William Shakespeare: Antony and Cleopatra
Summary by Michael McGoodwin, prepared 2000

Alma-Tadema (Sir Lawrence), Antony and Cleopatra, 1883 (detail)
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Antony and Cleopatra, 1883 (detail)

Acknowledgement: This work has been summarized using The Complete Works of Shakespeare Updated Fourth Ed., Longman Addison-Wesley, ed. David Bevington, 1997.  Quotations are for the most part taken from that work, as are paraphrases of his commentary.   

Overall Impression: This is a moving and impressive play

Per Bevington Text: Plot is drawn almost in entirely from Plutarch Lives. It flouts the classic unities and ranges across great distance and time with 42 scenes and many more named characters (31) than usual. The vision is ambivalent and ironic. There is integral use of bawdry in the main characters. Egypt is presented as enchanting but enervating, a place of non-Roman practices such as transvestitism, oriental opulence, Epicurean feasting, etc. There is an inversion of dominance in sexual roles between A. and Cl. A. has been captivated by Cl. Rome is also portrayed as disfigured by political conniving. Octavia is a pawn for Octavius. Old friendships must be sacrificed for political expediency, and Pompey has allied himself with pirates to achieve his ends. Octavius Caesar embodies the ironic limits of political ambition, attacking only when he has the advantage, etc. whereas Antony is appealingly unpragmatic, refuses to blame others, generous even to Enobarbus when he deserts him, spontaneous, impatient with the ordinary. Antony's magnificent qualities help bring him down. Octavius is deeply cynical about women. Cleopatra is a "lass unparalleled", rising above her counterpart in Plutarch (Plutarch portrays her as primarily a temptress who causes the downfall of the hero), definable only in terms of paradox and contradiction, both a whore and a Lucretian Venus, sluttish and holy. Her mystery is like poetry itself. A. and Cl. fantasize that their love will be eternal despite the defeat they suffer in the eyes of others.


Act I

Act I Scene 1

Alexandria Egypt, Cleopatra's palace [historically c. 40 BCE]. Two of Antony's friends, Philo and Demetrius discuss how A. (who is a military leader and one of the triumvirs of Rome along with Octavius Caesar and Lepidus) has become the "bellows and the fan to cool a gypsy's lust" and that he has become a "strumpet's fool". They stand aside as A. and Cl. enter. Antony (43 y/o) and Cleopatra talk of love and A. says "There's beggary in the love that can be reckoned." He refuses to hear a messenger from Rome, saying "Let Rome in Tiber melt and the wide arch / Of the ranged empire fall! Here is my space. / Kingdoms are clay: our dungy earth alike / Feeds beast as man. The nobleness of life / Is to do thus." and "Let's not confound the time with conference harsh. / There's not a minute of our lives should stretch / Without some pleasure now." Demetrius is dismayed to see Antony's contempt for Rome.

Act I Scene 2

Cleopatra's palace. Idle and bawdy conversation among Cleopatra's female attendants Charmian and Iras and Lord Alexas, Mardian the eunuch, a soothsayer, and Antony's right-hand man Domitius Enobarbus. Cleopatra enters and says Antony is having thoughts of Rome. 

A messenger tells Antony that Fulvia, Antony's wife, is stirring up trouble, first making war against Antony's brother Lucius and then uniting with Lucius against Octavius [we later learn it is to draw Antony back home.] Also, Labienus (the ally of the triumvir's enemy Brutus and Cassius) is making inroads into the Roman territories in Syria and Lydia, etc. and another foe, Sextus Pompeius (son of former first triumvir Pompey the Great), has allied with pirates against Rome and has won Sicily. Antony knows he is needed at home and that he must break his Egyptian fetters. 

