Antony and Cleopatra

Antony and Cleopatra Summary and Analysis of Act Three, Scenes 7-13


Scene Seven. Near Actium. Antony's camp. Cleopatra scolds Enobarbus for opposing her participation in how the war is to be conducted. He argues that she distracts Antony, and she argues that Octavius has declared war personally against her. Antony enters with his lieutenant general, Canidius. Caesar has moved quickly, and he has refused Antony's challenge to fight in single combat. He has also avoided confronting Antony on land, where Antony is stronger and a better field commander. Enobarbus urges Antony not to challenge Caesar by sea: Octavius' ships are lighter, more maneuverable, and better manned. But Antony insists on a sea battle, which Cleopatra apparently wants. A soldier enters, and begs Antony not to wage the battle by sea. They are Romans, and fight better on land. Antony ignores him and leaves with Cleopatra and Enobarbus. The soldier tells Canidius that he still feels a land battle is the way to go; Canidius agrees, and says that Antony is being led by Cleopatra. More messengers arrive, with news of Caesar's amazingly fast movements.

Scene Eight. A plain near Actium. Caesar warns his man Taurus not to engage by land until the battle at sea is done.

Scene Nine. Another part of the plain. Antony gives orders to Enobarbus about troop placement.

Scene Ten. Another part of the plain. Canidius enters with his army on one part of the stage, and Taurus with his army enters on another. Enobarbus enters, horrified. Antony's ship has fled. Scarus enters, equally pained. The battle is lost. While the battle was still even, Cleopatra panicked and fled with her ships. Antony followed. The battle was thus lost. Antony and Cleopatra have fled to the Peloponnesus, in Greece. Scarus will follow them. Canidius will not: he will defect to Caesar's side, as six kings under Antony have already done.

Scene Eleven. Alexandria. Cleopatra's palace. Antony urges his attendants to take his treasure for themselves and flee. When they refuse, he tells them that he himself set an example by fleeing like a coward. Antony is nearly mad with grief. Cleopatra enters, with Charmian, Iras, and Eros. They encourage Cleopatra to comfort him, but she hesitates, keeping apart. Antony speaks miserably of how Octavius is not a great field commander, dependent on lieutenants, and yet things have come to this. At first, he seems to talk only to himself. When he finally notices Cleopatra, he condemns her for fleeing, because he was compelled to follow her. Cleopatra begs pardon. They have sent their children's schoolmaster as ambassador to Caesar, to plead humbly for peace. But Cleopatra's cries of "Pardon! Pardon!" finally reconcile Antony to her. Even in his misery, he calls for food and wine. They will feast despite the impending doom.

Scene Twelve. Egypt. Caesar's camp. Antony's ambassador is brought to Caesar. The requests are humble, and the use of a tutor as ambassador says something about how short Antony is on personnel. Antony asks to be allowed to live in Egypt, or, if not, as a private man in Athens. Cleopatra asks that the crown of Egypt be preserved for her heirs. Caesar says that Antony's requests are in vain, but Cleopatra can have her wish on condition that she either exile or execute Antony. Caesar sends Thidias, ordering him to try to drive Cleopatra from Antony. He authorizes Thidias to offer the queen whatever she wants.

Scene Thirteen. Alexandria. Cleopatra's palace. Cleopatra asks Enobarbus who bears the blame for Caesar's victory. Enobarbus says Antony, because the responsibility was his. She bids him be silent as Antony approaches with the Ambassador. Antony relays Caesar's conditions to Cleopatra. He says the he will once again challenge Octavius to single combat, and exits. In an aside, Enobarbus comments that Antony's challenge is ridiculous. Caesar has won the war. He won't risk his life in a sword fight against the physically stronger Antony. Antony's challenge shows that he has lost his reason.

A servant announces another ambassador arrived from Caesar. Enobarbus, in another side, ponders deserting Antony. He decides to stay to the end, because the loyal lieutenant who does so earns his own share of fame. Thidias enters, saying that Caesar wishes to be generous to Cleopatra, since, of course, she was Antony's mistress out of fear. Cleopatra's seems willing to play along. Enobarbus resolves to desert Antony, since even Cleopatra seems to be doing so. He exits. Cleopatra offers obedience to Caesar.

