Antony and Cleopatra | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Antony and Cleopatra | Act 4, Scene 2 | Summary

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Summary

Antony, Cleopatra, Enobarbus, Charmian, Iras, and "others" enter. When Antony asks why Caesar has refused to fight him, Enobarbus explains because Caesar has been so successful he believes the duel would be unsportsmanlike, given his greater power.

Antony vows to fight both by sea and by land the next day. Either he'll win and live or, in dying, he'll restore his honor by fighting bravely. He orders his household servants to prepare a bounteous meal and thanks them for their loyalty by shaking each man's hand. Puzzled by this gesture, Cleopatra asks Enobarbus what Antony's behavior means: he explains that the defeated man's sorrow makes him behave strangely.

Antony asks his servants to treat him at the feast as well as they've done in happier times, although Enobarbus quietly suggests that Antony is trying to make everyone weep. Perhaps tonight will be the last time they see him, and the gods will reward them. The servants are crying, and Enobarbus begs Antony to stop such talk. "Transform us not to women," he implores. Antony laughingly explains everyone's taking his words the wrong way. He just wants people to have a good time tonight. He expects to win the victory tomorrow, not to win honor by dying.

Analysis

Enobarbus is correct when he tells Cleopatra that Antony is trying to make his followers cry. So why does Antony pretend his mournful farewells are just a joke? Why cause sorrow rather than prepare for battle? Antony at least does snap out of his own doldrums even though he may be spreading sorrow throughout his household. These scenes seem to prepare for Antony's defeat—but will he be defeated in the next battle?

Ordering a feast parallels the previous scene in which Caesar does the same thing. Whereas Caesar seems sure of victory and may be trying to cement the loyalty of defectors from Antony's forces by offering a banquet, Antony is replicating a happy past with those who are still faithful to him. If Caesar's feast is a welcome, Antony's is a farewell. Despite his talk of winning, he knows his chances are slim.

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