who was killed by the Parthians.
- Silius, another Roman, urges Ventidius to quickly go to Antony and tell of all the good deeds he’s performed, as surely Antony will reward and praise him.
- Ventidius is a smart guy and realizes that by showing up Antony at battle, he will lose favor, not gain it.
- To rise too quickly under powerful men makes you a threat, not an asset. Ventidius agrees he’ll write a letter to Antony, praising him for making their victory possible.
- They all set off to meet Antony at his house in Athens.
Act III, Scene ii
- Back at Caesar’s house in Rome, Enobarbus and Agrippa talk while the rest of the group work out the details of the truce and its aftermath: Pompey has already left, Antony will take Octavia and go back to Athens, Caesar is sad to see them go, and Lepidus is pitifully hung over.
- Enobarbus and Agrippa go back and forth, gently mocking Lepidus about whether he loves Antony or Caesar better. They decide he’s the beetle in the center, and the other two men his wings on either side. Clearly, Lepidus is a joke.
- Just then, Lepidus, Antony, Caesar, and Octavia enter the scene. They’re about to say their big goodbyes before they part ways, and Caesar bids Antony to take care of his sister, whose love will seal the bond between the two men.
- Octavia bids her brother a teary goodbye, and asks to speak to him in his ear. Hearing her words, Enobarbus and Agrippa worry Caesar will cry, as he wept at Philippi over Brutus. Instead, Caesar responds to Octavia’s secret plea that he’ll think of her and be in touch often.
- Caesar gives the couple a final blessing, and all exit.
Act III, Scene iii
- Cleopatra and her servants meet the messenger she had previously whipped. He’s bearing news on just how Octavia matches up with Cleopatra in the competition for Antony’s affection.
- The news turns out to be good. He watched Octavia in Rome as she walked between Antony and Caesar. The woman, he reports, isn't beautiful. She’s short, brown-haired and round-faced, with a low forehead, walks with a creep instead of a saunter, and she’s at least 30.
- Cleopatra is overjoyed and repents that she cursed Antony.
- She promises the messenger plenty of gold, and asks forgiveness for that one time when she tried to knife him.
- Cleopatra’s certain that she can win Antony’s affections back.
Act III, Scene iv
- Back in Athens at Antony’s house, Antony complains to Octavia of Caesar’s behavior since their departure. Caesar has broken their pact and waged war against Pompey, not to mention he has railed against Antony in public.
- Octavia laments that she’s monkey in the middle of this mess, and she pleads with him not to believe the reports against her brother. She wouldn’t know whom to support in a quarrel between her brother and her husband.
- Antony tells her not to fear; he’ll win back his honor by raising a war against Caesar.
- He sends his wife back to Rome to be with her brother (and ostensibly make peace between them) while he prepares for war with Caesar.
Act III, Scene v
- The plot thickens in Athens, as Enobarbus and Eros let us in on how deep the treachery runs.
- Caesar used Lepidus’s forces to defeat Pompey, but denied him his share of the spoils of the battle.
- Further, Caesar has accused Lepidus of siding with Pompey, and has imprisoned him and taken his share of the triumvirate’s power.
- Caesar has also had some shady dealings in getting an officer of Lepidus’s to murder Pompey, which Antony is furious about.
- Antony prepares his naval fleet to battle Caesar in Rome.
Act III, Scene vi
- In Rome, Caesar fills us in on Antony’s wickedness. He reports that when in Alexandria, Antony chilled out on gold thrones in the marketplace, in full public view, with Cleopatra, Julius Caesar’s son by Cleopatra, and her children by Antony.
- There he declared her Queen of Egypt and added Syria, Cyprus, and a dash of Lydia to the bounty for good measure.
- Further, he added areas for the children to rule. All the while, Cleopatra was dressed up as the goddess Isis.
- Caesar believes this information will turn the people against Antony. He thinks he can win the support of these people even though Antony’s been making some accusations against him, in particular claiming that he (Antony) was wrongly left out of the spoils gained from defeating Pompey, and that Lepidus shouldn’t have been unseated.
