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Caesar, encamped near the Egyptian capital of Alexandria, receives Antony’s challenge and laughs at it. Maecenas counsels him to take advantage of Antony’s rage, for “[n]ever anger / Made good guard for itself” (IV.i.9–10). Caesar prepares his army—swelled by deserters from his enemy’s troops—and plans to crush Antony for good.
Enobarbus brings word to Antony that Caesar has refused to fight him. Antony asks why, and Enobarbus suggests that Caesar is so sure of success that one-on-one combat seems unfair. Antony declares that he will fight the next day, whether it brings him victory or death. He thanks his servants for their faithful service and warns them that this night might be his last night with them. They begin to weep, and Enobarbus, with tears in his eyes, rebukes Antony for such a morbid speech. Antony says that he did not mean to cause sorrow, and, as he leads them off toward a bountiful feast, urges them to enjoy their evening together.
That night, Antony’s soldiers hear strange music resounding from somewhere underground. They whisper that it is the music of Hercules, the god after whom Antony modeled himself and who they believe now abandons him.
The following day, Eros arms Antony for battle, and Cleopatra insists on helping. Antony feels confident about the coming fight, promising Cleopatra that anyone who attempts to undo his armor before he is ready to remove it and rest will confront his rage. An armed soldier enters and reports that a thousand others stand ready for Antony’s command. Antony bids Cleopatra adieu, kisses her, and leads his men into battle.
Preparing for battle, Antony admits he wishes he had taken the earlier opportunity to oppose Caesar on land. A soldier comments that had he done so, he would still count Enobarbus as an ally. This report is the first Antony has heard of his most trusted friend’s desertion, and the news shocks him. At first he does not believe it, but Eros then points to the “chests and treasure” Enobarbus left behind (IV.v.10). Antony orders soldiers to deliver Enobarbus’s possessions to him, along with “gentle adieus and greetings,” and laments that his “fortunes have / Corrupted honest men” (IV.v.14–17).
Caesar, feeling certain of his victory, orders Agrippa to begin the battle. Caesar orders that the front lines be fitted with soldiers who have deserted Antony, so that Antony will feel like he that he is wasting his efforts fighting himself. Enobarbus receives the treasure and is overcome by guilt, realizing that he has become a common traitor. Deciding that he would rather die than fight against Antony, he declares himself a villain and goes to seek out a ditch in which to die.
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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