If we look at the concepts of reversal of fortune, hamartia (or “error in judgment”) and anagnorisis (or realization or revelation about his situation and his position in the world/universe), how do our characters stack up?
[this is the second in a three-part series…part one was on Antony]
Now, what about Cleopatra?
She, too, begins the play at the top of her world, Queen of Egypt; by the end, she’s a captive, destined (unless she takes her own life) to be paraded in Octavian’s triumph through the streets of Rome.
What is her error in judgment? It could be when she abandons Antony and the battle of Actium between Act Three, Scenes Nine and Ten. She does so “fearful[ly]” (III.xi.55); she didn’t think Antony would follow suit, but he does, and as we know, things do not work out well. We might see this foreshadowed in her professed play-acting earlier in the play–having her attendants tell Antony one thing if he appears one way, another if he appears differently…anything to avoid him and the reality of his Roman news.
Does she come to any epiphany? If she does, she certainly doesn’t state it in a soliloquy, as she has none. However, in her last major speech of any length in the play, being dressed by and saying goodbye to her attendants, she says something interesting concerning Antony: “Husband, I come: // Now to that name my courage prove my title” (V.ii.287-88). If it is fear that spurs her hamartia in abandoning the sea battle, it may be that in this speech she resolves to overcome that fear, to prove her title of wife, and be reunited with her love.
That just might work.
Let’s finish this off tomorrow…
but because I still can’t resist: