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Antony and Cleopatra

". . . Fortune break her wheel." Antony and Cleopatra (4.15.52)


The Roman goddess Fortuna, personifying chance, distributes good and bad luck as she chooses. She is often pictured with an incessantly turning wheel, drawing a person up to a position of power and then casting him down again. The regulation of human destinies by Fortune's wheel was a popular conception even before Shakespeare's time.


In King Lear, the villainous Edmund, sensing death is near, uses the image of Fortune's wheel to indicate his awareness that he is again at the bottom of the rotation, where he began as a bastard. In Antony and Cleopatra, the Egyptian queen rages against Fortune when faced with Antony's imminent death, commanding the goddess to "break her wheel" and keep Cleopatra's lover alive. In The Winter's Tale , Perdita, euphoric in her love for Florizell but anxious about the difference in their social status, invokes Fortune's aid in bringing the couple happiness.

John Lydgate. Troy book. London, 1513 (Detail)

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