Antony and Cleopatra By William Shakespeare Summary and Analysis Act III: Scene 11

Summary

Instead of staying to battle Caesar's forces, Antony is defeated in battle when he follows Cleopatra's sudden retreat. He is despondent and is not comforted even when Cleopatra enters and tries to soothe him. On the contrary, he is so ashamed of his cowardice that to some extent he places the blame upon her. Cleopatra apologizes, but there is, in fact, nothing to apologize for; obviously, Antony cares for her above all else. For this, no apology is possible. He changes the subject and tells her that he has sent Euphronius, their children's tutor, as an ambassador to request the terms of a peace treaty.

Analysis

In one sense, Antony is at his weakest and most pitiful in this scene. He is utterly defeated because of his own poor judgment (or perhaps his cowardice), and yet he cannot resist making excuses; in particular, he thinks that it is possible that he was so bewitched by "Egypt" that his judgment was affected. Yet at the same time, he is aware that this is only partly true: his defeat was also the result of his own choice — that is, he placed Cleopatra above all else in his life. And in the end, he says he is not sorry that he made this choice. Of course, ideally, he would have liked to have won the battle and spent as much time as possible with Cleopatra, but he failed. He tried, however, and one can easily suspect that a part of Antony's shame comes from the knowledge that he was defeated by a young upstart for whom he had little respect. Underestimating Caesar was an error that he, an experienced soldier, should have foreseen and avoided.

Antony's unfortunately underrated estimate of his enemy focuses, at times, on imaginative fantasy. Caesar, he says, behaved in battle unlike a soldier. He says that Caesar held his sword "like a dancer," meaning that he wore it more as an ornament than used it as a warrior. Still rationalizing, Antony also accuses Caesar of having depended on his lieutenants rather than getting involved in the actual fighting himself. These are scenes of frustration, confusion, and self-pity. Antony prided himself in being a rational general. His love for Cleopatra has changed that, and in the next few scenes, at times he will seem to be petty, over-critical, and often too eager to make excuses for himself. That this is probably the result of his defeat and not a part of his normal personality is shown by Iras's comment that Antony is "unqualitied with very shame" — that is, he is not acting like himself because of the great shame that he suffers.

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