chapter  8
20 Pages

Well Done

Antony and Cleopatra
WithMarlena Tronicke

Antony and Cleopatra marks Shakespeare’s final and in many ways quintessential dramatisation of suicide. Coincidentally, it also showcases the highest amount of suicides. Apart from the title characters, Eros, Charmian, and Iras all kill themselves next to their respective master and mistress. And although not presented as a suicide, some even consider Enobarbus’s death within the same context. 1 The play not only puts emphasis on the preparations for suicide as well as its executions, but also carefully distinguishes between male and female suicides. Whereas female suicide is described as a clean, graceful act that leaves the body almost undamaged, male bodies end up as what Barbara Hodgdon aptly summarises as “broken, ruptured, mangled.” 2 The false rumour of Cleopatra’s suicide and the two protagonists’ actual suicides immediately remind of Romeo and Juliet, although re-imagined with a change of key. Accordingly, the play’s comic elements, both in the generic and tonal sense, have received extensive commentary. 3 Unlike Romeo and Juliet, Antony and Cleopatra die separately. Whereas Antony already kills himself in 4.15, Cleopatra stays alive until the final scene. The preparations and execution of her suicide are dragged out over the entire fifth act; conventionally, this prominent position is reserved for the tragic hero.