- Caesar says he’s already sent a reply to Antony, insisting that Lepidus had grown too cruel and needed to be overturned (which is suspect, knowing what we know of Lepidus’s character up to this point) and that he’d share his spoils of war with Antony if Antony would do the same. Caesar feels comfortable doing this, as he assumes Antony would never share his bounty. It’s a crooked deal both ways.
- Octavia enters. Caesar is upset that she arrived with so little fanfare.
- Octavia says she came of her own free will, after hearing her brother would make war against her husband.
- Caesar cuts her short. It’s clear to him that Antony got Octavia out of the way so he could go back to Cleopatra, and further, that the pair is collecting the kings of the east to wage war against Caesar and Rome.
- Caesar claims that he was holding back on making war on Antony for Octavia’s sake, but now that she’s here, they can be certain Antony has betrayed them both. Octavia seems uncertain.
Act III, Scene vii
- Cleopatra readies to go to battle alongside Antony, though Enobarbus thinks it’s not a place fit for women. Further, she’ll be a distraction to Antony, when all his attention needs to be on the war.
- She won’t hear any of it, despite the fact that the Romans are taunting that a woman and her maids are running the war.
- Antony interrupts this little discussion of gender roles and announces to Canidius, one of his soldiers, that they’ll fight by sea.
- Enobarbus and Canidius plead with him; as his fleet and sea power are much weaker than Caesar’s, they’re sure to be doomed.
- Still, Caesar has challenged Antony at sea, so in spite of his good sense, he won’t back down. Cleopatra pledges sixty ships, and Antony contends that if they lose at sea, they can still fight by land.
- A messenger enters with the news that Caesar is already conquering, so there’s no time to waste. The main players exit with Antony preparing for war on the water.
- Canidius and a soldier stay back, lamenting Antony’s decision to fight in the arena where he’s weakest (the sea)—he’s being led not by tactics, but by a woman.
- Caesar has traveled quickly, and his power is only growing. Still, they’ll take care of land preparations while Antony puts the brunt of their force into the sea.
Act III, Scene viii
- Now at Actium, Caesar gives instruction to his lieutenant, Taurus.
- They’re not to engage Antony’s side on land until the sea battle is over. He’s convinced all their fortunes rest on this one decision.
Act III, Scene ix
- Antony speaks to Enobarbus—the plan is to set up on one side of the hill, so they can observe how strong Caesar’s fleet is, and then plan accordingly.
Act III, Scene x
- Stage directions show Taurus with Caesar’s army and Canidius with Antony’s army as they both cross paths. We can hear the battle off-stage, but Enobarbus comes in to deliver the horrifying news: in the middle of the battle, just when fortune could have gone one way or the other, Cleopatra’s ship turned sail and ran away.
- Antony, seeing her flee, also turned his sails and followed her, leaving the battle to ruins and his honor to mockery.
- Canidius enters, announcing that this defeat was due to Antony not being remotely noble.
- Canidius decides to defect to Caesar’s side with his troops, and Enobarbus leans toward defecting also, though he’s not too happy about it.
Act III, Scene xi
- Antony, back at Cleopatra’s palace in Alexandria, cries out in shame.
- He laments that he’s lost to the world forever, and insists that his friends go to a ship he has left full of gold, divide up the spoils, and follow his example by fleeing.
- He says his lesser parts have defeated his nobler intuitions, and he has lost command (of himself and his men). Overall, he’s kind of a wreck.
- Cleopatra enters.
- Antony is busy recounting what a noble soldier he used to be, like that time he oversaw the death of Brutus and Cassius. These victories are mitigated by his present shame.
- Cleopatra goes to comfort him, with her head hung and looking the very picture of shame.
- He asks her how she could lead him to this, and she is full of apologies—she ran away because she was frightened, and never thought he would follow her.
- He responds in despair. His heart was tied to her rudder; he had to follow because his love for her rules his spirit.
- She’s really sorry, it seems, but Antony now has to worry about seeking pardon from Caesar, which is sad since not too long ago he ruled half the world.
- Still, Cleopatra has power over him; he asks her for a kiss, as this will repay him for all the wrongs.
