. . . yet must Antony
No way excuse his foils when we do bear
So great weight in his lightness.
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Summary: Act 1: Scene 4

In Rome, young Octavius Caesar complains to Lepidus, the third triumvir, that Antony has abandoned his responsibilities as a statesman and, in doing so, has also abandoned the better part of his manhood. Lepidus attempts to defend Antony, suggesting that Antony’s weaknesses for fishing, drinking, and reveling are traits he inherited rather than ones he has chosen. Octavius remains unconvinced, declaring that Antony has no business enjoying himself in Egypt during a time of crisis. A messenger arrives with news that Pompey’s forces are both gathering strength and finding support among those whose prior allegiance to Octavius arose from fear, not duty. Remembering Antony’s valiant and unparalleled performance as a soldier, Octavius laments that Antony is not with them. He and Lepidus agree to raise an army against Pompey.

Read a translation of Act 1: Scene 4.

Summary: Act 1: Scene 5

Cleopatra complains to Charmian that she misses Antony. She wonders what he is doing and whether he, in turn, is thinking of her. Alexas enters and presents her with a gift from Antony: a pearl. He tells the queen that Antony kissed the gemstone upon leaving Egypt and ordered it be delivered to Cleopatra as a token of his love. Cleopatra asks if he appeared sad or happy, and she rejoices when Alexas responds that Antony seemed neither. To appear sad, Cleopatra says, might have contaminated the moods of his followers, while a happy countenance could have jeopardized his followers’ belief in his resolve. Cleopatra orders Alexas to prepare twenty messengers, so that she can write to Antony on each day of his absence. She promises, if need be, to “unpeople Egypt” by turning all its citizens into messengers (1.5.94).

Read a translation of Act 1: Scene 5.

Analysis: Act 1: Scenes 4 & 5

Unlike Shakespeare’s other great tragedies, Antony and Cleopatra is not confined to a single geographical location. Whereas Macbeth unfolds in Scotland and Hamlet in Denmark’s Elsinore castle, Antony and Cleopatra takes the audience from one end of the Mediterranean Sea to the other in the course of a scene change. This technique is noteworthy for several reasons. First, it shows the global concerns of the play: traveling from Alexandria to Athens to Rome to Syria demonstrates the scope of the empire for which Antony, Cleopatra, and Octavius struggle. Second, the use of rapidly shifting locales shows that Shakespeare has become less interested in the deep psychological recesses that he examines in his greatest tragedies and is now addressing more public concerns. A stylistic result of Shakespeare’s interest in the broader world is that Antony and Cleopatra lacks soliloquies, a device that Shakespeare elsewhere uses to reveal his characters’ hidden thoughts to the audience.

As he shuttles the audience from Egypt to Rome, Shakespeare introduces the other members of the triumvirate who, with Antony, have ruled the Roman Empire since Julius Caesar’s death. Octavius Caesar, Julius’s nephew, stands in stark contrast to Antony. His first lines establish him as a man ruled by reason rather than passion, duty rather than desire. He complains that Antony neglects affairs of state in order to fish, drink, and waste the night away in revelry. Even though he lacks the military prowess that he praises in Antony, Octavius is, politically speaking, ever practical and efficient. That he disapproves so strongly of Antony’s relationship with Cleopatra foreshadows the collapse of the triumvirate and forecasts Octavius’s role as a worthy adversary.

Read more about the struggle between reason and emotion as a theme.

Speaking little in act 1, scene 4, Lepidus emerges as the weakest of the three Roman leaders. Neither heroic like Antony nor politically astute like Octavius, Lepidus lacks the power and command of his fellow triumvirs. Lepidus works desperately to maintain a balance of power by keeping Octavius and Antony on amiable terms. When Octavius criticizes Antony, Lepidus urges him not to condemn their fellow triumvir so harshly, and he later entreats Antony to speak gently when speaking to Octavius. The triumvirate is a triangular form of government, and it is little wonder, given the extreme weakness of one of its sides, that it soon collapses.

The shift in scene from Rome back to Egypt also helps to introduce a comparison between Octavius and Cleopatra, each of whom thinks about Antony while he is en route to Rome. This shift makes it clear that Cleopatra admires Antony for the same reasons Octavius has grown frustrated with him. In scene 4, Octavius laments the fact that Antony has fallen from his previous state of exemplary heroism. He specifically recalls how, despite being defeated at a battle in Italy, Antony showed incredible grit by making a grueling journey through the Alps: “Thou didst drink / The stale of horses and the gilded puddle / Which beasts would cough at. Thy palate then did deign / The roughest berry on the rudest hedge” (1.4.70–74). Now, however, Octavius believes that Antony’s time in Egypt has compromised him. From the heights of heroism he has fallen into the depths of depravity, such that he is now “[a] man who is th’ abstract of all faults” (1.4.10).

For Cleopatra, however, Antony is a model of grace whose “well-divided disposition” gives him an ideally balanced perspective. Alexas confirms this sense of balance when Cleopatra asks her how Antony acted as his ship disembarked: “Like to the time ‘o th’ year between th’ extremes / Of hot and cold, he was nor sad nor merry” (1.5.60–61). Cleopatra celebrates Antony’s emotional composure as the sign of a great leader. Had he been sad, he might have negatively impacted his troops’ morale. By contrast, had he been happy, he might have negatively impacted her morale by seeming eager to get away. Instead, he maintained a neutrality that she describes as a “heavenly mingle” (1.5.69), and which marks him as an exemplary statesman and lover. So highly does he rank in her esteem that she refers to him as a demigod—that is, as “[t]he demi-Atlas of this earth” (1.5.28). The way Cleopatra’s perspective clashes with that of Octavius clearly foreshadows the danger in store for Antony—a man whose position between Rome and Egypt is here reflected by his current physical location as he crosses Mediterranean Sea.