Another messenger arrives to say Fulvia has died in Sicyon, the Greek town in which he left her. Antony generously expresses regret at her death, saying "There's a great spirit gone! Thus did I desire it. / What our contempts doth often hurl from us / We wish it ours again. The present pleasure, / By revolution [of the wheel of Fortune] lowering, does become / The opposite of itself. She's good, being gone; / The hand could pluck her back that shoved her on. / I must from this enchanting queen break off. / Ten thousand harms, more than the ills I know / My idleness doth hatch." He tells Enobarbus they must depart for Rome, and E. jokes that Cleopatra will die as a result [die is frequently a Shakespearean code word for orgasm]. Antony regrets he ever saw Cleopatra. Enobarbus tries to console him that there are other women to take the place of Fulvia. A. knows the trouble Fulvia has caused back home and the other developing crises require his return and asks for Enobarbus to stop making jokes and prepare for the departure. A. comments on the fickleness of the political allegiances of the people back home: "Our slippery people, / Whose love is never linked to the deserver / Till his deserts are past, begin to throw / Pompey the Great and all his dignities / Upon his son."

Act I Scene 3

Cleopatra's palace. Cleopatra frets with Charmian and Alexas about Antony's planned sudden departure and plots her strategy about how to retain his affections. To A. she affects that he has betrayed her and that she is sick, that his falseness to Fulvia is being repeated toward her. Her conversation is laced with sexual innuendo ("I wish I had thy inches"). He tells her of the bad news he has received. He pledges his ongoing love to her but she continues to play the part of the rejected lover.

Act I Scene 4

Rome. Octavius Caesar speaks contemptuously with Lepidus about the carousing of A. with the "queen of Ptolemy" (Cleopatra's brother to whom she had been married) and their inversion of sexual roles. A messenger announces that Pompey is strong at sea and more beloved than Octavius. Pompey has allied with the pirates Menecrates and Menas and are making inroads in Italy. Octavius wants Antony to come and show some of the great military leadership he has in the past. He recalls how Antony heroically survived famine conditions at war: "Thou didst drink / The stale [urine] of horses, and the gilded puddle / Which beasts would cough at. Thy palate then did deign / The roughest berry on the rudest hedge."

Act I Scene 5

Cleopatra's palace. Cleopatra calls for a narcotic, mandragora juice. Charmian tries to dissuade her from thinking of A. so much. She talks in sexual innuendo with the eunuch Mardian and longs to be the horse of Antony. She recalls her past affairs with Julius Caesar and "Great Pompey" (historically, Gnaeus Pompey, oldest son of Pompey the Great). Lord Alexas gives her a pearl sent by Antony along with his pledge to enlarge her realm in the East. Alexas has received her many messages to Antony, and she prepares another to send to A. She refers to her "salad days, when I was green in judgment, cold in blood..."

Act II

Act II Scene 1

Pompey's camp, prob. in Messina Sicily. Pompey confers with his pirate Menas about his own popularity with the people and Lepidus' flattery of the other triumvirs. He assumes Antony will stay in Egypt, and hopes the witchcraft of Cleopatra will keep him there. But Varrius arrives to tell them that Antony is coming to Rome. He refers to the fighting by Antony's wife and brother against Octavius, but Pompey is worried that confronted with their enemy, the triumvirs will unite and close ranks against him.

