Antony and Cleopatra | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Antony and Cleopatra | Act 3, Scene 10 | Summary

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Summary

Amid the sounds of a sea battle, Canidius and his ground forces leave the stage in one direction while Taurus and his forces march offstage in the opposite direction. Enobarbus enters, distraught. Antony's navy has been defeated. Scarus enters, equally distraught. "We have kissed away / Kingdoms and provinces," he mourns. Cleopatra's ship turned and fled, followed by the rest of her fleet. When he saw her go, Antony ordered his ship to follow, abandoning the battle at a crucial point.

Canidius now enters in despair, saying if Antony had remembered he was a great general, they would have won. Seeing Antony's cowardice, officers are fleeing; Canidius himself plans to turn over his legions and horses to Caesar, and six kings have surrendered. Enobarbus vows to stay with Antony though he realizes he's being irrational.

Analysis

Antony deserves a big "I told you so" from everyone who warned him against engaging in a battle by sea. In this scene the audience gets to see what Antony's men say when he cannot hear them; indeed they hold nothing back.

Cleopatra already has been the subject of many comparisons, but most of them have ascribed some aspect of power to her. Serpent, gypsy, sorceress, even whore—all of these have at least the ability to harm. When Scarus calls her an old horse ("nag") and a cow, the words are an insult as well as a dismissal. There is nothing to admire in a nag. His calling Antony a "doting mallard" is equally dismissive. Although mallards are wild (and are the ancestors of most domestic ducks), they prefer sheltered water and are easily tamed.

It also recalls the opening of the play: "Nay, but this dotage of our general's / O'erflows the measure." Doting on someone means "loving that person past the point of reason," and dotage is a time of old age, weakness, and possible senility.

Cleopatra's exit from the Battle of Actium, and Antony's ill-considered decision to follow her, was a symbolically resonant event for Shakespeare's audience. It was an infamous symbol of the distraction represented by women, love, and leisure. In this text, it is an excellent metonymy, or stand-in, for the play's larger theme of Rome versus Egypt and of the continual criticism that Antony has allowed his love for Cleopatra to distract him from his duties as ruler and soldier.

Images of disease in this scene add another layer of disgust. Scarus wishes Cleopatra would catch leprosy; Enobarbus says his eyes were "blasted," and he "sickened" at the sight of Antony's retreat. There is nothing noble about making other people sick! That the language has reached this level suggests nothing can restore Antony in their eyes.

The water imagery in this scene is particularly striking. Water flows through every act of the play, and often it is presented as something dangerous. "Our fortune on the sea is out of breath / And sinks most lamentably," Enobarbus bemoans. In the second half of the play, the sea is invariably portrayed as a threat to Antony's side.

Important, too, is the line "We have kissed away / Kingdoms and provinces." From here on, every kiss in the play will be significant.

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