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Free Study Guide-Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare-Book Notes
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SCENE SUMMARIES WITH NOTES

ACT 1, SCENE 2

Summary

In Scene 2, Charmian, Iras, and Alexas (Cleopatra's attendants) are introduced as they have a light-hearted conversation. Alexas then presents a soothsayer to Charmian and Iras. He predicts that both Charmian and Iras will outline their mistress, foreshadowing the tragic end of the drama.

The conversation is temporarily interrupted by the entry of Enobarbus, who comes in to check whether the evening feast is ready for Antony and Cleopatra. He stays to participate in the on- going conversation. The merry group is again interrupted by the entrance of an impatient Cleopatra, who is searching for Antony. During their night of revelry, he left her to go and find the Roman messengers, and she has not seen him since he departed from her. She orders Enobarbus to locate Antony, but before he can depart, Antony approaches. As soon as Cleopatra sees him, she leaves, no longer wanting to see him since he has been found.

Antony enters with one of the Roman messengers, who gives him the distressing news that his wife, Fulvia, has built an army and waged a war against his brother, Lucius. She then allied her army with that of Lucius to confront Octavius Caesar. After suffering defeat at the hands of Caesar, Fulvia and Lucius have escaped from Italy to Greece. The messenger further reveals that Labienus, with his Parthian force, has won a series of battles, conquering vast stretches of territory in Asia Minor and Asia. The news makes Antony feel guilty about his lack of military activity. As a result, he abruptly dismisses the messenger.


A second messenger from Sicyon, a town in Southern Greece, enters with the unhappy news of Fulvia's death. After giving Antony a letter about the details, the messenger departs. Upon reading about his wife's death, Antony turns elegiac. Now that Fulvia is dead, Antony's opinion of her is different. He remarks that she is "a great spirit gone." It is ironic that Fulvia who was despised and cheated upon when she was alive is praised by Antony after her death.

The shocking news of Fulvia's death spurs Antony to action. He acknowledges that he must disentangle himself from the spellbinding love of Cleopatra and return to Rome in order to handle the affairs of his wife. He quickly calls Enobarbus to inform him of his impending departure. The conversation that follows between Antony and Enobarbus is filled with comic relief. Enobarbus lists all the arguments against Antony's decision to leave Egypt, the chief among which is its probable impact on Cleopatra. He says in mock seriousness that his departure might kill Cleopatra, who possesses "such a celerity in dying." Antony answers by stating that Cleopatra is "cunning," but Enobarbus teasingly insists that her passion is the essence of true love.

The ironic verbal interchange continues until Antony informs Enobarbus of Fulvia's death. After a moment of initial shock, Enobarbus regains his composure and playfully consoles Antony by reminding him that there are other women in the world. When Antony says that Fulvia's business requires him to go to Rome, Enobarbus counters that Cleopatra's business makes his presence in Alexandria essential.

The scene ends when Antony cuts off Enobarbus, ending the liberty he has taken in teasing his master. He tells Enobarbus about Sextus Pompeius, the son of Pompey the Great, who is challenging Octavius Caesar on the seas and has gained widespread popularity in Rome, making his presence in Rome even more necessary. Antony then tells Enobarbus to go and notify the officers of his plans to immediately depart for Rome. He also asks him to inform Cleopatra about his decision.

Notes

Scene 2 is divided into two parts. The first half is filled with light- hearted banter and merry-making as Charmian and Iras tease Alexas and beg the soothsayer to give them good fortunes. When the soothsayer tells them of their inevitable tragic fortunes, they respond by laughing and making fun of him.

The first part of the scene is also a testimony of Shakespeare's genius in creating minor characters that act as contrasting foils to the major characters. For instance, the playful exchange between Charmian, Iras and Alexas is an ironic parody of Cleopatra's handling of Antony. Furthermore, Charmian's wish of being married to three kings in an afternoon ironically parodies Cleopatra's fickle desires and wishes and her teasing of Alexas foreshadows Cleopatra's eventual desertion of Antony and their subsequent tragic deaths.

In the second part of the scene, matters turn serious as the messenger tells Antony that Fulvia and his own brother, Lucius, have allied their armies and been defeated by Caesar. He also learns that Pompeius is gaining popularity as he fights Caesar on the seas and that Labienus has met with victories in Asia and Asia Minor. Matters grow more grave when a second messenger enters to tell Antony that Fulvia is dead. The news immediately spurs Antony to action. He acknowledges that he must depart for Rome to handle the affairs of Fulvia and attend to military and politic matters. It is obvious that he feels guilty about his own recent lack of military activity and about his absence from Rome in order to pursue the love of Cleopatra.

In the second half of the scene, Enobarbus is also presented as Antony's trusted friend and adviser. It is obvious that he enjoys a privileged position with Antony and takes the liberty to provide insightful and sometimes scathing remarks. His discussion with Antony about Cleopatra is a humorous, man-to-man talk that is filled with irony. During the discussion, however, Antony admits that the queen has caused him to forget his position and misplace his value. He tells Enobarbus, "Would I had never seen her!" He also orders him to find Cleopatra and inform her of his decision to depart for Rome, not wanting to face her himself.

Antony is furthered developed in the scene, becoming a more complex character. He displays his stoic nature as he calmly receives the news of his wife's death; he shows his patience as he tolerates the ironic comments of Enobarbus; and he shows his ability to make difficult decisions and act upon them when he decides to leave Cleopatra and depart for Rome.

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