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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 3

Summary

Cleopatra is not pleased to learn of Antony's impending departure for Rome. She employs every trick to try to keep him in Alexandria, for she is not sure of her hold over him. The scene opens with Cleopatra in a state of nervous excitement as her attendants wait upon her. She dispatches Alexas to look for Antony. She instructs him that if Antony is in a sad mood, he should be told that she is merry; but if Antony appears to be happy, he should be told that she is sick and in dull spirits. Cleopatra's incredible display of stratagems alarms Charmian, who offers her mistress advice and tries to alter her tactics. Cleopatra responds that if she "gives way to him in everything, crosses him in nothing," she will certainly lose Antony.

When Antony enters, Cleopatra pretends to be "sick and sullen." Then in a fit of anger and unaware of Fulvia's death, she tells him to go back to his wife. Next, in lines of exquisite verse, she juxtaposes the earlier time when he was loath to leave her presence with his present haste of leaving immediately: "Then was the time for words; no going then: / Eternity was in our lips and eyes, / Bliss in our brows bent; none our parts so poor / But was a race of heaven."


In her excitement Cleopatra does not allow Antony to utter a single word in his defense. When he finally has a chance to speak, he explains his reasons for going to Rome. He mentions the increasing popularity and power of Sextus Pompeius and the threat he poses to the authority of Caesar. He ends with the news of Fulvia's death. Unable to believe what she has heard, Cleopatra exclaims in bewilderment, "Can Fulvia die?" Antony then gives her the letter relating the sad news in order to prove that he is telling the truth. Cleopatra then mocks Antony for the his lack of sorrow or remorse at his wife's death and states that he will surely not act any differently about her death.

Attempting to atone for his departure, Antony pledges himself to Cleopatra as "soldier-servant, making peace or war / As thou affects." Unmoved by his protestations of eternal love, Cleopatra charges Antony with being an excellent dissembler while crying out in agony that she has learned the lesson that Fulvia had to learn about his unfaithfulness. Antony's stoic calm and patience are tested to the utmost limit, and he begins to show signs of anger. Cleopatra, however, does not cease. She accuses him of acting too hastily to depart. Then seeing that her strategy of contradicting him is not working, she assumes the role of the helpless mistress who has been deserted by her lover. Antony is extremely annoyed at her fickleness and remarks: "But that your royalty / Holds idleness your subject, I should take you / For idleness itself."

In the end, Cleopatra bids him a tearful farewell, wishing him success in all his endeavors. Antony leaves after making a universal comment on the inseparability of true lovers who remain in each other's hearts. By the end of the scene, it is obvious that Antony is torn between his choice of Egypt, represented by merriment and sensuousness, and of Rome, represented by duty, military action, and politics. For the moment, he has no choice but to go to Rome.

Notes

Scene 3 is an artistic masterpiece, filled with dramatic intensity and lyricism. Cleopatra is selfishly angry when she hears of Antony's impending departure. She is so jealous about Antony leaving her that she tries every trick in the book to keep him in Alexandria and by her side. She is so distressed that she rants and raves, appearing to be on the verge of insanity. Before she learns of Fulvia's death, she accuses Antony of running home to his wife and abandoning her. She complains that she now knows the meaning of unfaithfulness, just like Fulvia.

When Antony has a chance to tell Cleopatra about his wife's death, Cleopatra turns on him once again. She berates him for not showing more remorse and claims that he will react in a similar manner when she dies. Antony, in a stoic mood, tries to remain patient and pleasant, but Cleopatra continues with her taunts.

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