Caesar orders his army to hold off its attack until the sea battle ends.
Antony instructs Enobarbus to set their squadrons on a hillside, which will allow them to view the battle at sea.
Enobarbus describes the sea fight he has just witnessed: Antony’s forces were winning the battle until Cleopatra’s ship fled without warning and Antony followed her. The fleet was thrown into confusion, and the victory went to Caesar. Antony’s soldiers are sickened by the sight, one of them declaring that he has never seen anything so shameful. Camidius defects to Caesar’s side, bringing his army and following the lead of six of Antony’s royal allies, but Enobarbus, against his better judgment, remains loyal to his general.
Deeply ashamed of his performance in battle, Antony berates himself, ordering his servants to leave the service of such an unworthy master. He urges them to abandon Antony as Antony has abandoned his nobler self. When Cleopatra enters, she finds her lover distraught and alone. She tries to comfort him, but Antony can remind her only of his valiant past: it was he who won fierce battles, who dealt with the treacheries of Cassius and Brutus. But now, he determines, such events do not matter. He asks Cleopatra why she has led him into infamy, and she begs his forgiveness, saying that she never dreamed that he would follow her retreat. He asks her how she could doubt that he would follow her, when his heart was tied to her rudder. Antony complains that he must now seek young Caesar’s pardon, but unable to bear the sight of the queen’s sorrow, he forgives her. As Antony kisses Cleopatra, he remarks that even her mere kiss repays him for his shame.
Caesar is with Dolabella and Thidias, two of his supporters, when Antony’s ambassador arrives with his master’s request: Antony asks to be allowed to live in Egypt or, barring that, to “breathe between the heavens and earth, / A private man in Athens” (III.xii.14–15). The ambassador further delivers Cleopatra’s request that Egypt be passed on to her heirs. Caesar dismisses Antony’s requests but declares that Cleopatra will have a fair hearing so long as she expels Antony from Egypt or executes him. He sends Thidias to lure Cleopatra to accept these terms, hoping that she will betray her lover.
Enobarbus tells Cleopatra that the defeat was not her fault since Antony could have chosen to follow reason rather than lust. The ambassador returns with Caesar’s message: Antony declares that he will challenge his rival to one-on-one combat. Enobarbus meditates on such a course of action, but decides that if he remains loyal to Antony he might be able to attack Caesar, if Caesar kills Antony. Meanwhile, Thidias arrives to tell Cleopatra that Caesar will show her mercy if she will relinquish Antony. The queen concedes that she embraced Antony more out of fear than love and declares Caesar a god to whom she will bow down. Just then, Antony enters in a fury and demands that Thidias be whipped. He then turns to Cleopatra and rails at her for betraying him. The queen protests that she would never betray him, which satisfies Antony. Antony’s fleet has reassembled, and much of his land forces remain intact, ready to attack Caesar again. Enobarbus, who has observed this scene, decides that he has been faithful to Antony long enough. He feels that Antony’s mind is slipping and that he must abandon his master.
In the Bard's hands and the amorous arms of Egypt, the courageous, gifted Antony of Julius Caesar becomes the doting fool of Antony and Cleopatra.
I just finished A&C in my attempt to read all of Shakespeare by his birthday next year. If you're interested, check out my blog on the play:
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