Antony and Cleopatra

by: William Shakespeare

Act I, scenes i–iii

Antony, meanwhile, seems to enjoy indulging in hyperbole as much as Cleopatra. When she tells him that his duties call him home, he declares:

Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide arch
Of the ranged empire fall. Here is my space.
Kingdoms are clay. Our dungy earth alike
Feeds beast as man.
         (I.i.35–36)

His speech stands in contrast to the measured, unadorned speech of Philo and Demetrius and, later, Octavius Caesar. Antony delights in depicting himself in heroic terms—indeed, he occupies himself with thoughts of winning nobleness and honor—but already we detect the sharp tension between his rhetoric and his action.

From the beginning of the play, Antony is strongly attracted to both Rome and Egypt, and his loyalty vacillates from one to the other. In these first scenes, he goes from letting “Rome in Tiber melt” to deciding that he “must from this enchanting queen break off” (I.ii.117). His infatuation with the queen is not strong enough to overcome his sense of responsibility to Rome, and while Octavius Caesar, his efficient antagonist, has yet to appear onstage, the lengthy discussion of the strife between Fulvia, Caesar, and young Pompey reminds us of the political context of this love affair. Antony governs a third of the Roman Empire, which has endured decades of civil strife, and he and Caesar, though allies, are not true friends. Such an unstable situation does not bode well for the future of Antony’s romance with the Egyptian queen, Cleopatra.

Here, as throughout the play, Enobarbus, Antony’s most loyal supporter, serves as the voice of reason; he speaks plainly, in prose rather than verse. His estrangement from Antony increases as Antony’s power wanes; for the moment, however, he represents -Antony’s connection to the West and his political duties. Enobarbus’s blunt honesty contrasts sharply with Cleopatra’s theatricality.