- He calls for wine and is determined to make merry. Antony chooses to deliberately ignore all the signs that the entire endeavor against Caesar is cursed.
Act III, Scene xii
- Antony’s messenger, a schoolmaster (the tutor of his and Cleopatra’s children) arrives at Caesar’s camp in Egypt.
- Antony has sent word with the messenger that he admits Caesar is now his lord. He requests that Caesar let him stay in Egypt, or else let him stay a free and lowly man in Athens. Cleopatra has also admitted to Caesar’s greatness, and her request is that her sons be allowed to keep Egypt for their rule.
- Caesar tells the messenger to refuse Antony’s request. He says he’ll grant Cleopatra’s request, though, if she exiles her lover from Egypt or alternatively has him killed there.
- The schoolmaster leaves sorrowfully with the news (especially knowing how Cleopatra tends to knife messengers carrying bad news).
- Caesar calls over Thidias, one of his men. He asks Thidias to try to lure Cleopatra to their side with his eloquence. Cleopatra, like all women, Caesar claims, is strong when she is fortunate. But with her fortunes down, he says, they might be able to get her to betray Antony.
Act III, Scene xiii
- At Cleopatra’s palace in Alexandria, Enobarbus half-heartedly consoles Cleopatra. He claims Cleopatra has no fault in the defeat—Antony chose to let his affection for her overpower his reason, so Antony bears both the shame and the loss. This is cold comfort to Cleopatra.
- Antony enters with Caesar’s messenger.
- Antony discovers from the messenger that if Cleopatra turns him over to Caesar, Caesar will give her all sorts of honors and lands.
- Antony is, of course, furious, and says Caesar’s victories are only the luck of his youth—his armies would do as well if they were led by a child.
- Antony resolves to challenge Caesar man-to-man, sword-against-sword, and exits to write the letter of challenge.
- In an aside, Enobarbus lamentsAntony’s fall from grace.
- Thidias, Caesar’s other messenger, arrives. He suggests to Cleopatra that she only gave into Antony out of fear, not love, so she doesn’t deserve her dishonor, but instead deserves pity. Cleopatra says Caesar is indeed a god, and she agrees that Thidias speaks rightly, as she didn’t yield to Antony, but was conquered against her will.
- Enobarbus hears all of this and exits, remarking that Antony is like a leaky boat that's sinking fast. Even his love has abandoned him! Thidias goes on, promising that Caesar would be glad to warmly offer protection (and who knows what else, warmly) to Cleopatra.
- Cleopatra then does the despicable, telling the messenger to pass on to Caesar that she would kneel at his feet, give over her crown, and let him pronounce doom upon Egypt (Egypt being herself). Thidias reaches to kiss her hand, and Cleopatra remembers out loud how this Caesar’s father, Julius Caesar, had often rained kisses on that same hand. She’s trifling.
- Just then Antony returns with Enobarbus, and flies into a rage seeing Thidias getting cozy on Caesar’s behalf with Cleopatra. Thidias is in for a whooping.
- Antony has his servants take Thidias away for a sound beating, and instructs them to bring him back when they’re done, so the lousy son of a Roman can bring a message to Caesar from Antony.
- Antony lights into Cleopatra, claiming he sacrificed the "getting of a lawful race" by "a gem of women" (it was illegal in Rome for him to marry a foreigner, but, to put a fine point on it, he didn’t really marry Cleopatra, so his kids with her weren’t legitimate either way), meaning he left behind the good life so he could be here with Cleopatra, only to find her flirting with Caesar’s messenger.
- Thidias returns from his beating. Antony tells him to go back to Caesar and let him know the following: Antony may not have the honor and fortune he once possessed, but he still has his fury. If Caesar dislikes the way Thidias was treated, then he can punish Antony’s man Hipparchus, whom Caesar has captured.
- Turning back to Cleopatra, he asks whether she’d flatter Caesar by flirting with a man that ties his pant laces. She doesn’t take to this kindly, but simply insists she’d never betray Antony.
- He accepts this completely, maybe because he’s crazy, but likely because he’s whipped.
