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

Summary

At the beginning of the scene, in Rome, Lepidus meets briefly with Antony's friend Enobarbus. He asks Enobarbus to suggest to Antony that he exercise some tact and gentleness when he meets with Caesar. But Enobarbus, who is aware that Antony will not accept any suggestion that would make him appear weak to his rival, retorts that Antony will answer Caesar's questions in a manner worthy of himself. Antony will not demean himself to Caesar; if necessary, he will "speak as loud as Mars."

Caesar and Antony and their attendants enter, and Lepidus urges them to reaffirm their alliance before the security of the empire is destroyed. To emphasize the gravity of the situation, he uses the image of a surgeon who kills his patient by treating him too roughly; he hopes that this metaphor will vividly reveal what might happen to Rome if the two men don't mend their differences. He further compares the petty quarrels of Caesar and Antony to a minor wound; it would be a pity, he says, to lose the patient as a result.

The two rivals greet each other politely and proceed to discuss their problems. Antony asks Caesar directly if his (Antony's) living in Egypt has bothered Caesar. Caesar hesitates; he denies that he cares where Antony lives, unless Antony's purpose in living far from Rome was to "practice on my state" — that is, to plot against Caesar. This is a far different statement that Caesar makes in Antony's presence, compared to the bold words he used earlier when he was damning Antony's actions to Lepidus.

At this point, Antony asks Caesar what he meant when he used the word "practice." Caesar replies that he was referring to the attack made on him by Fulvia and Lucius Antony. Antony denies that he himself had any part in that plot, and he accuses Caesar of attempting to find a ground for a quarrel where none exists.

Having gotten nowhere with his arguments, Caesar says that he felt personally slighted when Antony refused to receive his ambassadors, an incident that we ourselves witnessed in the opening scene of the play. Since this accusation is true, Antony doesn't dispute it. On the contrary, he attempts to be conciliatory, without conceding any more than he has to.

Maecenas, an officer of Caesar's, suggests a change of subject, and Enobarbus adds that they should save their petty disagreements for a time when Pompey is no longer a threat. Antony tells Enobarbus to "speak no more." Since Enobarbus is only a soldier and not a statesman, he should not attempt to give advice to his superiors. Enobarbus responds by saying that he had forgotten that "truth should be silent," and that out of consideration for Antony he will be a "considerate stone," or, more colloquially, as "dumb as a stone."

Now that the generals' differences have been aired, Agrippa, a friend of Caesar's, suggests that their differences could be healed by a marriage that would cement their alliance, a marriage that would stand as a pledge of loyalty between them. He proposes that a marriage should be arranged between Antony (now a widower and, therefore, free to marry) and Caesar's sister, Octavia. Such a marriage would show the world the solidarity of the Triumvirate and would increase public confidence in their rule. Caesar watches to see how Antony reacts to the idea, and when he sees that Antony agrees to it immediately, he too gives his approval. Thus the two men shake hands to seal the agreement.

The discussion then turns to the subject of their common enemy, Pompey. Pompey's main strength is derived from his sea power because of his great naval fleet. At last, Antony is fully aware of the imminence of Pompey's threat, and he urges them all to make plans to face Pompey as soon as possible and defeat him before his power increases even more.

With their differences settled for the time being, the three triumvirs exit, leaving behind their officers, Enobarbus, Maecenas, and Agrippa. At this point, Enobarbus tells the others about Egypt, describing the luxury in which he and Antony lived. He describes Cleopatra, recalling one incident in particular, when she was sailing on the Nile in an elegant barge. From this description, it is possible to see how Antony could be so entranced by Cleopatra.

Enobarbus also describes one of the first times that the lovers met. Antony had invited Cleopatra to dine with him, but she insisted that she provide a dinner for him. Of course, he accepted. Comparing this meal to a dinner bought in a tavern, Enobarbus comments, without exaggeration, that Antony paid the bill with his heart.

Maecenas comments that it will be a sad thing indeed if Antony must now give up Cleopatra, since he is about to marry Octavia, but Enobarbus replies that Antony will never be able to leave Cleopatra, for no other woman can match her charm and beauty. Maecenas is not so sure; he says that if any woman can compare with Cleopatra, the beautiful and equally charming Octavia can. The scene ends with Enobarbus's accepting Agrippa's invitation to stay at his house while he and Antony are in Rome.

Analysis

This scene focuses on power, its psychology and its strategies. The language concerns politics and negotiation, with the key emphasis here on vantage status. Shakespeare's description of the dispute between the triumvirs as being similar to "murder [committed] in healing wounds" reflects the playwright's concern with the way in which nations are governed, and also the wit with which he can draw back and describe the situation so that we can see the dangers and the emotions involved.

The bickering in this scene, coupled with the astronomical illusions of the preceding scene with Pompey, suggest the precariousness of men's fortunes and the extent to which they are guided, often wrongly, by a lust for power.

Lepidus acts as a go-between to some extent — that is, he hopes that this meeting will enable Antony and Caesar to resolve their differences. Realistically, of course, he fears that the pride and the quick tempers of both men might interfere with any lasting reconciliation. In particular, he knows that Antony can only manipulate with great tact, and he does not think that the young Caesar, who at the moment feels as if he has been slighted, realizes this.

Although both generals pride themselves on their skill at high-level political negotiating, their egos, rather than their reason, appear to dominate this debate. The audience is left with an impression of totally useless and petty bickering. Caesar is obviously a testy and suspicious young man; he trusts no one, and while this is not an endearing quality, it will ultimately help him succeed in the world of politics and in his struggle for power.

This proposed marriage between Octavia and Antony involves yet another sharp difference in the two worlds of love and politics: in the scenes set in Egypt, we clearly saw that Antony and Cleopatra were genuinely attracted to each other. However, this Roman marriage between Octavia and Antony is a purely political alliance. Antony and Octavia hardly know each other. Love has no part in this union and, here, Shakespeare is emphasizing the political views of the powerful, practical Romans. This was no imaginative plot complication; power is a strong aphrodisiac.

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