Act II Scene 2

Rome. Enobarbus and Lepidus greet, E. speaks somewhat contemptuously of Octavius, but Lepidus wants him to not provoke trouble. Antony enters with his follower Ventidius and Octavius enters with his followers Maecenas and Agrippa. Lepidus hopes A. & O. will address the pressing threat and not give way to bitter wrangling. A. takes issue with O. for taking offense at things which are not his concern, claiming it was his own business what he did in Egypt. O. refers to the wars made on him by A.'s wife and brother, and implies A. may have had a role. But A. denies any involvement or support for his brother in this action, and says if O. wants to find an excuse to condemn A., it will have to be over some other issue. O. reminds him that he did not respond to O.'s letters requesting assistance, but A. provides an excuse. O. says he broke his oath to lend aid and arms when requested. A. acknowledges he must play the penitent to O. for this and that Fulvia made war on O. just to bring A. back home. Maecenas reminds them to turn to the present crisis. Enobarbus makes a tactless comment ("if you borrow one another's love for the instant, you may, when you hear no more words of Pompey, return it again.") about the pragmatic new love forced on O. and A., and is shushed by A. for it. But O. assures A. they will remain friends. Agrippa suggests that A. marry O.'s sister Octavia (widow of Caius Marcellus), and A. agrees to it, saying he is not married to Cleopatra. A. mentions the past courtesies and favors done to him by Pompey (who is reported to be near Mt. Misena Italy) but recognizes that he must put that loyalty aside in favor of O. O. takes A. to meet Octavia. 

Maecenas, Agrippa, and Enobarbus are left behind to discuss the wonders E. has seen in Egypt, the feasts, Cleopatra's first extraordinary meeting with Antony on her barge ("The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne, / Burnt on the water. The poop was beaten gold; / Purple the sails, and so perfumed that / The winds were lovesick with them..."), how A. became her guest, how she had a child Caesarion by Julius Caesar, etc. He predicts that A. can never truly leave her for Octavia. He speaks of her bewitching qualities: "Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale / Her infinite variety. Other women cloy / The appetites they feed, but she makes hungry / Where most she satisfies."

Act II Scene 3

Rome. A., O. and Octavia confer: A. reassures Octavia "Read not my blemishes in the world's report. / I have not kept my square, but that to come / Shall all be done by the rule."

A soothsayer tells A. that Caesar's fortune will rise higher then his own and that he should not stay by Caesar, that he is sure to lose. A. plans to send his follower Ventidius to Parthia. To himself he acknowledges that the marriage to Octavia is for appearances only: "I will to Egypt; / And though I make this marriage for my peace, / I' th' east my pleasure lies."

Act II Scene 4

Rome. Lepidus bids farewell to Maecenas and Agrippa.

Act II Scene 5

 Alexandria, Cleopatra's palace. Cl. calls for music, chats with Charmian, speaks of fishing and how she once playfully had a salted fish placed on Antony's hook, how she drank him to bed and put her clothes on him while she wore his sword Philippan (won in his victory over Brutus and Cassius at Philippi).

A messenger reluctantly tells her that A. is well but has married Octavia. She strikes the messenger and threatens him with a knife, later apologizes. She continues to question him incredulously about the marriage, believes Caesar is getting back at her, asks about how Octavia appears.

Act II Scene 6

Misenum, in southern Italy. Pompey parleys with Caesar and Antony before they do battle. He is offered Sicily and Sardinia if he will make a truce and rid the seas of pirates and send grain to Rome. Pompey reminds A. that he received Antony's mother warmly while the brother and wife were fighting, and A. acknowledges the debt. Caesar wants them to sign a written agreement and they plan to feast the truce. Pompey alludes to fine Egyptian cooking and Enobarbus mentions the time Cleopatra was brought to Julius Caesar wrapped in a mattress. Pompey warms to Enobarbus' plain speaking and they shake hands. Pompey leads the triumvirs aboard his galley.

Enobarbus is left with the pirate Menas. Menas to himself is angry that Pompey has made the treaty, which his father Pompey the Great would not have done. Enobarbus calls Menas a thief and Menas counters similarly. Enobarbus expresses regret they will not be fighting and states Pompey has laughed away his fortune. Menas is amazed to learn that A. has married Octavia, and Enobarbus wryly suggests the marriage and the alliance between A. and O. will not last. He compares the cool and holy Octavia with the fiery Cleopatra and predicts Cl. will be the cause of the split between O. and A. Menas invites him aboard their galley.