- He’s gotten his forces back together to fight Caesar on land and sea the next day, and promises he’ll fight with malice, regardless of the outcome.
- He calls for wine and demands one more "gaudy night." It’s Cleopatra’s birthday, so she’s probably up for some gaudiness too.
- Cleopatra is glad to see Antony is back in his former spirits, even if he’s been driven there by utter madness.
- Alone, Enobarbus notes the insanity of the situation—his master is so furious that he’s no longer even afraid. Antony's brain and reason have given up, and his heart has taken over for some last glory in this doomed venture.
- Enobarbus resolves that he must leave Antony before this sinking ship goes down.
Act IV, Scene i
- Back at Caesar’s camp outside of Alexandria, Thidias has returned to deliver Antony’s message.
- Caesar scoffs at Antony's challenge, but it’s clear to Maecenas that Antony is distracted by his own fury. Although he’s valiant now, Antony is likely to be defeated.
- Caesar's plan: the next day, he’ll take his army (which, by the way, is full of defectors from Antony’s army) and fight the battle to end this war for good.
Act IV, Scene ii
- Antony receives news that Caesar won’t fight him man-to-man. Enobarbus proposes it’s because Caesar thinks his fortunes are about twenty times better than Antony’s, making it an unfair fight. Antony promises to throw himself into the next day’s battle whole-heartedly.
- Antony gathers all of his men and praises them in a way that makes it seem like he’s saying goodbye to them once and for all.
- Enobarbus and Cleopatra speak to each other in whispers, wondering what the dickens Antony is doing. The way Antony thanks his soldiers for their good fight (and wishes them farewell) makes it seem like he expects death and defeat in the next day’s battle. Not much of a morale booster.
- Eventually, even Enobarbus is in tears, as are the soldiers. Antony chides them, claiming he didn’t mean to be a drama queen. He just wanted to comfort them and convince them they should make this night a great one.
- Interestingly, he says he expects out of tomorrow "victorious life [rather than] death and honor."
- Either way, Antony is in a bad way, and like many men in a bad way, he instructs them all feast so they can drown their dark thoughts with drinking.
Act IV, Scene iii
- That night, as Antony’s soldiers stand watch and chat about the coming battle, strange oboe music begins to play. It seems to come from the air and the earth simultaneously.
- The men guess it is the sound of Hercules (the god Antony modeled himself after and claimed as his ancestor) leaving Antony, which is not so good of a sign for the upcoming battle.
Act IV, Scene iv
- It’s early morning, and Antony calls to his man Eros to help him put on his armor, while Cleopatra calls him back to bed.
- As Eros dresses him in armor, Cleopatra tries to help, but Antony says she is the armor around his heart. She helps anyway, and he says the man that undoes his armor that day will feel his rage— Antony is confident about his manliness.
- Antony wishes Cleopatra could see him at war today, as she would see him in his truest form, as a workman at his trade.
- An armed soldier enters, and Antony compliments him for looking ready for war. The soldier announces that a thousand men wait on Antony at the port, with more on the way.
- Things are generally looking up.
- Antony is in high spirits—this is his home turf, being soldierly and warish and such.
- He kisses Cleopatra’s hand like a gallant fellow, saying, "Fare thee well, dame," which is a far cry from his usual fawning. He tells her he leaves her as a man of steel (meaning he’s the man around here), and we get a glimpse of what Antony the soldier was like before he became Cleopatra's Antony in Egypt.
- He leads his men to war, as Cleopatra is led back to her bed.
Act IV, Scene v
- At Antony’s camp, a wounded soldier conferences with Antony and Eros. Antony admits he wishes he had followed the advice to fight first on land, and not at sea.
- The soldier, saucy, suggests that maybe if they’d fought on land in the first place, the kings and the man that left this morning might still be on their side.
- Antony asks who it was that left, only to hear the sad news that his dear friend Enobarbus has joined Caesar’s camp. Ouch.
- Eros points out Enobarbus left his treasure behind. Antony, a bit shocked, orders that Enobarbus’s clothes and treasure be sent after him, with a kind note from Antony, wishing that Enobarbus should never again feel forced to change masters.
