Antony and Cleopatra Act 4, Scene 14 Summary & Analysis
New! Understand every line of Antony and Cleopatra.Read our modern English translation of this scene.
Elsewhere in the palace, Antony talks with Eros. He describes how “sometimes we see a cloud that’s dragonish; / A vapour sometime like a bear or lion.” He describes how these clouds change shapes “and mock our eyes with air,” and how “that which is now a horse, even with a thought / The rack dislimns, and makes it indistinct, / As water is in water.” He tells Eros that he himself is like these clouds and that he “cannot hold this visible shape.”
The changing clouds can represent a number of things: the mercurial fortunes and unpredictable future of Antony and Cleopatra, the shifting alliances of the political landscape, the deceptiveness of Cleopatra, or (as Antony tells Eros) Antony himself.
Antony blames his defeat on Cleopatra, who he thinks betrayed him to Octavius and didn’t truly love him. Mardian enters and tells Antony that Cleopatra really did love him. He tells Antony that she killed herself and her dying words were “Antony! Most noble Antony!” Antony sends Mardian and Eros away, and proclaims that his heart is broken.
Antony is convinced that Cleopatra didn’t really love him and betrayed him, but then quickly changes his mind when he hears the false news of her death from the messenger Mardian. Cleopatra manipulates him easily (which is not to say that she really did betray him, which is unclear).
Alone, Antony says that he will follow her example and end his own life. He says that they will see each other in the afterlife. Antony calls for Eros to come back, and tells him that he has resolved to end his own life, so that he will not “lack the courage of a woman,” as Cleopatra has already done this. He tells Eros to stab him, telling him, “’tis Caesar thou defeat’st.”
Antony plans to seek a noble death motivated both by love for Cleopatra and by a desire not to be outdone in courage by a woman. Additionally, the plan to kill himself will rob Octavius of the joy of defeating him, as he hints in his comment to Eros.
Eros does not want to kill his master, but Antony tells him that this would be better than him being humiliated and shamed as a prisoner in Rome. Eros says he will do it reluctantly, and tells Antony to turn around so he doesn’t have to look into his face as he kills him. Antony does so, and Eros says farewell to him. Eros draws his sword and Antony prepares for the blow, but Eros stabs himself instead.
Being killed here would be more honorable for Antony than suffering the humiliation of being taken to Rome as a prisoner. Eros faces a crisis of loyalty: is it more loyal to obey Antony even in killing him, or would killing his own leader be a betrayal?
Antony turns around and sees what has happened. He praises Eros’ bravery and loyalty, and says that he will go to his death “as to a lover’s bed.” He stabs himself, but is only wounded. One of his men, Dercetas, enters with a guard. Antony tells them to finish what he has begun, by killing him, but no one will do so.
Antony is honored by Eros’ loyalty. He does not want to be outdone in courage by his servant and his wife, who he thinks has taken her own life, and so follows Eros’ example in stabbing himself.
Diomedes, one of Cleopatra’s servants, enters and tells Antony that Cleopatra has sent him. He says that Cleopatra is alive and “lock’d in her monument.” Antony calls for his guards and asks to be carried to Cleopatra. He tells them not to be too sorrowful at his death, but to “bid that welcome / Which comes to punish us.”
Diomedes delivers the crucial message that Cleopatra is actually alive. Antony does not seem to be upset at her deceptive manipulation, and simply wishes to see the woman he loves before he dies.