Today we’re going to take a look at one of Cleopatras final speeches. This is an opportunity for the actor to explore heightened emotion and even higher stakes. It takes places quite far towards the end of the play, so as always it’s important to understand the context of what we’ll be performing. Let’s take a look…
So when we start the play Antony, one of Rome’s triumvirs along with Octavius and Lepidus has been hanging out with Cleopatra in Alexandria and kind of neglecting his stately duties in Rome, one of which is the fact that his third wife Fulvia, after rebelling against Octavius has died.
So they call him back to Rome to come and help them fight these three notorious pirates called Sextus Pompey, Menecrates, and Menas, who are causing all sorts of shenanigans in the mediterranean sea. Cleopatra begs Antony not to go, but reassuring her of his love for her, he leaves anyway.
So the three men meet in Rome, and Octavius and Antony put aside their differences. Agrippa, one of Octavius’ Generals suggests that Antony marries Octavius’ sister, Octavia, in order to strengthen the bond between them. Antony accepts the offer, but his General Enobarbus knows better than that, and says that Antony will never be satisfied by anyone else, now that he has been with Cleopatra.
A soothsayer warns Antony that if he ever is to fight Octavius, he is for sure, going to lose.
Meanwhile back in Alexandria, Cleopatra receives news of Antony’s marriage to Octavia. And as the old saying goes “shoot the messenger”. So she takes it out on them. However she’s calmed when her courtiers inform her that she’s not as good looking as her.
Now back to Rome, or more specifically, the mediterranean sea. Before the battle with the pirates the three triumvirs parley with Sextus Pompey and offer a truce. He can keep Sicily and Sardinia in exchange for helping them to rid the sea of all the other pirates. Re hesitates but ultimately agrees to the truce. So they party down on his ship. Octavius leaves the party early and sober. Soon after Antony departs Rome for Athens. Later, Menas suggests that Sextus kill all three of the triumvirs and claim Rome for himself, but Sextus disagrees saying it would be dishonourable. Well guess how that worked out for old Sextus? That’s right he gets betrayed. Octavius and Lepidus break the truce and war against him. Antony finds out about this later and is very very not happy about it, some would say mad.
So he goes back to Alexandria and crowns himself and Cleopatra as the rulers of both Egypt and the Eastern Roman empire, you know, his part of it. He accuses Octavius of not giving him his fair share of the Sextus’ lands and is furious that Lepidus has been imprisoned and kicked out of the triumvirate. Octavius agrees to give him the land but is super mad about what Antony has done.
So Antony prepares to go to war with Octavius. Enobarbus thinks Antony should fight on land where he’ll have the advantage but Antony disagrees, saying he’ll fight Octavius at sea because he triple-dog-dared him to fight there. Cleopatra offers Antony her fleet of ships to aid in the battle and he accepts. And so it’s war time, and the battle of Actium takes place off the western coast of Greece. But Cleoptra changes her mind last minute and flees with her sixty ships. Antony flees with her leaving his soldiers, sailors and ships to ruin. He’s ashamed at what he’s done in the name of love, and reproaches Cleopatra for making him a coward, but reconciles with her, devoting himself to her and her love.
Later Octavius sends a message to Cleopatra saying she should switch sides. Cleopatra flirts with the messenger only to be interrupted by Antony who is quite cross about it. So she sends the messenger to be whipped. Eventually he forgives her and pledges to fight another battle for her, this time on land.
On the eve of the battle, the soldiers hear strange portents which they assume must be the God Hercules abandoning Antony’s army. Enobarbus gets so spooked that he decides to switch sides and go join Octavius. When Antony finds out, instead of confiscating his goods which he left behind, he sends them to him. When Enobarbus receives them he feels so ashamed about what he’s done that he dies of a broken heart.
Antony loses the battle, and his troops abandon him en masse. He denounces Cleopatra, and decides to kill her for what he believes to be treachery. Cleopatra hatches a plan to win back his love by pretending to kill herself. And so she saens word to him, and locks herself away in her monument, awaiting his return.
So that doesn’t work, it instead sends Antony into a blind grief where instead of going to see her he decides to himself too. He asks one of his soldiers, Eros, to run a sword through him and the soldier can’t bring himself to do it, so he puts a sword through himself instead. Antony admires this, and tries to do it himself, but as he has done a lot throughout the play, he fails, and only wounds himself. Learning that Cleopatra is alive, he is hoisted up to her monument where he dies in her arms…
No more but e’en a woman, and commanded
By such poor passion as the maid that milks
And does the meanest chares. It were for me
To throw my sceptre at the injurious gods
To tell them that this world did equal theirs
Till they had stolen our jewel. All’s but naught;
Patience is sottish, and impatience does
Become a dog that’s mad. Then is it sin
To rush into the secret house of death
Ere death dare come to us? How do you, women?
What, what, good cheer! Why, how now, Charmian?
My noble girls! Ah, women, women! Look
Our lamp is spent, it’s out. Good sirs, take heart,
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. Come, away.
This case of that huge spirit now is cold.
Ah, women, women! Come, we have no friend
But resolution and the briefest end.
I am now nothing but an ordinary woman,
And I’m driven by the same emotions as any ordinary milkmaid with ordinary chores.
It would be fitting for me to throw my sceptre at the gods and proclaim this world as good as theirs until they took away the greatest man here.
It’s all worthless; patience is stupid, and being impatient is a quick way to become like a mad dog. If that’s true, then is it sinful to die before death comes for us?
How are you ladies? What? Be happy! How are you, Charmain? My noble women! Oh women, women! Oh look, our lamp’s gone out. My friends, listen.
We’ll bury him and then whatever is courageous and noble, we’ll do it like the old Romans, and die so honourably that death will be proud to take us.
Let’s go. The body that held that noble soul is cold now. Oh women! Women! Come on. We have no option but to be resolute and die quickly.
Notes on Performance
This is a chance to go all in on high stakes and heightened emotion. Cleopatra is experiencing a tragic, tragic loss in her life and feels like her world has fallen apart.
Keep in mind her history with Antony and the bond the two shared. Connect to that and see where that emotion takes you.
Always be aware of the given circumstances of whatever scene you’re doing.
Once you answer those questions, connect to their answers and stay in the scene.
For more Female Shakespeare Monologues