- Antony is disappointed in himself, saying his bad fortune has led honest men to become traitors.
Act IV, Scene vi
- On Caesar’s side of the battle, we find Caesar confident that he will be victorious.
- He instructs his men of the following: he wants Antony taken alive, and he announces that the end of this battle (presumably his victory) will bring a time of universal peace.
- Caesar instructs Agrippa to put the defectors from Antony’s army on the front line—he hopes Antony’s morale will be hurt by having to face his own deserting men.
- All head out for some more planning, leaving Enobarbus by himself. He notes privately that Caesar has a strange sense of justice; Alexas, on an errand for Antony, ended up persuading King Herod to join Caesar’s side (it’s unclear what exactly went down here), but regardless, Caesar had Alexas killed for it. Other cases are clearer: all the others who have deserted Antony have gained employment with Caesar, but lost their honor in doing so.
- Just as Enobarbus is deciding to be really ashamed of himself for his desertion, one of Caesar’s soldier’s announces the arrival of a messenger from Antony. The man bears Antony’s good tidings to Enobarbus and the treasure Enobarbus left behind, plus a little more that Antony added on.
- Enobarbus is shocked and now even more ashamed of his desertion. He’s sure his thoughts will kill him, as he certainly can't bear to fight against Antony.
- He hopes to die in a ditch, which he imagines is the only end fitting the miserable lowness of his recent actions.
Act IV, Scene vii
- On the battlefield between the camps, Agrippa (Caesar’s guy) calls his men to retreat, as they’ve overestimated their strength.
- Antony confers with a wounded soldier, Scarus.
- Caesar’s side is clearly beat, and Antony, calm, promises to reward his men for their high spirits, even more for their valor, and even more for being the only people to not ditch him for Caesar.
Act IV, Scene viii
- Antony returns in full force to Alexandria. He praises everyone, and they plan to battle again tomorrow.
- Cleopatra then enters, and he greets her gaily. He happily presents Scarus and all his wounds to Cleopatra, who praises them all and promises him a suit of golden armor that once belonged to a king.
- Antony again proclaims his love for "this fairy," claiming she is the only thing that can pierce the armor over his heart.
- They dedicate the night to celebrating their victory in decadent Egyptian fashion.
Act IV, Scene ix
- Back at Caesar’s camp, a sentry and his company are on watch when they overhear Enobarbus railing privately against himself.
- He hopes to die because he's deserted Antony. Enobarbus begs Antony to forgive him, though he wants the world to remember him as a traitor and a fugitive.
- Then Enobarbus cries out and is silent, prompting the sentries (who have been listening) to go look at him.
- They find he has fainted.
- No, wait, he’s dead.
- They decide to bear his body to the court of guard, as he’s an important man, and they hope he might arise still, though it’s clear to the audience that he’s died of his own grief.
Act IV, Scene x
- Antony discusses with Scarus that Caesar has prepared to meet them at sea. He would be willing to fight them in fire or the air, if they wanted, because he’s so confident.
- They’ll go to the hills to survey the fleet at water and be ready for them.
Act IV, Scene xi
- Caesar prepares his army to be inactive by land. He’ll meet Antony at sea, where he hopes they can hold some advantageous position.
Act IV, Scene xii
- Antony watches the battle at sea with Scarus and frets that he can’t see Caesar’s troops yet. He leaves Scarus to go look from a different vantage point.
- Scarus notes in an aside that the augurs (or prophets) were hesitant to state their predictions about this sea battle, which can’t be good.
- Antony returns to Scarus in a fury—Cleopatra’s fleet has deserted them again and Antony’s fleet has yielded to Caesar’s, greeting them like friends.
- He doesn’t care to take revenge on his troops, only on Cleopatra. Antony is sure she’s the one that led him to this course.
- Antony demands that all the remaining soldiers leave, as he doesn’t care about them anymore.
- He privately laments that Fortune has deserted him and now favors Caesar instead. He damns Cleopatra for luring him to Egypt and identifies her as the cause of his loss.
