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Antony and Cleopatra | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Antony and Cleopatra | Act 2, Scene 1 | Summary



In his house in Messina, Pompey is strategizing with Menas and Menecrates. If the gods are just, says Pompey, they'll reward a person whose cause is just. But Menas reminds Pompey even when the gods favor someone, they don't necessarily reward that person speedily; wise gods sometimes deny rewards to individuals for their own good. But Pompey is confident of victory. He is popular and controls a powerful navy at the same time as Antony is distracted by love, and Caesar is losing people's respect. Pompey adds that although Lepidus flatters both Antony and Caesar, he loves neither, "nor either cares for him."

When Menas says Caesar and Lepidus are "in the [battle] field," Pompey is unconcerned. The two men may expect Antony's arrival in Rome, but Antony is too besotted to leave his "field of feasts." In the middle of Pompey's speech, Varrius enters and confirms the rumor is true: Antony is en route to Rome. Though Pompey is surprised "this amorous surfeiter would have donned his helm[et] for such a petty war," he remains calm. After all, he points out, Antony's involvement could be interpreted as a sign he takes Pompey seriously. Menas does not think Caesar will welcome Antony. After all, Antony's late wife and his brother led an insurrection against Caesar. Pompey refuses to speculate about this.


This brief scene introduces Pompey and provides an update on the progress of the battle. Pompey's first line concerns justice, so it may appear his cause is just. But the main characters are multidimensional, and Pompey will later be shown to care more about being perceived as a just ruler than about being one. Nevertheless at this point he seems confident he is in the right and confident he will win.

When Menas says Caesar and Lepidus are already on the battlefield, Pompey outright answers, "Tis false," a response in line with his boundless optimism about his prospects. He then treats himself to a description of Cleopatra in which he stresses her witchlike qualities more than her beauty. He suggests Antony is not so much a hedonist trapped by his own appetites as a prisoner under Cleopatra's spell. Antony's brain is "fuming"; he's being fed food that will never satiate him; he's in danger of falling into a Lethe-like sleep. (In Greek and Roman mythology drinking from the Lethe—a river in the underworld—caused people to forget the past.) Here is yet another male perspective in which a powerful female is thought dangerous.

Forced to accept the bad news that Antony actually is on his way to Rome, Pompey wonders if the reason for the journey is that members of the triumvirate fear him. This passage suggests Pompey is skilled at turning negatives into positives, but it is too early to know if the suggestion is true. He seems realistic as well as optimistic. "How the fear of us / May cement their divisions and bind up / The petty differences, we yet not know." Although he himself has just wondered if the members of the triumvirate fear him, he seems to say here, "Live in the present. We can't control the future." All they can do is fight their hardest.

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