Act II Scene 7

Aboard Pompey's galley. Lepidus is seen by the servants to be drinking heavily and they speak disparagingly about him. A. tells the leaders about Egypt as they all drink. Lepidus has drunk too much. Menas takes aside Pompey and suggests they could kill the triumvirs and thereby take control, but Pompey insists he is a man of honor (though ironically he would be happy had they done this without telling him first): " In me 'tis villainy; / In thee 't had been good service." Menas inwardly resolves to ally with Pompey no longer. A man bears the drunken Lepidus away, and Enobarbus jokes he carries the third part of the world. The drinking continues and a song, then the party breaks up.

Act III

Act III Scene 1

Middle East. Ventidius has conquered the Parthian leader Orodes (who had in 53 BC defeated Marcus Crassus of the first triumvirate [comprised also of Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great]) and killed Orodes' son Pacorus. Ventidius wisely declines to pursue further military conquests, so that he will not attract the envy of the leaders he serves: "Better to leave undone, than by our deed / Acquire too high a fame when him we serve's away. / Caesar and Antony have ever won / More in their officer than person. Sossius, / One of my place in Syria, his lieutenant, / For quick accumulation of renown, / Which he achieved by the minute, lost his favor. / Who does i' the wars more than his captain can / Becomes his captain's captain: and ambition, / The soldier's virtue, rather makes choice of loss, / Than gain which darkens him." He will write to Antony in Athens of the achievements won in Antony's name.

Act III Scene 2

Rome. Agrippa and Enobarbus discuss the signing of the agreement, that Lepidus loves O. more than A., the awe and respect that O. commands. O. bids a tearful goodbye to his sister and asks A. to care for her well. A. reassures him of his honorable intentions. She cannot openly speak all her feelings, whispers to O., O. weeps, Enobarbus comments on previous occasions when A. has wept, A. embraces O warmly.

Act III Scene 3

Alexandria, Cleopatra's palace. The messenger (poss. same as 2.5) tells Cleopatra about Octavia--Cl. wants to know her height, how she speaks, her degree of majesty, her hair color etc. Cleopatra believes Octavia does not compare favorably to herself. Now she regrets harrying A. before he had departed. She makes plans to write A.

Act III Scene 4

Athens. A. speaks critically to Octavia about Caesar, who has made new war on Pompey and has spoken slightingly about A. Octavia pleads with A. to keep the peace with O. and feels caught between divided loyalties. A. plans to send her to her brother to try to make peace for him, while in the meantime A. plans for war (and Cleopatra).

Act III Scene 5

Athens. Enobarbus tells Anthony's follower Eros that Caesar is denying Lepidus the shared glory from their successful war against Pompey, and has had him arrested on trumped up charges and imprisoned for life. A. is upset with his officer that has slain the captured Pompey.

Act III Scene 6

 Rome. Caesar speaks to Maecenas about how A. has rejoined Cleopatra and has been seen publicly enthroned with her, with Caesarion at their feet along with her children by A. He has given her Egypt, lower Syria, Cyprus, and Lydia to rule. He has given to his sons Alexander & Ptolemy the kingships of Great Media, Parthia, Armenia, Syria, Cicilia, Phoenicia, etc. She has taken on the dress of the goddess Isis. A. has accused Caesar of not giving A. his share of the proceeds from Sicily and has objected to the treatment of Lepidus. 

Octavia arrives unannouced and Caesar objects to the furtive way in which she has traveled and been announced. She states she has come on her own, but Caesar knows A. was glad to have her leave to pursue his own ends. She believes he is still in Athens but Caesar informs her that A. has joined his whore and is levying many kings for war against Rome. Octavia despairs, but all present receive her with great sympathy.

Act III Scene 7

Near Actium, on NW coast of Greece, at Antony's camp. Cleopatra tells A. she wants to be with him in battle. Enobarbus makes an irreverent remark to himself which she overhears. To Cleopatra he says it is rumored in Rome that A. is led by a eunuch and maids etc. in the conduct of the war. But Cleopatra angrily insists she will be present in the war and will not stay behind. Antony enters and declares he has decided they will fight by sea, and Cleopatra supports this idea. But Enobarbus objects and unsuccessfully tries to dissuade him from this ill-advised plan, since his strength is his land army and their ships and naval fighting skills are untested.