- Cleopatra enters and Antony rages at her, saying she should go be part of Caesar’s victory march for all the masses to see her. He even hopes Octavia might scratch up her face with her fingernails.
- Cleopatra flees Antony’s fury. He’s glad that woman’s gone. He wishes he had killed her earlier, which would have saved many lives. He resolves that she’ll die for selling him out to Caesar, whom he calls "the young Roman boy."
Act IV, Scene xiii
- Cleopatra flees to her women, afraid of Antony’s rage.
- Charmian suggests she lock herself up in her monument and send word to Antony that she’s dead. Cleopatra thinks this is a good idea, and sends Mardian to tell Antony she’s killed herself, and that her last word was "Antony." She instructs Mardian to return to her and tell her how Antony takes the false news.
Act IV, Scene xiv
- Eros comes upon Antony, who’s philosophizing on nature—exactly what you might expect from a suicidal guy who’s just lost a great battle and is convinced that the woman he sacrificed everything for has betrayed him to his enemy.
- Eros weeps, and Antony comforts him with the thought that at least his master can kill himself. This is maybe not so comforting.
- Mardian then enters. Antony rages at him, too, telling him he’ll kill Cleopatra for her betrayal. Mardian announces Cleopatra has already taken care of it, that she died with his name on her lips.
- Antony doesn’t exactly fall on the ground, but announces that Eros should go to bed, as all their work for the day is now done. He tells Mardian to be grateful that he’s allowed to go safely, as in: "I could have you killed, but I'm not going to."
- Even though Antony was just raging against her, we see that the news of Cleopatra’s death is tearing him apart on the inside. He begs his heart to be stronger than his body, or, if not, at least burst open his body as it fills with grief.
- Antony says he will catch up with Cleopatra (in the afterlife, presumably) and weep for her forgiveness. Then calls for Eros to return.
- Antony tells Eros that Cleopatra has made herself noble by taking her own life. She is, at the end, the sole conqueror of herself.
- Thus he tells Eros to kill him. Eros refuses, but Antony reminds him that when he freed Eros (presumably from being a prisoner of war), Eros promised to do anything Antony wished.
- Eros readies to kill Antony, but demands that Antony turn away his face before Eros strikes the blow. Antony agrees, and tells Eros to do it now. With his face turned away, Antony misses that Eros has actually plunged his sword into himself, choosing to take his own life rather than his friend’s.
- Antony is so moved by the nobility of suicide that Eros and Cleopatra showed that he resolves to kill himself. Antony stabs himself, but finding he has not died immediately, he calls on the guards to finish him off.
- The guards refuse which means Antony's going to die slowly and painfully.
- Then...Diomedes enters with the news that Cleopatra’s actually not dead.
- Cleopatra was just playing a little trick because she was hurt that Antony believed she betrayed him to Caesar, which she definitely didn’t do.
- Antony doesn’t flip out, but instead asks that his guards lead him to Cleopatra’s side.
Act IV, Scene xv
- Cleopatra waits at the monument and declares she’ll never leave, although she's super anxious about Antony. Right about then Diomedes declares that Antony is not quite dead, but mostly dying.
- The lovers call to each other.
- Antony announces that it can never be said that Caesar’s valor overthrew Antony; rather, Antony’s valor made him overthrow himself. Cleopatra agrees that there’s nobility in the fact that no man conquered Antony except Antony himself.
- Antony calls out to her to come down and give him a final kiss, but she dares not leave the monument for fear that Caesar will catch her and place her in his victory parade. Instead, she begs those around her to help pull her lover’s dying body to her. She notes he’s heavy, his strength having turned into dull weight, and she wishes her kisses might bring him back to life.
- Everyone watching is rather moved. Antony begs Cleopatra, with his dying breaths, to seek her honor and safety with Caesar and the one trustworthy man around Caesar—Proculeius. She replies she can’t have both her honor and her safety, and that she will resolve this matter with her own hands, rather than seeking pardon from Caesar.
- As he’s dying, Antony bids Cleopatra to remember him when he was the prince of the world.
