The Masks of Anthony and Cleopatra

By Marvin Rosenberg; Mary Rosenberg | Go to book overview

Act V, Scene ii

In 4.15 Cleopatra says, over Anthony’s body,

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.

What will follow in the last act is a very long Cleopatra death scene. It is usually the kind of beautiful but static tableau that is not essentially Shakespearean. Of that kind of end reviewers often complain. Thus Billington, the distinguished Guardian reviewer, writes of “the notorious hurdle of the last act. How often has one waited impatiently for Cleopatras to die?”*

Stagings sometimes present 5.2 as Cleopatra’s final philosophical statement. It is a philosophical statement but it must also be more. Shakespeare was too much of a master dramatist to let tension stagger at this ultimate moment. With each of Cleopatra’s successive encounters—with Proculeius, with Dolabella, with Caesar, with the Clown—the tension of the scene should rise.†

As she comes in, Cleopatra is thinking about suicide. She has come here directly with the resolution to kill herself: and her first speech is of one preparing for death.

But she does not, as many have observed, proceed after “the high Roman fashion.” That involves a brutal assault on the body: either by a servant (as in the case of Brutus in Julius Caesar), or by one’s own hand (so Lucrece stabbing

*So, too, a reviewer in Colorado (Appel 1985): “I found myself wishing she’d die a little faster.” But Glenda Jackson (Brook 1978–79) comments: “The first time we did it on stage I felt that the play was much too long and that we were living on borrowed time as far as the last act was concerned. But since we played it in, it’s been the most gripping part of the evening. It’s an amazing act if you’ve got that flow going beforehand—the audience are quite happy to sit there for another twenty minutes and see how she does it. It’s very very potent when it works.”

†One critic has pointed out how Cleopatra herself “rises” to increasing freedom from earthly limitations as the scene progresses: from being physically restrained by Proculeius and his Guard, then kneeling subserviently to Caesar (whether in role-play or reality), to the exercise of royal authority over the Clown and finally the self-chosen “liberty” of death. Others have noted that this scene depicts her last associations with the world she has resolved to reject in her path toward spirit (see 4.13, p. 360). Ironically the Clown, who innocently ridicules her chosen instrument of death, and who is her opposite in so many ways, is her last human contact beyond her women.

-403-

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The Masks of Anthony and Cleopatra
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 7
  • Preface 9
  • Acknowledgments 17
  • Introduction 21
  • Act One 39
  • Act I, Scene I 41
  • Anthony 70
  • Cleopatra 80
  • Act I, Scene II 86
  • Act I, Scene III 104
  • Octavius 118
  • Act I, Scene IV 123
  • Act I, Scene V 133
  • Act Two 143
  • Act II, Scene I 145
  • Act II, Scene II 151
  • Act 2, Scene III 174
  • Act II, Scene IV 180
  • Act II, Scene V 181
  • Act 2, Scene VI 197
  • Act II, Scene VII 207
  • Act Three 225
  • Act III, Scene I 227
  • Act III, Scene II 231
  • Act III, Scene III 239
  • Act III, Scene IV 246
  • Act III, Scene V 251
  • Act III, Scene VI 254
  • Act III, Scene VII 262
  • Act III, Scenes VIII, IX, and X 272
  • Act III, Scene XI 278
  • Act III, Scene XII 288
  • Act III, Scene XIII 293
  • Act Four 315
  • Act IV, Scene I 317
  • Act IV, Scene II 320
  • Act IV, Scene III 326
  • Act IV, Scene IV 329
  • Act IV, Scene V 335
  • Act IV, Scene VI 337
  • Act IV, Scene VII 341
  • Act IV, Scene VIII 344
  • Act IV, Scene IX 349
  • Act IV, Scenes X, XI, XII, and XIII 352
  • Act IV, Scene XIV 362
  • Act IV, Scene XV 379
  • Act Five 393
  • Act V, Scene I 395
  • Act V, Scene II 403
  • Is Anthony and Cleopatra a Tragedy? 473
  • Epilogue 480
  • A Note on the Historical Cleopatra 69 Bc–30 BC 482
  • Critical and Theatrical Bibliographies 489
  • Critical Bibliography 491
  • Theatrical Bibliography 532
  • Index 597
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