Antony and Cleopatra | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Antony and Cleopatra | Act 3, Scene 12 | Summary

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Summary

Caesar, Agrippa, Thidias, and Dolabella are waiting for Antony's ambassador. Dolabella comments on Antony's choice of the Schoolmaster to arrange terms, a sure sign he is beaten; in the past Antony could have commanded surplus kings to be his emissaries.

The Ambassador enters, greets Caesar humbly, and then offers Antony's petition. Antony wishes to be allowed to live in Egypt; if Caesar won't permit that, then in Athens. Cleopatra also surrenders to Caesar's power but wishes to have back her crown to leave for her heirs. Caesar replies curtly. He won't grant anything Antony asks. He'll think about granting Cleopatra's wish on the condition she either banish Antony or kill him.

The Ambassador wishes good fortune to Caesar, who promises him safe passage through the camp. Then Caesar turns to Thidias and orders him to try to win Cleopatra over, telling her she can have everything she's asked for and more. If Thidias succeeds, Caesar will give him anything he asks for. Caesar also wants Thidias to watch Antony closely. Antony's smallest action will reveal his feelings about having lost.

Analysis

Why does Antony send his children's schoolmaster to be his ambassador to Caesar? As Dolabella notes, many of Antony's influential supporters have abandoned him; perhaps he can't find anyone willing to go.

In any case, it is not surprising that Dolabella bristles at the gesture or that the Schoolmaster feels awkward in such a position. "I was of late as petty to his ends / As is the morn-dew on the myrtle-leaf / To his grand sea." Because Antony has just lost a great sea battle, the Schoolmaster's comparison is clumsy, but Caesar doesn't care. He now stands so high he doesn't need to listen to other people's oratory.

At this point Caesar's rigidity makes it hard for him to think of Antony as a human being. "For Antony, I have no ears to his request." His five-line answer to the Schoolmaster Ambassador sounds as though he is shrugging the whole matter off. After all, the Ambassador will report to Antony, and Caesar wants Antony to know how little he respects him.

What Caesar thinks of Cleopatra is less transparent. He has always shown icy hatred to her; why is he negotiating terms with her when he holds all the power? "From Antony win Cleopatra. Promise, / And in our name, what she requires." He may want to cause the lovers agony by forcibly separating them, or forcing Cleopatra to choose between her lover and her children's future; he may also want to pit the lovers against each other, since Cleopatra now has good reason to betray Antony. But he has a hidden motive as well, which will be revealed in the next act: he wants to exhibit Cleopatra as a prisoner, and he may be pretending to honor her to prevent her suicide. Audience members must make up their own minds; in this play, Shakespeare does not provide his main characters with obvious motives.

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