Antony and Cleopatra

by: William Shakespeare

Act II, scene vii; Act III, scenes i–iii

Ah, this thou shouldst have done
And not have spoke on’t. In me ‘tis villainy,
In thee ‘t had been good service. Thou must know
‘Tis not my profit that does lead mine honour;
Mine honour it. Repent that e’er thy tongue
Hath so betrayed thine act. Being done unknown,
I should have found it afterwards well done,
But must condemn it now.
         (II.vii.70–77)

Pompey does not condemn the assassination of his unsuspecting—indeed, helplessly drunken—guests as treacherous or morally irresponsible. Instead, he complains that Menas shared the plan with him, a divulgence that, if discovered, would affect the way that the world sees him. Pompey would no longer be looked upon as an honorable man if he murdered his guests. In a play that invests so much in surface, even qualities such as honor and nobility have more to do with spectacle than with deeper human emotions.

Lepidus’s drunkenness symbolizes his physical and political weakness: indeed, he makes only one more appearance before being eliminated by Caesar, fulfilling the servants’ prophesy that even world leaders can be easily overthrown. That Caesar proves the wind that blows Lepidus (and eventually Antony) down should not come as any surprise, given his behavior aboard Pompey’s ship. Caesar alone manages to elevate duty above pleasure; he alone interrupts the night’s carousing to remind Antony that their more serious business conflicts with the extended revelry. Perhaps the most telling phrase Antony utters in this scene comes as he tries to persuade Caesar to forget duty for the night. While urging his men to drink until “the conquering wine hath steeped our sense / In soft and delicate Lethe,” he bids Caesar to “[b]e a child o’th’ time”—to live, in other words, strictly for the moment, for the pleasure of the present (II.vii.94–103). Antony’s propensity to live according to the moment, with little regard for the future or the consequences of his actions, is one of the greatest factors in his demise.