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O, is thou Death Noble?
To die a noble death would be to die righteously and dignified. In Antony and Cleopatra, neither Antony nor Cleopatra died noble deaths. Though their deaths are different, their reasons for choosing to die are still very similar. Both committed suicide for “love”, guilt, and not to suffer at the hand of Cesar. Their reasons for committing suicide prove both of their deaths were not virtuous.
Antony’s death was in some ways expected. He was doing poorly in war and Cesar was looking to kill him. Before Antony kills himself he commits a dishonorable act. In the midst of fighting he retreats to go after Cleopatra, because he did this his integrity as a leader was disgraced. He could not deal with shame he would receive, therefore increasing his motive to kill himself. Cleopatra’s betrayal also leads Antony to anger and he tells her, “Vanish, or I shall give thee thy deserving and blemish Caesar’s triumph. Let him take thee and hoist thee up to the shouting plebeians; follow his chariot, like the greatest spot of all they sex” (IV.xii.)! Cleopatra frantic and depressed decided to send Antony a message that she has killed herself and spoke of no one but him. Antony’s love for Cleopatra is very clear, “I made these wars for Egypt, and the queen, whose heart I thought I had, for she had mine” (IV.xiv.15). He could not live with out her or knowing he was partially responsible for Cleopatra’s “death” was the final straw that drove Antony to kill himself.
Antony tries to get Eros to kill him, but when Eros kills himself so he would not have to kill Antony, Antony finally takes matters into his own hands. Falling on his sword, Antony thought he would die a speedy death but he did not. His death was drawn out, which was clearly not what he wanted. He cries out, “I learned of thee. How, not dead? Not dead? The guard, ho! O, dispatch me!...I have done my work ill friends. O, make and end of what I have begun” (IV.xiv.10). He then hears of Cleopatra’s fake death message and demands to be taken to her. There he tells her of his love for her and that he believes he is dying a noble death, “Wherein I lived the greatest prince o’ th’ world, the noblest and do not now basely die, not cowardly put off my helmet to my countryman. A Roman, by a Roman valiantly vanquished” (IV.xv.55). Antony believes since he was not killed by another that his death was noble and righteous.
Cleopatra sees Antony die and immediately blames herself for his death. Later when Cleopatra finds out that Cesar wants her as his war trophy she is not happy and says she will not be Cesar’s puppet or prize saying, “Rather a ditch in Egypt be gentle grave unto me! Rather on Nilus’ mud lay me stark nak’d and let the water flies blow into abhorring! Rather make my country’s high pyramides my gibbet and hang me in chains” (V.ii.57)! Clearly she will not live to be Cesar’s servant, she would rather die. She would rather commit suicide then be disgraced by Cesar. But the way Cleopatra decides to kill herself is not admirable. She chooses the easiest way she knows of, poisonous snakes. Cleopatra even asks the clown, “Hast thou the pretty worm of Nilus there, that kills and pains not” (V.ii.44)? She continues to take the snakes and apply them to her breast she instantly dies just as she wanted.
The fact that Antony and Cleopatra both die for “love” and guilt they put on the other is very ironic. Antony threatens Cleopatra and drives her to fake her death. With her fake death Cleopatra then drives Antony to really commit suicide which in return causes Cleopatra to kill herself. Dying for love would be seen as noble, but in this case it was more for guilt that both put on each other, therefore it can not be seen as noble. Antony could not bear to live knowing he drove Cleopatra to kill herself; at least he thought he had. Same with Cleopatra, after seeing Antony die in her arms; she could not live really knowing she was indirectly responsible for Antony’s death.
Also the fact that both Cleopatra and Antony died because neither of them wanted to suffer at the hand of Cesar, is cowardly. Since Antony was loosing the war, his country would be over taken by Cesar, as would Cleopatra’s. But Cesar did not just want the land and riches; he wanted Antony dead and Cleopatra as his prize. Neither would let themselves be disgraced in such a way. But was it more noble for them to kill themselves than to have been killed by Cesar, or become his wife?
For Antony and Cleopatra it was easier to commit suicide, which does not make their deaths noble. Even with committing suicide, both chose to die the easiest way they thought possible. Cleopatra’s death was preconceived which again makes it not virtuous. Antony’s death though, was not as preconceived as Cleopatra’s, was still was not noble because he was running away from his problems and did not want to accept the consequences that were before him. For Cleopatra and Antony, guilt and taking the “easy” way out deprived them of their lives and all hope of dying noble deaths.
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