Antony and Cleopatra | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Antony and Cleopatra | Act 3, Scene 7 | Summary



In Alexandria Cleopatra berates Enobarbus for having said she shouldn't join the war. She's the ruler and believes she should battle along with the men. Enobarbus, however, is trying to explain her presence would distract Antony when he enters along with Canidius. Marveling at how fast Caesar's navy has captured the Greek city of Toryne, Antony tells Canidius he, too, will fight by sea.

Enobarbus and Canidius do their best to dissuade Antony from this idea. His celebrated victories have always come from land battles. His naval force is largely rookies recently pressed into service, whereas Caesar's fleet is full of skillful mariners. Caesar's ships are also better than Antony's. On the other hand, Antony's army is second to none. He can be certain of winning on land.

But Antony has made up his mind—or he and Cleopatra have made up their minds together. Cleopatra says she has 60 ships as good as Caesar's. Besides, Antony adds, they can always fight by land if they fail at sea. After Antony puts Canidius in charge of their 19 land legions and their 12,000 horses, he and Cleopatra set off to sea.

A soldier begs Antony to reconsider, but Antony, Cleopatra, and Enobarbus are already on their way out. When the soldier says he's sure he's right, Canidius agrees Antony is making the wrong choice because he's allowing Cleopatra to lead him. "We are women's men." Meanwhile Caesar is moving unbelievably fast.


At this point watching Antony and Cleopatra is unpleasant. In Scene 6 Antony's political choices seem head-shakingly bad, but Antony is still remembered as a great military leader. In Scene 7, however, Antony's military acumen seems to fly out of the window because of Cleopatra's wish to be at the center of the action.

Cleopatra sounds like a petulant child at the beginning of the scene. I'll get even with you, Enobarbus. What a way to talk to an experienced soldier and one of Antony's closest friends! When Enobarbus persists, telling Cleopatra the Romans are mocking Antony's mismanagement of this war, all Cleopatra can hear is that she is being shut out of something interesting and challenging. But her perspective is also understandable: she is a ruler in her own right, and it is insulting to suggest that she should not participate simply because she is Antony's lover and he'll be too worried about her welfare. This puts the onus for Antony's performance in battle completely on her, rather than on his own ability.

When writing this play, Shakespeare drew heavily on Plutarch's biography of Antony and Cleopatra. In Plutarch's account Cleopatra demands to lead her own ship because she fears if she leaves the scene, Antony will return to Octavia. Cleopatra's willful determination would be easier to tolerate if Shakespeare had given her a motive for it. Instead readers may cringe as Cleopatra pretends to know what she's talking about. When Antony announces the battle will take place at sea, Cleopatra instantly echoes, "By sea, what else?" How it must infuriate her that Canidius ignores her, instead asking, "Why will my lord so do?"

Antony answers almost as childishly as Cleopatra might. He wants to fight by sea "for that [Caesar] dares us to 't." When Enobarbus patiently reminds Antony his navy is far weaker than Caesar's, Antony's answer is just as unreasonable and stubborn as his previous one. "By sea, by sea," he insists. "Well, well, away" is all he says when one of his own soldiers begs him not to take on a naval battle.

At this point both Antony and Cleopatra are behaving unreasonably and incompetently. Losing this battle, an infamous and deeply symbolic one in Roman history, will change their perspective and restore their dignity.

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