William Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 4, Scene 15

— 4.15 —

Cleopatra, Charmian, and Iras were at Cleopatra’s monument. They were on a second-floor balcony.

“Oh, Charmian, I will never leave here,” Cleopatra mourned.

“Be comforted, dear madam,” Charmian replied.

“No, I will not,” Cleopatra said. Using the royal plural, she added, “All strange and terrible events are welcome, but comforts we despise; the size of our sorrow must be in proportion to its cause — our sorrow must be as great as that which causes it.”

Below the balcony appeared Diomedes.

Seeing him, Cleopatra asked, “What has happened? Is Antony dead?”

“He will die soon, but he is not dead yet,” Diomedes replied. “Look over there. His guards have carried him here.”

Cleopatra and saw Mark Antony being carried to her by his guards.

She said, “Oh, Sun, burn the great sphere that you move in! Escape from the sphere and leave and let the world with its days and nights and its tides be always dark.”

According to Ptolemaic astronomy, the Sun and the planets were fixed in spheres that moved around the Earth, which was the center of the universe.

Cleopatra continued, “Oh, Antony, Antony, Antony! Help, Charmian! Help, Iras, help! Help, friends below! Let’s draw him up here!”

“Quiet,” Antony said. “Caesar’s valor has not overthrown Antony, but Antony’s valor has triumphed on itself. Caesar has not killed me; I have killed myself.”

“That is as it should be,” Cleopatra said. “No one but Antony should conquer Antony, but I still mourn that this happened!”

“I am dying, Queen of Egypt, dying,” Mark Antony said, “but I ask death to wait awhile, until I lay on your lips the poor last of many thousand kisses.”

“I dare not come down to you, dear — my dear lord, pardon me — I dare not, lest I be captured,” Cleopatra said. “The imperious show of the good-fortuned Caesar never shall be decorated with me — I will not take an ignoble role in his triumphal procession in Rome. As long as knife, drugs, and serpents have edge, effect, or sting, I am safe. Your wife, Octavia, with her modest eyes and impassive judgment shall acquire no honor by looking smugly at me. But come to me, come, Antony — help me, my women — we must draw you up here. Help, good friends.”

“Be quick; soon I will be dead.”

Cleopatra and her female servants began to pull Antony up to the balcony.

“Here’s work indeed!” Cleopatra said. “How heavy is my lord! Our strength has all disappeared because of the heaviness of sorrow. If I had the great goddess Juno’s power, the strong-winged Mercury should fetch you up to Heaven, and set you by the side of Jove, King of the gods. We must lift you a little higher — mere wishing is foolish — oh, come, come, come.”

They succeeded in raising Antony to the balcony.

“Welcome, welcome!” Cleopatra said. “Die where you have lived. Come to life with my kisses. If my lips had that power, I would wear them out like this.”

She kissed Mark Antony several times.

This is a heavy and sad sight, the people around her thought.

“I am dying, Queen of Egypt, dying,” Mark Antony said. “Give me some wine, and let me speak a little.”

“No, let me speak; and let me curse so vehemently that the false hussy Fortune will break her wheel because she is so angered by my curses.”

“One word, sweet Queen,” Antony said. “From Caesar seek your honor, along with your safety.”

“My honor and my safety do not go together,” Cleopatra replied.

“Noble lady, listen to me,” Antony said. “Trust none of Caesar’s men except Proculeius.”

“I will trust my resolution and my hands, but I will trust none of Caesar’s men.”

“The miserable change of fortune I suffer now at the end of my life neither lament nor sorrow at, but please your thoughts by remembering my former good fortune when I lived as the greatest Prince of the world, and the noblest. Also know that I do not now basely die. I have not cowardly taken off my helmet and submitted myself to Caesar, my countryman. Instead, I am a Roman who by a Roman — myself — is valiantly vanquished. By committing suicide, I have conquered myself. Now my spirit is going; I can say no more.”

“Noblest of men, will you die?” Cleopatra asked. “Don’t you care about me! Shall I live in this dull world, which in your absence is no better than a pigsty? Oh, look, my women!”

Mark Antony died.

“The crown of the Earth melts,” Cleopatra said. “My lord! Oh, withered is the garland of the war. The soldier’s standard has fallen; young boys and girls are equal now with men; the marks of distinction are gone, and nothing remarkable is left beneath the visiting moon.”

Cleopatra fainted.

“Oh, be calm, lady!” Charmian said.

“Our Queen has died, too,” Iras said.

“Lady!” Charmian said.

“Madam!” Iras said.

“Oh, madam, madam, madam!” Charmian said.

“Royal Queen of Egypt!” Iras said. “Empress!”

Cleopatra regained consciousness.

“Quiet! Quiet, Iras!” Charmian said.

Cleopatra said, “I am no more than just a woman, and I am ruled by such poor passion as rules the maid who milks and does the meanest chores. It would be fitting for me to throw my scepter at the injurious and harm-doing gods and tell them that this world was the equal of theirs until they stole Mark Antony, our jewel. Nothing matters anymore. Staying calm is foolish, and being angry is fitting for a mad dog. Is it then a sin to hurry into the secret house of Death before Death dares come to us? How are you, women? Tell me! Be of good cheer! Why, how are you now, Charmian! My noble girls! Ah, women, women, look, our lamp is spent — it’s out!

“Good ladies, take heart: We’ll bury him; and then, what’s brave, what’s noble, let’s do it after the high Roman fashion, and make Death proud to take us.”

She was thinking of committing suicide.

She added, “Come, let’s go away. This corpse that contained that huge spirit is now cold. Ah, women, women! Come; we have no friend but resolution, and the quickest possible end of life.”

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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