Death as the dramatic climax to a staged life

BMJ 2003; 327 doi: (Published 24 July 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;327:220
  1. Birte Twisselmann
  1. BMJ

    In Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, the Egyptian queen stages her own death by suicide from snakebite as the climax and apotheosis of a life that she engineers like consummate drama throughout the play. Magnificently attired and composed, as befits a queen, she envisages a transition to an afterlife in which she will be reunited with her lover, Antony, who has predeceased her. Her passage into immortality will bestow a quasi-mythical status of marriage on the two. She conjures up their grand passion and characterises herself in all her exotic, pagan glory in the first part of her farewell speech:

    Give me my robe, put on my crown;

    I have

    Immortal longings in me. Now no more

    The juice of Egyverse-linet's graverse-linee shall moist this liverse-line.

    Yare, yare, good Iras; quick. Methinks I hear

    Antony call. I see him rouse himself

    To praise my noble act. I hear him mock

    The luck of Caesar, which the gods give men

    To excuse their after wrath. Husband, I come.

    Now to that name my courage verse-linerove my title!

    I am fire and air, my other elements

    I give to baser life. So, have you done?

    Come then, and take the last warmth of my liverse-lines.

    Farewell, kind Charmian. Iras, long farewell…

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