Antony and Cleopatra


William Shakespeare

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Antony and Cleopatra: Act 4, Scene 12 Summary & Analysis

Read our modern English translation of this scene.
Antony and Scarus look out at the sea, but Antony cannot see the battle. He leaves to get a better vantage point. Scarus notes that swallows have built nests “in Cleopatra’s sails,” and says that the augurers (interpreters of omens) do not know what this means.
The swallows’ nests are yet another omen in the play, but one the augurers cannot interpret. Shakespeare’s audiences and readers, though, know how Antony’s war will ultimately turn out.
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Antony returns, upset, and says, “this foul Egyptian hath betrayed me.” Antony’s fleet yielded to Octavius’ forces and they now “cast their caps up and carouse together / Like friends long lost.” He calls Cleopatra a “triple-turn’d whore,” thinking that she has betrayed him. Antony thinks he will die, and again says he has been betrayed by “this false soul of Egypt.”
Antony seems to have been betrayed by not only his close adviser Enobarbus, but almost all of his soldiers, as well, who just give in. Knowing Cleopatra’s manipulative character, Antony assumes she has had something to do with this disastrous defeat. His love for Cleopatra seems to be beyond his control, and he seems to recognize its disastrous effects and to blame her for it rather than himself.
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Cleopatra enters and asks why Antony is so mad. Antony tells her to leave or else he will hit her. He tells her she will be taken as prisoner and humiliated for public display in Octavius’ parade celebrating his triumph. Cleopatra leaves. Antony says it would have been better if Cleopatra had died, as this would have prevented the deaths of his men. He calls her a witch and says she has “sold” him “to the young Roman boy,” i.e. Octavius.
Antony is finally so angry that Cleopatra can no longer persuade, manipulate, or seduce him with her love. He fears the dishonor and humiliation that he and Cleopatra will both face as prisoners at Rome. His insults toward Cleopatra are distinctly gendered, involving terms like witch and whore.
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