Antony and Cleopatra By William Shakespeare Summary and Analysis Act I: Scene 2

Summary

This scene also takes place in Cleopatra's palace in Alexandria. Cleopatra's servants are talking to a fortuneteller (a soothsayer) and are trying to get him to predict how they will all fare in love. Charmian and Iras, two of Cleopatra's attendants, and Alexas, one of her male attendants, are trying to get the soothsayer to specify their futures. He avoids direct answers, however, and instead, predicts that Charmian will outlive her mistress, Cleopatra. Enobarbus, a friend to Antony and an officer in his army (and also something of a cynic), is also present, and he interrupts the chatter of the servants when he hears someone coming. It is Cleopatra, looking for Antony. She says that Antony was mirthful until a "Roman thought" struck him and destroyed his happy mood.

Antony enters then, accompanied by a messenger, but Cleopatra and her attendants leave before he sees them. The messenger describes to Antony the outcome of a battle involving Antony's brother, Lucius, and Antony's wife, Fulvia, against Caesar. Lucius and Fulvia, formerly enemies, united forces in order to defeat Caesar, but failed.

The messenger has more to say, but he hesitates to speak plainly. Antony assures him that he need not mince words and bids him to give his message, even to the point of describing Cleopatra as she is talked about in Rome (for this is why Antony thinks that the messenger is hesitant): " . . . mince not the general tongue / Name Cleopatra as she is call'd in Rome."

Another messenger enters and gives Antony a letter telling him that his wife, Fulvia, is dead and explaining what has happened. For a moment, Antony is overcome with remorse.

Enobarbus, Antony's lieutenant, enters then, and Antony tells him that they must prepare to leave for Rome. Enobarbus quips that if they leave, all the women will suffer and perhaps die from their absence. Antony, however, appears determined to forsake all of the enchantments of Egypt and return home. Enobarbus, at first, cannot imagine why Antony has had such a sudden change of heart, but then Antony reveals to him that Fulvia is dead.

Still, however, Enobarbus looks upon the whole matter rather cynically and tells Antony not to feel so bad; after all, Antony lost a wife he didn't want, and he now has a lover whom he does want: "This grief is crowned with consolation; your old smock brings forth a new petticoat." Enobarbus's comments, however, are ill-timed, for Antony is no longer in his usual devil-may-care mood, and he does not take Fulvia's death as lightly as his earlier behavior had led Enobarbus to expect: "No more light answers," Antony says, as he refuses to let his friend treat Fulvia's death flippantly. Furthermore, these events serve to remind Antony not to neglect his duties entirely. He resolves to return to Rome and see to business. For the time being, he must give up the pleasures of Egypt.

Analysis

Scene 2 introduces us to some of the minor characters, and it also includes a conversation about the nature of love. Thus, the main theme of the play remains in the foreground. The servants' witty, if somewhat cynical, treatment of the subject of love contrasts considerably with the exalted declarations of love that were made in the opening scene. An additional touch of dramatic irony is added when Charmian is exceedingly pleased at the idea that she will live longer than her mistress; little does she realize that her mistress will soon be dead.

Cleopatra's troubled comments about Antony's change of mood are characterized by her reference to Antony's "Roman thought." In Elizabethan times, the term "Roman" was often used because it was believed that the Romans as a nation were typically serious and devoted to duty (the theme of Virgil's Aeneid); thus, here, Cleopatra may be suggesting that Antony's thought was consistent with that sort of character; another possibility is that Antony was reminded of business which had to do with Rome — that is, his thoughts were about Rome; he literally had a "Roman thought."

Antony's demeanor is changed upon learning of the death of his wife, Fulvia. Immediately, he regrets that he once wished for her death. He sorrowfully remarks, "There's a great spirit gone!" Antony's guilt, to some extent, appears to spur his resolve to leave Egypt and return to Rome. When Enobarbus cynically comments upon the effect which their departure will have upon the women, Antony is not amused, and in contrast with his earlier speeches, where he seemed to be prepared to give up everything for the sake of love, he now seems quite willing to do just the opposite. Antony does not fear that Cleopatra will "die"; she is cunning, he says, echoing Enobarbus's comment that he has seen "her die twenty times upon far poorer moment" (for Shakespeare's audience, this allusion to dying possibly refers to the ecstasies of love, the moment of sexual climax which the Elizabethans often poetically likened to death).

In conclusion, Scene 2 basically shows the conflicting desires that struggle for dominance within Antony. He feels torn between his duties at home and his love for the Egyptian queen, and worse, he believes that he will never be able to reconcile these two passions. Yet he knows that, ultimately, he must choose one or the other. We also see contrasted in this scene the frivolity and the sensuality of life in Egypt, as typified by the games played by the servants with the soothsayer, and, in addition, we glimpse the troubled and serious world of the Romans, dominated by politics, not by love. Antony, too, senses the contrast, making plausible his sudden resolve to return to Rome and to more important matters.

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