Summary: Act 2: Scene 6

Before waging a war, Pompey and the triumvirs hold a meeting. Pompey tells Octavius, Lepidus, and Antony that he is fighting to avenge his father, whose defeat by Julius Caesar led him into Egypt, where he was killed. Antony informs Pompey that despite the latter’s strength at sea, the triumvirs’ army will prevail. The three offer Pompey rule over Sicily and Sardinia should he agree to rid the sea of pirates and to send payments of wheat to Rome as a tax. Pompey admits that he was ready to accept this offer until Antony offended him by refusing to acknowledge the hospitality he showed Antony’s mother on her recent visit to Sicily. Antony assures Pompey that he intended to offer a gracious thanks, at which the men shake hands and make peace.

Pompey invites the Romans aboard his ship for dinner, and the triumvirs join him. Enobarbus and Menas stay behind discussing their military careers, the current political situation, and Antony’s marriage to Octavia. Enobarbus repeats that he is sure Antony will inevitably return to Egypt. After the talk, the two go to dinner.

Read a translation of Act 2: Scene 6.

Summary: Act 2: Scene 7

A group of servants discusses Pompey’s dinner party, commenting on Lepidus’s drunkenness in particular. Pompey enters with his guests as Antony discusses the Nile River. Lepidus babbles on about crocodiles, which, according to popular belief, formed spontaneously out of the river mud. Lepidus asks Antony to describe the crocodile, and Antony responds with a humorously circular and meaningless definition: “It is shaped, sir, like itself, and is as broad as it hath breadth” (2.7.44–45).

Menas pulls Pompey away from the festivities to suggest that they set sail and kill the three triumvirs while they are still drunk and onboard the boat, thus delivering control of the Western world into Pompey’s hands. Pompey rails against Menas for sharing this plan with him. Were the deed done without his knowledge, Pompey says, he would have praised it, but now that he knows, it would violate his honor. In an angry aside, Menas expresses his disappointment with Pompey and swears that he will leave his master’s service. Meanwhile, the triumvirs and their host continue their drunken revelry, eventually joining hands, dancing, and singing before they leave the ship and stumble off to bed.

Read a translation of Act 2: Scene 7.

Analysis: Act 2: Scenes 6 & 7

In act 2, scene 6, Pompey arrives in Rome for a face-to-face negotiation with the men he opposes: Octavius, Lepidus, and Antony. Now that he stands before the three triumvirs of the Roman Empire, Pompey clearly recognizes the vulnerability of his situation. He acknowledges as much when he reflects his willingness to accept the offer the triumvirs have extended to him, which involves him retaining power over Sicily but retracting his navy and agreeing to pay Rome a tithe of wheat. Yet Pompey also demonstrates a sense of pride when he qualifies his agreement to the deal not by making a counteroffer, but by complaining that Antony has failed to show him due gratitude. Pompey has apparently showed hospitality to Antony’s mother, who had sought shelter in Sicily when his brother and wife were recently warring against Octavius. In other words, Pompey will relent, but only on the condition that he is also shown the requisite degree of respect. Antony quickly pays Pompey the gratitude he’s due, and the men shake hands on peace.

Pompey’s demand for respect isn’t simply a matter of pride; it’s also tied to his larger sense of honor. This sense of honor becomes clear during the party scene in act 2, scene 7, when Menas takes Pompey aside and articulates a grim plan to assassinate all three triumvirs. Realizing that the advantage of opportunity has fallen into the chastened Pompey’s hands, Menas insists that his leader can still have the military victory he has long sought after. Thus, he asks Pompey: “Wilt thou be lord of all the world?” (2.7.69). Pompey need only say the word, and he could have it all for himself. But Pompey recognizes that such action would be dishonorable given the circumstances, in which he has just made peace with the triumvirs. Regardless of how much he might still want to take them down, he believes he retains his honor by not acting on his dishonorable feelings.

Read more about the definition of honor as a theme.

From another vantage, however, Pompey’s refusal of Menas’s plans arguably has less to do with personal virtue and more to do with political optics. As someone who believes he has widespread support among the Roman public, he worries that his public reputation would be tarnished were he associated with the murder of the three leaders who collectively ruled a vast empire. After all, Pompey has already lived through not just one, but two civil wars generated by hostile takeovers of power. Thus, the only way such a plan might have worked is if he genuinely had no knowledge of it. As he puts the matter to Menas: “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 honor; / Mine honor, it” (2.7.86–90). Here Pompey claims that his desire for worldly success doesn’t guide his sense of honor, but rather the other way around. As such, he can’t condone the action: “Being done unknown, / I should have found it afterwards well done, / But must condemn it now” (2.7.91–93).

Menas’s disappointment in the face of Pompey’s rejection is important to note for the way it reflects a growing tension in the play between leaders and their followers. In an aside, Menas makes a personal pledge to break with Pompey: “For this / I’ll never follow thy parallel fortunes more” (2.7.93–94). This personal pledge foreshadows similar expressions of discontent from Enobarbus, one of Antony’s key advisors. Like Menas, Enobarbus will, in act 3, grow increasingly frustrated with Antony’s tactical decision-making and seek a way to leave his service. The link between Menas and Enobarbus is further cemented in the significant interactions they share in scenes 6 and 7 of act 2. In scene 6, for instance, they have a private interaction in which they prophesy that the present atmosphere of unity cannot last. In particular, they predict that “the band” that seems to secure the friendship between Octavius and Antony “will be the very strangler of their amity” (2.6.150–52). As anyone already familiar with the historical events dramatized in the play will know, these words of prophecy ring true.

Another key to the future downfall of the triumvirate is forecast in scene 7, when Lepidus drinks himself into near oblivion. Lepidus’s drunkenness during the part on Pompey’s ship symbolizes his political weakness. Indeed, he will make only one more appearance before Octavius removes him from the proverbial playing board. Once again, the characters who effectively predict his fortune are the advisors, Enobarbus and Menas. Upon seeing Lepidus barely able to walk, Enobarbus comments ironically, “There’s a strong fellow, Menas. . . . He bears / The third part of the world, man. Seest not?” (2.7.103–106). The clear implication here is that at least one of the three pillars propping up the Roman Empire is weak. And, just as a three-legged stool will topple if even one leg fails, all it will take for the triumvirate to come crashing down is to have one pillar falter.