Antony and Cleopatra

Antony and Cleopatra Summary and Analysis of Act Two, Scenes 6-7


Scene Six. Near Misenum. The triumvirate meets with Pompey. He tells them he wants to avenge his father against Rome. [His father, also called Pompey, fled East during a conflict with Julius Caesar, and was assassinated.] Antony points out that while at sea Pompey is powerful, by land the triumvirate is supreme. The triumvirate has made Pompey an offer: he can retain rule of Sicily and Sardinia, but he must rid the sea of pirates and send tribute to Rome. Pompey says that he would accept, if not for the ingratitude Antony has shown him. When Octavius and Antony's brother were at war, Antony's mother fled to Sicily and was generously received by Pompey. Antony thanks him, the two men shake, and Pompey accepts the triumvirate's offer. The tension is eased, and the men turn to talk of feasting together. Enobarbus pipes up, blunt as always, and Pompey recognizes him from past battles. Pompey and Enobarbus exchange compliments.

All exit except Menas and Enobarbus. They exchange compliments, mixed with a bit of boasting. Menas confesses displeasure at Pompey's decision. Enobarbus, when asked about Cleopatra, informs Menas of Antony's marriage to Octavia. He predicts that Antony will return to Cleopatra, and that Antony and Caesar must eventually face off. They go to drink together.

Scene Seven. On board Pompey's galley, off Misenum. Two servants bring on a banquet. They mock Lepidus, saying he is already drunk, and the lame duck of the triumvirate. Amidst trumpet sounds, the triumvirs, Pompey, Enobarbus, Menas, Agrippa, and Maecenas enter with other captains. Encouraged by Lepidus, Antony tells stories of Egypt's natural and historical wonders. Meanwhile, Menas offers to do Pompey a service: the triumvirs are all here, under their power, and murdering them all would be easy. Pompey tells Menas that if he'd done it without telling him, it would have been a good thing. But Pompey, for his honor, cannot knowingly condone the action. Lepidus is carried off drunk. Octavius resists requests to drink more. The men sing a song, and Octavius, a bit sour, decides to leave and takes his cohorts with him.


With Antony back in the West, Pompey cannot withstand the power of the triumvirate. He demands thanks from Antony before agreeing to their terms, but this point is mainly one of pride. This development shows the strength of Antony's military reputation. He is here at the height of his power.

Enobarbus speaks in verse when addressing Pompey, rising to the occasion of speaking with the big players, but when only he and Menas are left the two men speak in prose. The two soldiers are speaking plainly with one another. Menas is an ambitious man, disillusioned with his master for bowing to the triumvirate's demands. The theme of historical necessity or inevitability is touched on again, as Enobarbus repeats his predictions that Antony will return to Cleopatra and Caesar will make war on him. He predicts accurately that Octavia will be cause for war, as a man like Antony can never love so simple and docile a woman, and Octavius shall be furious at his sister's spurning.

Scene seven's opening shows that even servants can see Lepidus' inferior status in the triumvirate. Their talk foreshadows Lepidus' ruin, as one servant says that to be asked to bear too much responsibility can bring a weak man to disaster.

The Roman world's potential for treachery and the theme of honor are very much at play in 2.7. Menas' suggestion shows the ruthlessness of his ambition. Violation of a guest's trust was perhaps the most shameful moral crime in the ancient world, and Pompey refuses because of his honor. Pompey is not without his streak of ruthlessness; he admits that if it had been done without his knowing, he could condone it. But he cannot knowingly murder his guests. His reasoning shows the fine line between honor and treachery for a Roman leader. It is not a superficial conception of honor, concerned only with appearances. When Pompey says "Tis not my profit that does lead my honor / Mine honor, it" (2.7.78-9) he is speaking of priorities, not strategies for success. Pompey might be blamed for their deaths even if the deed were done without his knowledge; conversely, he could order the murders and claim Menas did it without his knowledge. Pompey is not incapable of accepting deaths as the price for power, but he cannot actively and consciously pursue such a bloody course. He has a streak of simple piety in him. When we first see him in 2.1, he proclaims a belief that the gods help men who are just. This belief is completely discredited by the play's end, as Pompey is thanked poorly for his act of restraint, and Octavius achieves ultimate power by means quite alien to justice.

Menas, in an aside, resolves to desert Pompey. It is the first of several occasions in the play when a soldier deserts a superior for failing to live up to his expectations of him.

While the other men make merry, Octavius stands apart. He does not like alcohol: "It's monstrous labour when I wash my brain / And it grows fouler" (2.7.101-2). Octavius possesses marvelous self-control, and he doesn't enjoy wasting time. Drinking robs him of his self-control, and to no purpose. After the men sing a song, Octavius expresses distaste and asks Antony to leave with him: ". . . our graver business / Frowns at this levity" (2.7.122-3). Octavius is not a normal man. He does not enjoy the luxuries that power can bring, nor is relaxing from duty a pleasure for him. His purposes and motivations are political, and any activity that doesn't serve his ambition is a waste of time.