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SCENE SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
ACT V, SCENE 1
Caesar, upon hearing from Dercetes that Antony has killed himself, reacts with pity, acknowledges him as a skilled warrior and a remarkable statesman, calls him "brother" and "my mate in empire," and says that "a rarer spirit never / Did steer humanity." An Egyptian messenger, sent by Cleopatra, enters and asks about Caesar's intentions for the Egyptian queen. Caesar claims that Cleopatra has nothing to fear from him. His only plan is to lead her in a victory procession through Rome.
Caesar is genuinely touched by Antony's death and praises him as friend, soldier, politician, and leader. The genuineness of his emotion is validated by Agrippa's statement that "Caesar is touched."
ACT V, SCENE 2
Cleopatra is in a state of abject despair and dejection after Antony's death. Proculieus, the only man that Antony had said could be trusted, proves treacherous. He takes Cleopatra captive and stations guards outside her monument. He snatches away the dagger by which Cleopatra attempts to take her life. Cleopatra is enraged and tells Proculieus that there are other ways of dying. She says that she will stop eating and starve to death.
Dolabella arrives and tells Proculieus that he will guard Cleopatra. From Dolabella, Cleopatra learns that Caesar intends to lead her in a victory procession through Rome. Cleopatra tells him about her dream in which Antony appeared as a god-like figure of epic proportions: "His legs bestir'd the ocean; his rear'd arm / Crested the world." Caesar then arrives at the monument with his famous question, "Which is the queen of Egypt?" When Cleopatra kneels before him, Caesar treats her affably, raising her from her knees. He then warns her not to attempt suicide.
Cleopatra gives Caesar an inventory of her possession, including her money, her plates, and her jewels. She calls Seleculus, her treasurer, to verify her accounting. He betrays her and declares that she has left out enough to purchase what she has included. In exasperation, she admits that she has left out a few things, which she wanted to give as gifts to Caesar's wife and his sister. Caesar makes light of the incident and departs.
Dolabella re-enters and tells Cleopatra that Caesar plans to set out for Syria and to take her and her children with him. Repelled by the thought of becoming the object of the gibes of Roman rabble, she declares that she is going to join Antony and puts on her finest garments. In response to her summons, a clown brings a basket of figs in which some asps are hidden. Her devoted waiting-women kiss her a tearful farewell. Cleopatra then applies one asp to her breast and another to her arm. She then jestingly says, "Dost thou not see my baby at my breast, that sucks the nurse asleep?" She dies tranquilly along with her maid Charmian. Upon returning to the monument and seeing the bodies, Caesar orders that Cleopatra be buried in the same grave as Antony.
The last scene resolves the tensions of the play and ends on a note of high tragedy. After the death of Antony, the play is dominated by the grieving and pathetic figure of Cleopatra, who is confined to her monument that literally becomes her tomb. As she contemplates her fate, she gives several reasons for committing suicide. She feels that she cannot bear to live without Antony and cannot fathom the thought of being paraded through the streets of Rome as a prisoner or living as Caesar's captive. She also sees the act of killing herself as noble and dignified, calling it "high Roman fashion." The only thing that relieves the high tension of the scene is Cleopatra's attitude. As she converses with the clown, there is almost a comic tone in her voice. She also jokes about the asp she places on her chest, calling it "my baby at my breast." The lightness of her tone, however, does nothing to take away the tragedy of the deaths of Antony and Cleopatra.