Antony and Cleopatra

Antony and Cleopatra Summary and Analysis of Act One, Scenes 4-5


Scene Four. Caesar's house, in Rome. Octavius and Lepidus, followed by their train, discuss Antony. While Lepidus is inclined to defend Antony, Octavius condemns Antony's neglect of his duties. A messenger brings news that Sextus Pompeius' power by sea grows only greater. Lepidus and Octavius go their separate ways, to evaluate their capabilities before meeting tomorrow to discuss how to battle Pompey.

Scene Five. Cleopatra, attended by Charmian, Iras, and Mardian, languishes without Antony. Alexas arrives with news from Antony, assuring her of his continued devotion and that his martial endeavors will make her mistress of the East. Cleopatra seems delighted to have news from her lover, and asks Charmian if ever she loved Caesar so. When Charmian teases her mistress, saying that once Julius Caesar was considered to be a paragon of men, Cleopatra replies that those were "salad days," when she was green, and therefore younger and knew less.


In scenes three through five, we leap from Egypt to Rome to Egypt again. The concerns in these two places could not be more different. Note that when Romans speak to each other, the concern is over empire, duty, and politics. The theme of Rome versus Egypt becomes clear here. Octavius and Lepidus exhibit none of the sense of play seen in Egypt, where even servants play along wittily with their masters. Both scenes four and five show characters discussing Antony. Octavius and Lepidus evaluate him as a soldier, and Octavius condemns him roundly as a "man who is th'abstract of all faults / That all men follow" (1.4.8-9). When Cleopatra and her attendants speak of Antony, it is entirely within the context of her love affair with him.

The vast leaps in space constitute one of Antony and Cleopatra's famous characteristics. No other play of Shakespeare's makes such vast leaps, from one edge of the known world to the other, and back again. These leaps in space parallel the jumps in perspective: in scenes four and five, we get two completely different descriptions of Antony. While Lepidus praises Antony, defending him against Caesar's charges of moral failure, he does not use the same criteria of judgment as Cleopatra. These leaps in perspective help to create great portraits of character, even though the play that has more talk than action: while we don't see the kind of amazing drama of Macbeth or King Lear, we are treated to eloquent discussions of characters by other characters. Compare in 1.1 the difference between Philo's descriptions of Antony and Cleopatra and the description Antony and Cleopatra give themselves. Compare the Romans' different descriptions of Cleopatra. Enobarbus' description of Cleopatra in 1.2 is different from Philo's easy label of "strumpet" in 1.1. Antony describes her quite differently at different points in the play. Throughout the play, pay attention to the descriptions characters give other characters, and the portraits that emerge.