Antony and Cleopatra | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Antony and Cleopatra | Act 3, Scene 6 | Summary

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Summary

In Rome, Caesar is railing against Antony's latest actions. Antony has established Cleopatra as absolute monarch of Egypt, lower Syria, Cyprus, and Lydia. He and Cleopatra sat enthroned on golden chairs for the ceremony, and Cleopatra was dressed like the goddess Isis. Caesarion, Cleopatra's son from her relationship with Julius Caesar, was also there. The current Caesar, who was adopted by Julius, refers sarcastically to "my father's son" by the queen.

Maecenas and Agrippa want the Roman people told about all this, but Caesar replies they already know. They know, too, that Antony is charging Caesar with theft and has publicly criticized Caesar for deposing Lepidus.

Caesar has already taken steps to deal with Antony. A messenger is on his way to say Lepidus had "grown too cruel" to remain in office and Antony may share in the spoils of the war against Pompey if Caesar gets some of the spoils from the kingdoms Antony has conquered. Maecenas says, "He'll never yield to that."

At this point Octavia arrives in Rome with her retinue. Caesar laments Antony has put his sister aside. Surprised, Octavia says Antony's done nothing of the kind. Caesar protests: how can Octavia have Antony's support if he allowed her to travel to Rome in such humble fashion? Where's the pomp and pageantry with which Octavia should be surrounded? Why hasn't Octavia even let Caesar know she was coming? He would have given her a welcome befitting her status!

Octavia explains she hasn't come because Antony has mistreated her; she's here hoping to establish peace between her husband and her brother. Caesar informs her Antony is no longer in Athens but back in Alexandria, has made Cleopatra absolute monarch of Egypt, and gathered a bevy of kings who are now assembling to battle the Roman Empire.

Octavia is devastated, although she seems less interested in Antony's desertion than in being caught between a brother and husband who can't get along. Caesar advises her to take heart and to patiently let fate take its course. Agrippa and Maecenas add "each heart in Rome doth love and pity" Octavia because Antony has abandoned her for a whore.

Analysis

Act 3, Scene 6 falls in the middle of the play. Until now the action has revolved around Antony's leaving Cleopatra and returning to Rome to restore his relationship with Caesar. From here on Antony and Cleopatra are back together, and Caesar is on his way to Egypt to destroy them. This is the last scene set in Rome.

True to his time and place, Caesar never wonders whether he might have contributed to Octavia's unhappiness. When she arrives without pageantry and fanfare, her brother is more troubled by the indirect assault on his own image than he is concerned for her welfare—once again perception becomes more important than reality. In letting Octavia travel so humbly—more like a "market maid" than a sister and wife of emperors—Antony isn't showing the proper respect for his brother-in-law. And another seemingly trivial grudge grows more serious and out of proportion.

Caesar is still fuming over Antony's most recent and more serious outrage: his brother-in-law's decision to legitimize Cleopatra's monarchy and make his children with the Egyptian queen legitimate heirs. According to Roman law the children of "mixed" marriages—Roman and non-Roman—could not inherit property.

Furthermore Caesar is right about Antony's irresponsibility: Antony has reverted to earlier behavior. For a while it seemed he might rein himself in and resume his role as co-emperor along with Caesar. But Enobarbus was right: Antony cannot let go of Cleopatra and his life with her. What seemed like self-indulgence in Act 1 now seems remarkably like self-destruction. Readers might question the speed with which he reverts to his former ways so soon after marrying Octavia and solidifying his relationship with Caesar. But Shakespeare is condensing 10 years of history into a 5-act play. The historical Antony lived in Rome for three years after marrying Octavia and before returning to Cleopatra.

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