A messenger arrives to say Caesar has taken Toryne, the speed of his advance taking A. by surprise. Antony's follower Canidius bitterly comments to a soldier that their leader is led by a woman.

Act III Scene 8

Field near Actium. Caesar confers with his lieutenant Taurus and gives cautionary instructions.

Act III Scene 9

Field near Actium, nearby. A. tells Enobarbus where they are to position the ships.

Act III Scene 10

Field near Actium. Enobarbus is distressed to see the "Antoniad", the Egyptian flagship [with Cleopatr aboard?], turn round and flee the battle scene. Scarus enters and laments their losses saying that "we have kissed away kingdoms and provinces". In the middle of battle when the two sides were evenly matched, Cleopatra's ship hoisted sail and fled. A. spotted her leaving and shamefully abandoned the fighting as well, chasing after her and thereby causing their defeat. A. and Cleopatra have fled toward the Peloponnesus. Canidius resolves to go over to Caesar's side, but Enobarbus is not yet ready to abandon Antony. 

Act III Scene 11

Prob. soon after the battle. Antony feels deeply his shame and tries to send men away with gold to make their peace with Caesar. He has resolved on a course which will not need their help (suicide?). Cleopatra remains, with Charmian, Iras, and Eros. They try to get her to comfort him. A. recalls his past heroism at Philipii while Octavius did little then. A. asks her where she has led him. She asks his forgiveness for fleeing the battle with her fearful sails, thinking he would not follow her. But he says "Egypt, thou knew'st too well / My heart was to thy rudder tied by the strings, / And thou shouldst tow me after. O'er my spirit / Thy full supremacy thou knew'st, and that / Thy beck might from the bidding of the gods / Command me." She abjectly asks his pardon, and he asks for a kiss. He has sent their schoolmaster on an embassy to Caesar. He calls for food and wine for all and seems to recover some of his courage and spirits.

Act III Scene 12

Egypt, Caesar's camp. Caesar's follower Dolabella presents Antony's ambassador to Caesar. He says A. wants to be allowed to live in Egypt, says Cleopatra will accept Caesar's power over her, and wants to retain the crown of the Ptolemies (i.e., Egypt). Caesar will not grant A. his request but asks that she surrender A. over or have him executed, for which she will be rewarded. After he leaves, Caesar asks Thidias to seek out Cleopatra and to win her away from A. with whatever fabricated promises seem necessary.

Act III Scene 13

Alexandria, Cleopatra's palace. Cleopatra wonders what to do, and Enobarbus says she should "think, and die". He blames A. for the outcome but rebukes her for leaving the battle. A. has heard from the ambassador that the queen is to yield him up to Caesar. A. sends back a defiant message, challenging Caesar to one-on-one combat. Enobarbus to himself knows the futility and lack of judgment of this reply.

Thidias arrives and wants to confer with Cl. in private, but she keeps the meeting public. He suggests she embraced A. out of fear rather then love, attempting to give her an excuse to send A. away. But Cleopatra insists A. is a god and her honor was not yielded, only conquered. Enobarbus debates abandoning A. and exits. Cleopatra tells Thidias she will lay her crown before Caesar's feet and will hear of Egypt's fate from him.

