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SCENE SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
ACT III, SCENE 5
This short scene is composed of a dialogue between Enobarbus and Eros, which brings the audience up to date on some of the recent events that have transpired with Caesar. The war with Pompeius has reached a climax, with Pompeius being killed. After using Lepidus to his own benefit in the war, Caesar has turned on the weak Triumvir and imprisoned him.
Eros tells Enobarbus that Antony is furious about Caesar's unscrupulousness and Lepidus' cowardice. Antony has even threatened to kill the officer who murdered Pompeius. He is also preparing his naval fleet to set sail against Caesar.
The purpose of Scene 5 is to let the audience know, in a succinct manner, what has been transpiring in the political world and to reveal Antony's reactions to the events. Caesar has defeated Pompeius, with the help of Lepidus. He then turned on the weak Triumvir, accusing him of treachery, putting him in prison, and planning to have him killed. Antony is so furious about Caesar's actions that he is preparing his naval fleet to sail against Caesar. He also threatens to kill the officer who murdered Pompeius.
ACT III, SCENE 6
This scene returns to Rome, where Caesar converses with his trusted advisers, Agrippa and Maecenas. Caesar voices his anger at Antony's actions. He is especially upset about Antony's celebration of his victories in Alexandria and his division of the Eastern provinces among Cleopatra and her offspring. Antony has made his son, Alexander, the king of Great Media, Parthia, and Armenia; he has made his other son, Ptolemy, the king of Syria, Cilicia, and Phoenicia; and he has entrusted the administration of Lower Syria, Cyprus, and Lydia to Cleopatra. Caesar is also furious that Antony, in a public ceremony, has recognized Cleopatra's son, Caesarion, as the heir of Julius Caesar.
Maecenas and Agrippa suggest that this news should be spread in Rome so as to decrease the popularity and good repute that Antony enjoys among the populace. Caesar replies that he has already done so. Caesar also mentions that Antony has accused him of not giving him his part of the island of Sicily after defeating Pompeius and of not returning the fleet of ships lent to him. Moreover, Antony has questioned Caesar's act of deposing Lepidus. Agrippa says that Antony's charges must be answered. Caesar replies that he has already sent a letter defending his conduct and explaining that Lepidus had started abusing his authority, which caused his imprisonment, an ironic explanation since Lepidus was known as the weak Triumvir. Caesar has also told Antony that he will divide the territory won from Pompeius if Antony agrees to divide the spoils of his victories in Armenia and other Eastern kingdoms. Maecenas comments that Antony will certainly not yield to Caesar's demands. Caesar adamantly responds that neither will he yield to Antony's demands.
Unannounced, Octavia enters with her attendants. Caesar notices the small number of her staff and is furious with Antony for providing his sister with so little. Octavia defends her husband by saying that she chose to travel in this manner and was not forced by Antony to do so. She explains to her brother that she has come as a peacemaker, attempting to heal the widening breach between Antony and him. Caesar remarks that Antony must have been relieved for Octavia to come to Rome, for he is sure that she has been an obstruction between "his lust and him." He then tells his sister that Antony is in Alexandria and that he has given up his empire to Cleopatra, whom he calls a "whore."
Caesar next informs Octavia that Antony is mustering the support of the Eastern kings and preparing a huge army to move against him. Octavia is shocked at this news and poignantly expresses her grief: "Ay me most wretched, / That have my heart parted betwixt two friends / That do afflict each other!" Caesar tries to comfort her, and Agrippa and Maecenas tell her that "each heart in Rome does love and pity you."
This scene opens in Rome with an infuriated Caesar. He is angry that Antony has asked him to split the spoils of the Pompeian war with him, criticized him for imprisoning Lepidus, and demanded that his fleet of ships be returned. He is also jealous that Antony has been successful in conquering Eastern kingdoms and furious that he has given them to Cleopatra and her progeny. As reported by Caesar to his advisers, the details of Antony's division of his kingdom are historically accurate.
Caesar's attitude about Cleopatra is very clear in this scene. He describes her as a deceitful, treacherous, conniving woman who is a huge threat to the stability of Rome. He also accuses her of using magic and sorcery to cast a spell on Antony. As he hurls abuses on her, he even refers to Cleopatra as a whore. It is important to remember that Caesar had to slander Cleopatra and magnify her actions to huge proportions in order to gain the approval of the Senate to attack and destroy her.
Although Caesar is doubly angry about Antony's involvement with Cleopatra since he has deserted his wife (and Caesar's sister), Octavia, to return to the Egyptian queen, Shakespeare's objective is not to create a domestic tragedy. In truth, the whole theme of love in the play really operates in the background as politics and ambition unfold as the basis of the dramatic action. In fact, Shakespeare does not even show Antony's return to Egypt and Cleopatra. Instead, the audience learns about it as Caesar relates it to Octavia and his friends.
Although the culmination of the tragic action is yet to occur, this is an important scene that builds tension and suspense as it leads to the climax. The focus of attention in the entire scene is on the ambitious Caesar, as he plots to overcome Antony and Cleopatra and become the sole ruler of the Roman Empire, a position he has wanted from the beginning of the play. Even though Antony has now given Caesar a reason to attack and destroy him, the audience realizes that Caesar would have found a reason no matter what Antony had done.
It is important to realize the depth of deceit that is now occurring in the play. Antony has deceived himself by believing that he is in no danger by returning to Egypt and Cleopatra. In a like manner, Cleopatra deceived herself into believing that Octavia was not a beautiful woman and would pose no threat to her position. The master of deception, however, is Caesar. He creates falsehoods about Lepidus and has him imprisoned in order to take him out of power. Now he plots to take Antony out of power by deceiving the Senate and convincing them he should attack Antony and Cleopatra, assuring his own political leadership.