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Antony and Cleopatra | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Antony and Cleopatra | Act 1, Scene 3 | Summary



Cleopatra fretfully dispatches Alexas to track Antony down, warning him not to tell Antony she sent him. "If you find him sad, / Say I am dancing." Charmian tells the Queen she should be more pliant, but Cleopatra scoffs at this advice. When Antony enters, she is petulant. He's unfaithful; she's always known he would betray her; why doesn't he go back to Rome, if he thinks so little of her?

Finally Antony explains that Pompey is raising an army against the triumvirate and that he must return to Rome to sort things out with Caesar. Antony adds that a more important reason for his departure—a reason Cleopatra should approve of: Fulvia has died. At first Cleopatra affects not to believe this; then she rebukes Antony for not showing more grief at his wife's death. "Now I see, I see, / In Fulvia's death, how mine received shall be." Antony finally loses patience and announces he is leaving. Cleopatra swiftly calls him back to ask for his forgiveness—or semi-ask for it. "Your honor calls you hence," she admits, adding Antony should therefore be "deaf to my unpitied folly."


Perhaps something in Antony's face warns her he has bad news, for she attacks him the moment he walks into the room—and Fulvia is the first verbal weapon she uses. In only 22 lines (24–46), she goes from petulance to rage to studied and conspicuous grief. Antony has barely been able to open his mouth when Cleopatra mourns, "Eternity was in our lips and eyes." All is over, she seems to be saying, in what seems to be artificially stagey and poetic language.

The signs are clear that both Antony and Cleopatra view themselves as heroes on the world's stage, players in a larger-than-life drama. And Cleopatra is a born actor. She seizes any chance to play a part: now the abandoned lover, now the teasing flirt, now the furious ruler of Egypt. It's not clear how seriously Cleopatra takes her own moods. As she tells Charmian, she would lose Antony if she gave in to him all the time.

What does Charmian mean when she warns Cleopatra not to tempt Antony "so too far"? Charmian is suddenly and atypically serious here. "In time we hate that which we often fear" is a reference to Antony. He is not afraid of Cleopatra, but he dreads her tantrums, and Charmian is worried he finally will lose patience.

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