Antony and Cleopatra | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Antony and Cleopatra | Act 3, Scene 13 | Summary

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Summary

A doleful and confused Cleopatra enters with Enobarbus, Charmian, and Iras. "What shall we do?" Cleopatra asks Enobarbus. "Think, and die," he answers. When Cleopatra asks whether she or Antony is responsible for the defeat, Enobarbus instantly answers that it is Antony. He didn't have to follow Cleopatra; that he did is as shameful as the loss of the battle.

The Ambassador and Antony enter. Antony is slowly taking in Caesar's message that Cleopatra will be treated respectfully if she gives Antony up. Turning to Cleopatra Antony explains all she has to do to get everything back is to send Antony's head to Caesar. Then he turns again to the Ambassador and says he'll write Caesar a message daring him to fight him (Antony) in single combat.

Enobarbus scoffs privately at the notion of Caesar's risking his success to duel with a defeated foe. Antony's misfortune must have impaired his judgment. Yet it would be dishonorable of Enobarbus to abandon Antony now.

Thidias enters. After some verbal jousting with Cleopatra and Enobarbus, he tells Cleopatra Caesar understands Cleopatra consorted with Antony only because she was afraid of him, not because she loved him. Caesar does not blame her for behaving dishonorably. Cleopatra's answer is meek. Caesar "is a god and knows what is most right." At this, Enobarbus leaves to find Antony. Thidias asks if he can bring back the message that Cleopatra has left Antony and placed herself under Caesar's protection. Absolutely, answers Cleopatra. "I kiss his conqu'ring hand." She then extends her own hand for Thidias to kiss.

Antony and Enobarbus enter. Enraged, Antony orders his servants to take Thidias away and beat him. He then denounces Cleopatra: she's lower than a servant; she's a liar; when Antony picked her up, she was a scrap, a leftover of Julius Caesar's and Pompey's. Bewildered, Cleopatra asks why Antony is so angry. He says by allowing Thidias to kiss her hand—her hand that was Antony's "playfellow," she has cuckolded him.

Servants drag in the beaten Thidias. Antony orders him to return to Caesar and say exactly what Antony thinks of his emperor. Thidias leaves, and Cleopatra coldly asks Antony if he's done. In turn he asks if Cleopatra would abandon him to ally herself with Caesar.

Cleopatra answers Antony doesn't know her if he believes she would do what Caesar has requested. If she has betrayed Antony, let heaven rain down punishments on her, on her son Caesarion, indeed on all Egypt. Her words seem to revive Antony, who pledges to return to fight Caesar. Before Antony starts to fight again, he and Cleopatra will have one more "gaudy night" together. This time Antony vows to kill more people than Death itself. Everyone exits except Enobarbus, who has seen enough. "I will seek some way to leave him," he promises himself.

Analysis

Antony's treatment of Thidias is disgraceful. Usually genial, he's never been less likeable than in this scene: a bad sport, a blusterer, and a bully. However, his fury is aimed at Cleopatra, not Thidias, just as Cleopatra's is aimed at Antony when she "hales up and down" the messenger who brought the news about Octavia. The audience doesn't know how much of Cleopatra's speech Antony has heard, but it's safe to assume Enobarbus has given Antony the gist of the conversation. Whatever the circumstances, Antony is behaving badly.

Despite what she says, it is impossible to know what Cleopatra is thinking or planning; the audience is given no indication of her thought process. When she assures Thidias that Caesar "is a god and knows / What is most right," is she trying to buy time, or has she decided to put herself under Caesar's authority? What is the level of her calculation here? Enobarbus, who tolerates Cleopatra more than other Romans do, is convinced she's betraying Antony. If she is, then Antony's anger is easier to understand; nevertheless his treatment of Thidias is still out of line.

Cleopatra seems genuinely confused when Antony turns on Thidias. Her confusion suggests she doesn't believe she has betrayed her lover. Under normal circumstances, Antony's harsh words could never be taken back. But Cleopatra doesn't answer angrily or defensively, as she would be likely to do if she understood what he is talking about; she doesn't seem to register his taunts as insults. When Antony has finished ranting, Cleopatra coldly asks, "Have you done yet?"

Cleopatra may be surrendering to Caesar out of fear, not calculation. For all the audience knows, she falls apart if she feels trapped; she also has her children's welfare to consider. She may be pledging allegiance to Caesar because she has no idea what else to do. Even Antony should forgive her for that.

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