Antony and Cleopatra — Act Four: Deserting and death

Previously on Antony and Cleopatra: Act One of the play begins with a doting Antony and a manipulative Cleopatra. Newly widowed, Antony decides to return to Rome and reconcile with Octavian Caesar and assist in the war against Pompey. In Act Two, the obvious tension and conflict between Octavian and Antony is only soothed by Antony’s marriage to Octavian’s sister Octavia, news of which brings much consternation to Cleopatra. Pompey accepts the truce offered, and the generals feast and all seems peaceful…for the moment. In Act Three, however, that peace is quickly destroyed: Octavian and Lepidus attack, defeat and kill Pompey; Octavian arrests Lepidus, and disrespects Antony. In turn, Antony returns to Cleopatra, marries her, and decides to meet Octavian’s superior navy with the Egyptian fleet. The Egyptians flee, and Antony is faced not only with defeat in this battle, but the defection of some of his troops. Octavian offers to hear Cleopatra’s requests if she kills or captures (and hands over) Antony. They refuse and prepare to fight Octavian once again.

Act Four, Scene One is a short one that finds Octavian fuming over the whipping his messenger had at the hands of Antony. He prepares his army to fight Antony again.

Act Four, Scene Two is the feast of Antony and Cleopatra the night before the battle. Antony, while partying, is not above bemoaning his fate; he tells the servants, “Perchance tomorrow // You’ll serve another master” (IV.ii.27-28). But when those servants (including Enobarbus, who hasn’t found the opportunity to desert Antony…yet), are visibly “discomfort[ed]” (IV.ii.34), Antony tries to cheer them with discussing a “victorious life” (IV.ii.43) in the battle ahead.

Act Four, Scene Three is a strange little one, with a group of Cleopatra’s soldiers meeting in the street the night before the battle. They hear “strange” (IV.iii.18) noises and music from “under the earth” (IV.iii.12). To hear them tell it, this does not bode well.

Act Four, Scene Four takes us back to Cleopatra’s palace where Antony arms himself for the battle to come with the help of Eros and Cleopatra, whom Antony calls “the armorer of [his] heart” (IV.iv.7). Antony “goes forth gallantly” (IV.iv.36), with Cleopatra lamenting that this couldn’t have been solved by single combat, as she believes Antony would have won.

Act Four, Scene Five, is when Antony learns what had been hinted to us for a while now: Enobarbus has abandoned Antony’s cause. Instead of flying into a rage, however, Antony orders Eros to take Enobarbus all his “treasure” (IV.v.) and a message that Antony “wish[es] [Enobarbus] never find more cause // To change a master” (IV.v.15-16). Personal note: if there is any one act that softens my view of Antony (which is pretty critical), it’s this moment. It’s a class act.

The sixth scene of the act begins and we’re back with Octavian and his followers, including Enobarbus. Octavian orders that the newly revolted soldiers from Antony be placed in the vanguard of the army, so that Antony will “seem to spend his fury // Upon himself” ( When all others leave, Enobarbus tell us of what has happened:

Alexas did revolt and went to Jewry on
Affairs of Antony; there did dissuade
Great Herod to incline himself to Caesar
And leave his master Antony. For this pains,
Caesar hath hanged him. Canidius and the rest
That fell away have entertainment but
No honorable trust. I have done ill,
Of which I do accuse myself so sorely
That I will joy no more.

Antony’s general Alexas has abandoned him and joined Octavian, and have even convinced others to join him. And Octavian has still hanged him. Enobarbus sees his own sin of abandonment and prophesied no future joy. And it doesn’t get any better when a soldier enters to give all of his treasure sent to him by Antony. Needless to say, Enobarbus has buyer’s (or at least deserter’s) remorse, but he owns it: “I am alone the villain of the earth” ( He exits looking for a ditch to die in.

Act Four, Scene Seven gives us report of Antony’s forces driving back Octavian’s forces, and the eighth scene of the act takes us back to Alexandria where Cleopatra welcomes back Antony as a hero.

Act Four, Scene Nine brings some of the sentry watchers of Octavian’s camp discovering Enobarbus, who proclaims himself “a master-leaver and a fugitive” (IV.ix.22), before dying. Yes, you read that right. Enobarbus dies on the spot. No stage direction of falling on a sword or taking a poison or (spoiler alert) having an asp bite him. He just dies. Of a broken soldier’s spirit and heart, I would opine.

The tenth and eleventh scenes of the act give us military strategy. A confident Antony is ready take the battle to Octavian not only by land but by sea as well. Meanwhile, Octavian orders his army to take the battle to the seas.

Act Four, Scene Twelve show us the results of that sea battle: the Egyptian fleet surrendered to Octavian’s navy, and “all is lost” (IV.xii.9). Antony feels betrayed by Cleopatra, so when she arrives, he drives her away with threats then describes how Octavian will parade her through Rome as a captive, only to have “patient Octavia plow [Cleopatra’s] visage up // With her prepared nails” (IV.xii.38-39). After she leaves, Antony proclaims that Cleopatra will die for all this.

The short thirteenth scene gives us a distraught Cleopatra, who is advised by Charmian to lock herself up and send Antony word of her suicide. Cleopatra agrees and adds to the story: her last word was “Antony.” She sends off a servant to return with word on “how he takes [her] death” (IV.xiii.10).

The penultimate and longest scene of the act, takes us back back to Antony. In despair, he tells Eros that he has lost who he is, and that Cleopatra “has robbed [him] of [his] sword” (IV.xiv.23). Cleopatra’s messenger comes with the “news” that the queen is dead. If Antony was in despair before, now he is devastated–so much so that he “will o’ertake thee, Cleopatra, and // Weep for [his] pardon” (IV.xiv.44-5). He tells Eros that he is “sworn” (IV.xiv.62) to kill Antony because of his disgrace.

It takes a while to convince Eros to do the deed, but the underling seems to resign himself to it. He says, “Before I strike this bloody stroke, farewell” (IV.xiv.91). And then with “Thus I do escape the sorrow // Of Antony’s death” (IV.xiv.94-5), he kills himself. After that “holy crap” moment, Antony realizes he must now do the deed himself. And he falls on his sword, but we realize why Antony wanted Eros to kill him: Antony botches the job. He survives the wound. Barely.

Diomedes, Cleopatra’s attendant, arrives on Cleopatra’s orders. Antony asks, “When did she send thee?” (IV.xiv.123), and thus unravels the story of Cleopatra’s suicide, her repenting of her story, and her sending Diomedes to stop Antony from doing anything rash. Too late.

The mortally wounded Antony calls upon his guards to pick him up and take him to Cleopatra, which happens in the very next scene, Act Four, Scene Fifteen, the last of this long act. He is nearly dead when he arrives, but he wants “the poor last” (IV.xv.21) kiss he will give Cleopatra. Even in his near-death state, he has advice for Cleopatra: “None about Caesar trust but Proculeius” (IV.xv.49). And he succumbs.

Cleopatra and her women are broken, but the queen tries to cheer her women with an objective:

 Take heart.
We’ll bury him; and then, what’s brave, what’s noble,
Let’s do’t after the high Roman fashion,
And make death proud to take us. Come, away.
  • IV.xv.89-92

In other words, Antony’s death won’t be the last in this play. Stay tuned for Act Five…

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