Antony and Enobarbus return to find the emissary kissing Cleopatra's hand. Antony orders his men to seize Thidias and whip him, before bringing him back so that he can deliver Antony's message to Caesar. He condemns Cleopatra, calling her sexual history into question. Thidias is brought back, and Antony tells him to convey his anger back to Caesar. If Caesar dislikes what has been done, he can whip one of Antony's men. Once Antony's rage is done, Cleopatra affirms her loyalty to him. He seems to calm down. And before the last battle, he resolves to feast. It is Cleopatra's birthday, and though she meant not to celebrate it, she sees that Antony is himself again. They will celebrate, and then Antony will fight with a greater ferocity than ever. All exit except Enobarbus. He thinks Antony's desperation has destroyed his reason. Enobarbus will leave Antony at the first opportunity.


Shakespeare condenses the war, leaving out large gaps of time between short scenes, emphasizing the rapidity of Antony's defeat. The decisions leading to that defeat are strategically unsound. Antony has no stomach, in the end, for empire. The love of living and Cleopatra thoroughly undo him. He indulges Cleopatra's will for a sea battle, when numbers and experience are against it. And when she has no stomach for war, he abandons his men to follow her.

By 3.11, the once-great commander has been psychologically destroyed. He is a quivering, soliloquizing mess, able to feel remorse for his lost fortune but unable to recover it. When Enobarbus speaks of Pompey in 2.6, he unknowingly foreshadows Antony's fate: "If he do [lose an empire], sure he cannot weep't back again" (2.6.106).

The loss of empire is not the only humiliation Antony suffers. The loss of honor is in some ways worse. The horror the Romans feel in 3.10 is not just at the loss of their prospects, but also at seeing their commander so thoroughly emasculated. Scarus comments on Antony's flight from Actium: "I never saw an action of such shame; / Experience, manhood, honor, ne'er before / Did violate so itself" (3.10.21-23). Antony has committed two cardinal sins against the Roman conception of honor: he abandoned his men in battle, and he allowed a woman to lead him.

Antony has many wonderful traits. He is quick to anger, but quicker to forgive. He swings between reckless, unpardonable irresponsibility and winning magnanimity. He abandons his men at Actium, allowing men who are dying for him to die for no cause. But in Alexandria, he thinks of his attendants, giving away his wealth and promising to see to their safe escape. His changes are no less dramatic when it comes to Cleopatra. One moment he blames her for his defeat. In the next he forgives her, as soon as she shows contrition: "Fall not a tear, I say; one of them rates / All that is won and lost. Give me a kiss; / Even this repays me" (3.12.69-71). Bold statements, stunning because they are so rapidly removed from what he said only a few lines previous. But this Antony is perhaps the truer one; he is not built for empire-building, as Octavius is. Power, to him, is a means to pleasure, rather than an end in itself.

Antony is becoming more and more unhinged. Once Caesar refuses his request to be allowed to live as a private citizen, Antony becomes wild with desperation, completely unreasonable. He repeats his absurd request for a one-on-one duel, which is all bravado and passion, and serving no constructive purpose. The one-on-one duel is also a desperate last chance to salvage Antony's honor. The changed situation is evident in Enobarbus. When before he spoke plainly and openly, now his wry comments are all asides. Enobarbus has five asides in 3.13, mostly comments on the desperate situation and the foolishness of his masters. Antony's whipping of Thidias is an example of how desperation has changed him. The generous Roman general of previous scenes would not have taken his anger out on a messenger, especially a fellow Roman.

Antony's wild swings are evident in this last scene of the act. When he sees Thidias kissing Cleopatra's hand, he condemns her as a whore in everything but name:

I found you as a morsel cold upon

Dead Caesar's trencher: nay, you were a fragment

Of Gneius Pompey's, besides what hotter hours,

Unregist'red in vulgar fame, you have

Luxuriously picked out. For I am sure,

Though you can guess what temperance should be,

You know not what it is. (3.13.116-22)

He has never spoken to her this way before. His words touch on the theme of Roman anxiety about female sexuality. His fear of her sexual freedom, never mentioned before, comes bubbling to the surface as he imagines himself as only the most recent in a long line of lovers. (Never mind that Antony, too, has had other lovers before Cleopatra, and in fact has been married to two other women during his relationship with Cleopatra.) Antony's fury at her desertion at Actium was nothing compared to this. A kiss on the hand prompts the cruelest words any character says to another in the play.

But a moment later, they are reconciled. A few words of contrition are enough to set things right, and Antony resolves that they should feast. These wild swings show the words and actions of a man who knows he has little time left. Enobarbus, astute witness, decides at last to leave. Antony's new resolve to feast and fight valiantly is the sign not of mature rededication, but desperation: "When valor preys on reason, / It eats the sword it fights with" (3.13.199-200). Enobarbus cannot serve a master who no longer acts rationally.