Antony and Cleopatra | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Antony and Cleopatra | Act 2, Scene 6 | Summary

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Summary

In Italy Pompey and Caesar agree to a truce rather than go to battle. Grievances are aired and threats made. Pompey wants to avenge his father, who was killed in Egypt. He admits he is inclined to accept the triumvirate's terms—rule over Sicily and Sardinia in exchange for getting rid of pirates and sending wheat to Rome as a tax—but is nursing a grievance against Antony. When Caesar was battling with Antony's brother, Antony's mother fled to Sicily where Pompey welcomed her. After Antony expresses gratitude for this gesture (he had not done so previously), the two men shake hands. Antony also thanks Pompey for (indirectly) bringing him back to Rome, where he belongs.

While the treaty is being drawn up, the four signers—Pompey, Caesar, Antony, and Lepidus—will take turns giving parties. The first will be on Pompey's yacht, and all set off to go aboard.

Enobarbus and Menas remain. Enobarbus mutters that Pompey the Great would never have signed such a treaty. He and Menas talk about the treaty before they, too, shake hands. Enobarbus tells Menas the group from Egypt expected to fight with Pompey, and Menas answers he wishes the battle hadn't become a party. Pompey, he says, has "laughed away" the fortune he would have made by beating the triumvirate in battle.

When Menas asks whether Antony is married to Cleopatra, Enobarbus says no. Enobarbus predicts Antony will return to Egypt and Cleopatra, making Octavia unhappy and Caesar angry. Menas and Enobarbus then head for the party.

Analysis

This scene reveals attitudes of characters toward each other and toward the events happening around them. For one, Pompey has been nursing a personal and seemingly insignificant grudge against what amounts to Antony's lack of good manners. This grudge seems to echo Caesar's previous grudges against Antony and may surprise some readers: it seems impossible that the rulers of empires would allow such petty grievances to influence their diplomacy or impact the future of their citizens. But broadmindedness and acceptance of others' flaws do not hold much sway in the minds of these men who seem better soldiers than diplomats.

Pompey also reveals his curiosity about things Egyptian, some details of which have been in the air but not clear to him and others. Pompey raises this topic with a certain superiority, implying he holds with Roman views on Eastern decadence and Western seriousness and righteousness. With his grudge against Julius Caesar for having killed Pompey the Great, Pompey refers to an incident in which Cleopatra was smuggled inside a mattress to Caesar, mentioning an event degrading to both.

The most revealing information, however, comes from the dialogue between Menas and Enobarbus, who function here as a mini-chorus commenting frankly on the characters and action. Unhappy about the treaty, Menas thinks Pompey has agreed to its terms too readily and is throwing away his future by entering into an alliance with those he has considered his enemies, showing that he's lacking some of his father's greatness . Menas, formerly a pirate, is a fierce fighter, prepared for action and disappointed in not having it. This isn't necessarily admirable: both men seem to feel that war is worth fighting for its own sake, and they're contemptuous of a peace that would actually make the empire more secure and stable.

Further commentary reveals the men's thoughts about Antony and about the influence of women. Enobarbus believes no pretty woman "has a true face," and Menas agrees. From there the discussion leads to Antony and Cleopatra, a relationship about which Romans are hazy and which arouses curiosity. Enobarbus, honest and perceptive as usual, predicts Antony's marriage to Octavia will not serve its purpose in keeping peace between Antony and Caesar. In fact, he believes "the band that seems to tie their friendship together" will be the ruin of the alliance. Octavia may be the perfect Roman wife—"holy, cold, and still"—but not the kind of woman Antony wants, and not one who can keep his attention.

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