- Antony says he dies a noble death, at the hand of no other man, but dies "a Roman by a Roman, valiantly vanquished."
- In the moment of his death, Cleopatra wails, and asks if he does not care for her. By dying and leaving her alone, she's left in a world worthless without him.
- She faints, and the maids worry she’s died, too, since they know that lots of times in Shakespeare fainting is just a façade for dying.
- When Cleopatra comes to, she declares that it is no sin to rush to death before death rushes to her. Thus she’s resolved to kill herself.
- She declares they’ll bury Antony in the noble Roman fashion, giving him a funeral he deserves. She is now all business, as her course is laid out clearly before her.
Act V, Scene i
- Back at Caesar’s camp, Caesar sends Dolabella off to tell Antony to yield.
- Just then, Decretas, one of Antony’s men, enters with Antony’s sword. He announces he served Mark Antony while the good man lived and will serve Caesar now, if Caesar will have him.
- Caesar asks for clarification, and gets out of the woebegone Decretas that Antony is dead.
- Caesar is shocked and says the world should mourn, as Antony’s death is not a single one, but cause for grief on the part of half of the world (over which he was ruler).
- Decretas explains Antony took his own life, adding honor to the final act of suicide, just as those same hands had added honor to so many acts before this one.
- Caesar weeps, and excuses himself, saying it is only befitting to weep over the death of kings, even if it’s a king you were trying to kill.
- Maecenas insightfully contends that Antony was a mirror to Caesar, that Caesar saw part of himself in Antony.
- Just as Caesar launches into a speech over what a disaster it is that the two brothers in fate have come to this end, he’s interrupted by a messenger from Cleopatra.
- The Queen wants to know what Caesar will do with her, so she can prepare herself. Caesar claims to the messenger that he’ll be gentle with her, and cause her no shame.
- As soon as the messenger leaves, Caesar calls Proculeius to him. Caesar instructs him to go to Cleopatra and give her what she wants to keep her comfortable. Proculeius’s real job, though, is to make sure Cleopatra doesn’t kill herself, as Caesar’s plan is to put her in his triumphant march through Rome, as a symbol of how great his victory is.
- Caesar worries the Queen will kill herself and thus rob him of the glee he’d get from parading her through the streets as his prize.
- Caesar asks his men to follow him to his tent, where he’ll show them writings that prove he was reluctant to go into this war, and further, that when in the war, he proceeded calmly and gently.
Act V, Scene ii
- Cleopatra curses Caesar for being a knave (or fool) of Fortune, and thus no better than anybody else (including her and Antony).
- Just then, Proculeius enters. He asks what she wants from Caesar. She remembers this was the man Antony said she could trust, though she doesn’t really care to trust anyone just now.
- She tells Proculeius that she’d like to have Egypt remain her kingdom for her son to rule. Proculeius promises Caesar will take care of Cleopatra, and as he’s leaving, Roman soldiers sneak in behind him to guard her.
- Cleopatra’s women, Iras and Charmian, alert her immediately of the infiltration, and she quickly draws a dagger to kill herself.
- She is even more quickly stopped by Proculeius. He says she’s not being betrayed, but relieved. She resents this with a fury— she promises to starve or thirst herself to death, rather than be gawked at in Caesar’s court, or be a thing for Octavia to look down on.
- She says she would rather die in a ditch in Egypt, or be laid out naked on the Nile where the water-flies can plant maggots in her that will burst her body at its seams (ew), or even be hanged from chains at the pyramids, than go to Rome. She feels pretty strongly, then.
- Just as Proculeius is promising that this is all pretty unnecessary, Dolabella arrives to take over the guard. Proculeius bids him to be kind to Cleopatra.
- Cleopatra tells Dolabella all about this dream she had, where Antony was noble and beautiful, holding the world in his raised hands, all full of natural and supernatural beauty.
- As the Queen grieves and Dolabella watches, he’s moved to tell her the truth about what Caesar really plans to do with her. She guesses Caesar means to lead her in triumph (as part of his victory parade through the streets of Rome) and Dolabella confirms her suspicions.
