Regret and repentance thread through much of Antony and Cleopatra because nobody can stop betraying each other. Characters can be redeemed by their feelings of regret, and we can judge the earnestness of their feelings by their willingness to apologize—do they really mean it, or are they just bluffing?
Regret is also another way of introducing a different perspective in the play. The fact that each character can experience regret reminds us that their judgments aren’t hard and fast. Instead, each of them is a person capable of making mistakes, and they are all made more human by their ability to recognize and repent those mistakes. It just kind of sucks that most of these characters are rulers of vast empires—let's hope our leaders today aren't quite so arbitrary.
Questions About Guilt and Blame
When Cleopatra dies, she doesn’t seem to regret at all that it was her own lie that caused Antony to kill himself. Why the lack of regret?
When Antony gives Cleopatra a final tongue-lashing, he mentions that he left behind a gem of a woman in Rome, not to mention the opportunity to be the father of a line of Roman leaders. Does he regret the love affair he’s had with Cleopatra? Does he regret having left Rome? Or is he just trying to make his lover feel guilty?
Do feelings of regret absolve us of having bad thoughts or committing bad actions? How is this addressed by Enobarbus’s dying wish that Antony know he was sorry, but that the rest of the world remember him as a traitor? What’s up with that?
Chew on This
Regret isn’t meaningful at all in Antony and Cleopatra. Aside from Enobarbus, all the characters who claim they feel regret still repeat their mistakes time and time again. This defeats the real purpose of regret, which is to avoid making the same mistakes again.
Regret is the one universal emotion in Antony and Cleopatra, through which each character develops and changes.