Antony and Cleopatra | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Antony and Cleopatra | Act 3, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

Ventidius, one of Antony's lieutenants, enters behind a procession of soldiers carrying the body of Pacorus of Parthia. His companion Silius is with him. Ventidius exults that by killing Pacorus, he has finally avenged the death of Marcus Crassus and beaten the Parthians. Silius urges him to continue fighting the fleeing Parthians; that way he'll earn even more respect from Antony.

Ventidius demurs, saying a soldier should not look as if he is trying to outdo his master. Appearing too ambitious is risky. "I could do more" to help Antony's cause," he says, but "'twould offend him." Silius says Ventidius possesses the wisdom that helps a soldier as much as a sword. But will he at least tell Antony about the death of Pacorus? Ventidius says he'll send the news but make it sound as though Antony deserves the credit for inspiring his men. Antony is about to leave for Athens, so with luck they'll be able to show him the body before he leaves.

Analysis

Once again characters ponder the question of what constitutes honor. Silius thinks the greater the success of Ventidius, the greater his glory, and killing Pacorus to avenge Crassus is a great achievement. (Crassus, a wealthy advisor to Julius Caesar, was killed by Orodes, king of the Parthians and father of Pacorus.) Ventidius answers in a way both tactful and canny. Yes, he could punish the Parthians further, but the act might backfire if Antony began to perceive him as a threat.

Taken at face value, this answer seems humbly respectful toward Antony, but for Ventidius it's a tactic, not a sign of real humility. Although Antony has not revealed himself a jealous leader, perhaps Ventidius has shared enough battles with him to know Antony could resent feeling outdone. What is certain is that Venditius judges his own actions partly by the effects they have on others; he is conscious of the effect he produces. Like several other characters in the play, Ventidius is a performer who is well aware he is performing, and perception is more important than substance, as the perception of being honorable rather than the reality of being honorable drives Pompey.

Messengers abound in Antony and Cleopatra, and the letter Ventidius plans to write is another form of message. Like others in the play, the letter will mean more than it says.

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