A. arrives and, learning of Thidias' mission against him, orders him whipped. He berates Cleopatra for betraying him (by agreeing to do Caesar's bidding) and curses her, to her great dismay. The whipped Thidias is brought back in, and A. tells him "Get thee back to Caesar. / Tell him thy entertainment. Look thou say / He makes me angry with him; for he seems / Proud and disdainful, harping on what I am, / Not what he knew I was." He laments "Alack, our terrene moon is now eclipsed, / And it portends alone the fall of Antony." Cleopatra tells him he does not know her true intentions. A. is heartened and resolves to resume the fight against Caesar by land. Before he goes to battle, he wants to have one more gaudy night and celebrate, courageously declaring "Come on, my queen, / There's sap in 't yet. The next time I do fight / I'll make death love me, for I will contend / Even with his pestilent scythe." Enobarbus is now ready to leave A.

Act IV

Act IV Scene 1

Caesar's camp. The whipped messenger has returned, Caesar scorns the challenge to personal combat. He plans to fight the next day, and orders a feast for his army.

Act IV Scene 2

Alexandria, Cleopatra's palace. A. learns Caesar will not accept the foolish challenge. He calls for the banquet and enjoys the fellowship of his men, saying ominously they may serve another master tomorrow. Enobarbus questions the wisdom of his pessimistic words, and A. reverts to an assurance that they will be victorious tomorrow.

Act IV Scene 3

Alexandria, before the palace. Soldiers discuss the upcoming war. They hear music and think it means the god Hercules [from whom he claims descent] is abandoning A.

Act IV Scene 4

Alexandria, Cleopatra's palace. A. calls for his armor from Eros and Cleopatra help to put it on him. He wishes she could fully appreciate the royal art of warfare. The morning will be fair. He speaks somewhat fatalistically, kisses her and says "I'll leave thee now like a man of steel".

Act IV Scene 5

Antony's camp before Alexandria. A. learns from a soldier that Enobarbus has gone over to Caesar without taking his belongings, and generously requests "Go, Eros, send his treasure after. Do it. / Detain no jot, I charge thee. Write to him-- / I will subscribe--gentle adieus and greetings. / Say that I wish he never find more cause / To change a master. O, my fortunes have / Corrupted honest men!"

Act IV Scene 6

Caesar's camp before Alexandria. Caesar want A. captured alive and predicts a time of universal peace [the Pax Romana] will soon arrive. He is told A. is in the field, and orders that the lead troops charging against A. should be those who deserted A. so that "Antony may seem to spend his fury / Upon himself". Enobarbus receives his treasure from A. via a soldier and expresses remorse at having abandoned such a noble man. He resolves not to fight against A.

Act IV Scene 7

Field of battle between the two camps. The battle seems to be going favorably for A.

Act IV Scene 8

Same (battlefield before Alexandria). A. says they have beat Caesar. Cleopatra arrives and they embrace after he praises Scarus to her, saying Scarus has fought as if a god.

Act IV Scene 9

Caesar's camp, night. Enobarbus appears and expresses repentance with the moon as witness, then dies. Watchmen carry his body away.

Act IV Scene 10

The battlefield. A. learns the next battle will be by both land and sea, and plans to man the galleys.

Act IV Scene 11

Field of battle. Caesar plans to fight by land [? apparently having deceived A. as to his intentions]

Act IV Scene 12

Field of battle initially, then prob. in Alexandria. A sea fight is taking place in the distance. A. learns from Scarus that a swallow has built its nest in Cleopatra's sails, which they take as a bad omen. A. is both hopeful and fearful. A. returns lamenting that the Egyptian fleet has yielded to the foe, and that the two sides now carouse together like "friends long lost". He blames Cleopatra, thinking she has betrayed him. He knows he will see no more sunrises. 

Cleopatra enters and he bitterly tells her to leave. He wishes her one death might have prevented all this. He suspects she will die by Caesar as will he. 

Act IV Scene 13

Prob. Alexandria. Cleopatra cries to her women for assistance against Antony, whom she thinks has gone mad. Charmian tells her to hide in her monument, and she tells Mardian to tell A. that she has killed herself.