- Caesar enters with his men. He is full of words and grace for her, and promises to spare her and her children if she does not choose Antony’s course of suicide. Still saucy, she retorts that she’ll be as the other signs of his conquest, that he might hang where he pleases.
- Caesar is then given a scroll that supposedly lists all the goods Cleopatra possesses. Cleopatra calls on her treasurer, Seleucus, to confirm that these are all her worldly possessions. The treasurer denies it, which is the exact opposite of what he was supposed to do.
- Cleopatra rages against the treasurer for revealing her to be a liar, though Caesar says he doesn’t mind, and understands her holding back a little.
- Cleopatra claims what she’s held back are just a few lady’s trifles, presents for Octavia and friends. Eventually, she breaks down and says people are misjudged in their lives for the ills of others, and are called to account for the ills of others also.
- Caesar is "merciful" and tells her she doesn’t need to worry about it, he won’t take any of her things, listed or unlisted, as part of his conquest. He’s not a merchant, and he claims he’ll treat her as she wants to be treated.
- Cleopatra, seemingly calmed, calls Caesar her master and her lord.
- After Caesar leaves, Cleopatra tells her women that she knows Caesar’s charming words have something else at the bottom of them. Charmian and Iras, her faithful ladies, encourage her to continue on the course they set. In hushed tones, Cleopatra hears that what she’s asked for is being provided. Though we don’t know the specifics, we can guess what’s up.
- Dolabella comes in, and since he has so nobly sworn devotion to her, he admits that Caesar will call for her and her children within three days, with the intentions of adding them to the victory march. Then he leaves.
- Cleopatra says "thanks" and then confers with her women. She can’t bear the idea of being shown amid all the common people of Rome, with their plain occupations and rank breath surrounding her as she’s played the fool.
- Cleopatra knows there will be mockeries of the Egyptian lifestyle and they’ll have some drunk fool acting as Antony and some young boy acting as her, probably making her look like a whore. She won’t stand it, and she’s figured a way to beat them.
- She bids Charmian and Iras to go bring her crown and finest garments.
- A guard comes in, telling of a rural visitor who's brought Cleopatra a gift of figs. The guard leaves, and Cleopatra mysteriously states that this "poor instrument" brings her liberty. (Curious, are you?)
- The rural man enters and is left with the Queen. She asks if he’s brought her the worm (serpent) of Nilus, and he confirms that he has. It brings death to anyone who touches it, he warns, and she asks for stories of people it's killed. Satisfied, she sends him off, and he wishes her "joy of the worm."
- Iras dresses her in all her fine things, and Cleopatra says she hears Antony calling her, praising the deed she’s about to do. She claims she is now fire and air—all else of her she leaves on Earth. She bids her women kiss her lips for their last warmth—in doing so, Iras falls and dies.
- Cleopatra asks if death comes so easy, as a lover’s pinch, and moves quickly to die herself, lest Iras find Antony first in death and steal his kisses.
- She thus applies an asp (poisonous snake) to her breast, and as Charmian weeps she bids her maid peace, saying, "Dost thou not see my baby at my breast, that sucks the nurse asleep."
- She applies another asp to her arm, and dies mid-sentence, saying, "What should I stay—."
- A guard enters as Charmian finishes her lady’s sentence, saying there’s no reason to stay in this vile world. Charmian applies an asp to herself. Amid the confusion of the soldiers, Charmian says this was work well done, "and fitting for a princess / Descended of so many royal kings."
- Dolabella, Caesar, and more men trickle in. Caesar wearily announces she must’ve guessed his intentions, and being royal and such, took her own way rather than suffer humiliation.
- The men guess at the means by which the women died and, finding a wound on Cleopatra’s breast and the figs slimy with the trail of some serpent, realize the ladies had the rural visitor smuggle in snakes to do the deed.
- Caesar bids Cleopatra be buried next to Antony and states that their love engenders as much pity as Antony’s glory, which led them to all of their troubles in the first place.
- He and the army will attend the funeral and then head back to Rome. He bids Dolabella organize the funeral with great and befitting solemnity.
- The end.