Summary and Analysis
Shakespeare next focuses on several battle scenes. The first opens at Antony's camp, where Antony, Cleopatra, and Enobarbus are planning their strategy. The main issue concerns whether or not they will fight Caesar on land or on sea. Against his better judgment, Antony chooses to fight Caesar on the sea.
As the scene opens, Enobarbus bitterly chides Cleopatra for being present on the battlefield. She retorts that since Rome has declared war on her and Antony, she has the right to be present.
Antony and Canidius enter, and Antony reports on Caesar's past victories at sea. Cleopatra chides her lover for not taking swifter action against Caesar, and Antony agrees: if Caesar chooses to fight 'by the sea," Antony will do likewise; Antony's valor is at stake. Caesar "dares us to it," he says. Enobarbus objects that this is poor planning, that Antony's forces are not as well-equipped to take to the sea as Caesar's are. Caesar's men, he says, are experienced, and his ships are light and swift. By comparison, Antony's forces have been hastily drawn together, and many of them are inexperienced in battle. But Antony impulsively insists on a sea battle. He will not retreat from Caesar's challenge.
Enobarbus, Antony's loyal advisor and friend, again patiently tries to explain that if Antony pursues this course of action he will "throw away the absolute soldiership [he has] by land." But Antony replies again, "I'll fight at sea." The length and patience of Enobarbus's speeches and the repetition and brevity of Antony's replies all illustrate Antony's impulsiveness. He doesn't offer a reason why he feels that a battle on the sea is a good choice; he simply insists upon it. At this point, Cleopatra offers him the use of sixty ships, and he accepts.
A soldier enters and begs Antony not to fight Caesar at sea. But Antony rejects this advice. Antony, Cleopatra, and Enobarbus leave then, and the unnamed soldier and Canidius remain. The two men blame Antony's foolish and headstrong decisions on Cleopatra's influence. There is, of course, reason enough to accept their evaluation of the situation, but we should be careful to assess these characters' opinions. Shakespeare does not allow any single character in this play to speak as an all-knowing mouthpiece. Rather, he gives us a variety of viewpoints and lets the audience discern where the truth of the drama lies and what the decisive motivations are for the action.