Act IV Scene 14

Prob. Alexandria. A. speaks to Eros about how clouds are changeable even as his own shape cannot be maintained now that he is faced with his queen's suspected betrayal. He is deciding to kill himself. Mardian enters and announces Cl. loved him and has killed herself. He calls for Eros to remove his armor. He calls out "I come, my queen". He wants Eros to kill him, but instead Eros kills himself. A. sees that the valiant Eros has set the proper example for him, and falls on his own sword. He does not immediately die. Guards arrives, one saying Cleopatra has sent him. A. is surprised to learn she is still alive and in her monument. She feared that he might kill himself on learning she was dead and wanted him to know she still lives and has not betrayed him. A. asks to be carried to her.

Act IV Scene 15

Alexandria, in Cleopatra's monument. She resolves not to leave ever again. Diomedes appears below with the wounded A. She fears being captured and will not leave the monument, but finally agrees to draw him up. She kisses him. He tells her to trust of Caesar's men only Proculeius . He dies and she faints. Reviving, she rails against the gods and makes plans to bury A.'s body.

Act V

Act V Scene 1

Alexandria, Caesar's camp. Caesar tells Dolabella to command A. to surrender. Antony's follower Dercetus enters with A.'s sword and says he is dead. Caesar is taken aback at the suddenness of this news, which lacks suitable fanfare. Caesar weeps. Of A. Maecenas says "His taints and honors / Waged equal with him" and Agrippa says "A rarer spirit never did steer humanity; but you gods will give us some faults to make us men." Caesar laments the loss of his "mate in empire".

A messenger arrives to say Cleopatra is confined in her monument and awaits instructions. Caesar sends reassuring words via Proculeius. Caesar actually plans to take her back and display her in Rome and wants to avert any attempt at suicide.

Act V Scene 2

Cleopatra's monument. She is planning her suicide. Proculeius comes and Cleopatra asks of him that her son be given Egypt to rule. He is very reassuring. She will be Caesar's vassal. But Roman soldiers approach from behind and capture her, acting on Proculeius' instructions (confirming that even he cannot be trusted despite Antony's assurance). As she tries to stab herself, they disarm her. She says "I will not wait pinioned at your master's court" and expresses her desire to die. Proculeius leaves her with Dolabella. Dolabella speak with her privately, and acknowledges Caesar will likely display her in Rome.

Caesar arrives and again gives reassuring words to her but warns her that her children will die if she kills herself. She present to him a list of her belongings and wealth. But her treasurer Seleucus says she has held back from revealing much of her wealth. She claims this was merely so she could provide presents for Livia and Octavia, etc. and is angry with Seleucus. Caesar says he will do with her what she requests. She makes a secret request of Charmian. Dolabella returns and tells her truthfully that Caesar plans to go back through Syria and plans to send her and her children ahead rather than leave her in Egypt as she desires. Cleopatra envisions how she will be abused and mocked in Rome. Iras resolves to never see this and says she will scratch out her own eyes.

Cleopatra calls for her best attire. A clown enters with a basket of figs, and there is some bawdy discussion. Iras enters and the women dress her in her royal attire. Cleopatra thinks she hears A. call and says "Husband, I come". Iras falls and dies [of what?], and Cleopatra wonders "Have I the aspic in my lips? Dost fall? / If thou and nature can so gently part, / The stroke of death is as a lover's pinch, / Which hurts, and is desired." She applies an asp from the basket to her breast, saying it is "my baby at my breast, / That sucks the nurse asleep." She applies another to her arm. Charmian refers to her as a "lass unparalleled." and applies an asp to herself as guards enter. The guards realize that Caesar has been beguiled. Caesar returns and observes her bravery and how the women seem merely to sleep. He resolves "She shall be buried by her Antony. / No grave upon the earth shall clip in it / A pair so famous. High events as these / Strike those that make them; and their story is / No less in pity than his glory which / Brought them to be lamented. Our army shall / In solemn show attend this funeral, / And then to Rome. Come, Dolabella, see / High order in this great solemnity."