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

ACT II, SCENE 1

Summary

Set in Messina, this short scene centers on Sextus Pompeius, the son of Pompey the Great. Involved in leading a rebellion against the Triumvirate, Pompeius discusses the present state of affairs with his pirate friends--Menecrates and Menas. As he hears of their victories, he feels proud of his present status and optimistic about his future. He states that his popularity is increasing, largely due to the facts that Lepidus is so meek and mild mannered that no one takes him seriously and that the people are upset with Caesar for levying abominably high taxes. Pompeius also believes that he is in absolute command of the seas and feels glad that Antony is away in Egypt, causing him no threat. In gallant verse, he declares, "I shall do well: / The people love me, and the sea is mine; / My powers are crescent, and my auguring hope / Says it will come full."

Menecrates deflates Pompeius' elation when he informs him that Caesar and Lepidus have garnered their mighty forces and are moving towards them with great speed. Pompeius does not want to believe this news and tries to convince himself that the two Triumvirs are still in Rome waiting for Antony. He hopes fervently that Antony will not disentangle himself from the charms of love and luxury offered by Cleopatra. He says, "Let witchcraft join with beauty, lust with both! / Tie up the libertine in a field of feasts."


Varrius enters with the news that Antony has set out for Rome and is expected to arrive at any moment. Pompeius remarks to Menas that Antony's military valor and expertise are double that of either Caesar or Lepidus. He is upset that matters are bad enough to drag Antony from his luxurious life in Egypt. Menas attempts to comfort Pompeius by pointing out the likely discord between Caesar and Antony since Fulvia, along with Lucius, had led an uprising against the authority of Caesar. Pompeius possesses enough political insight to realize that the two of them will resolve their political differences in order to present a united front to the external threat of their rebellion.

Notes

It is important to understand the Background Information on Pompey's son, Sextus Pompeius. The son of a great man and political leader, he behaves accordingly. He is affable in personality, optimistic in outlook, shrewd in political insight, and mighty in battle. He has led a successful uprising against Caesar, and his popularity is steadily increasing among the tax-burdened populace. He has, in fact, become powerful enough to pose a genuine threat to the stability of the Italian state.

In this scene, Pompeius explains why he is optimistic. He feels that Lepidus and Caesar are not much of a threat to his ambitions; Lepidus is too mild mannered to be taken seriously as a leader, and Caesar has angered the people with his excessive taxation. Pompeius also feels hopeful that Antony will be permanently ensnared by Cleopatra in Egypt. Finally, since he already has control of the high seas, Pompeius is confident that his victories and popularity will continue.

Pompeius clearly shows his intelligence within this scene. He shrewdly sums up the lack of leadership ability in Lepidus, as he tries to be everybody's friend and patch up quarrels. He also understands that Caesar is angering the populace by over taxing them. Additionally, he understands that Antony is a much better military leader than either Lepidus or Caesar; therefore, he hopes that Antony remains in Egypt, posing no threat to his plans. Pompeius finally reveals his penetrating insight when he thinks that the outwardly united party of the Triumvirate is really ridden with internal dissension.

The pirates, Menas and Menecrates, are introduced in the scene. Menas appears as pragmatic and airs conventional views and attitudes. Menecrates appears to be more philosophically inclined, an odd trait for a pirate. Self-confident of his own strength and power, Menecrates sees his role as providing a check on Pompeius' complacency. It seems that he almost takes pleasure in warning Pompeius that Lepidus and Caesar have united forces and are marching towards them. Pompeius does not want to believe this news. He does, however, believe the messenger who reveals that Antony is headed to Rome. This news concerns Pompeius, for he knows that matters must be bad to tear Antony away from Cleopatra. He also knows and fears the military strength of this Triumvir.

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