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

ACT III, SCENE 13

Summary

In this scene, Enobarbus exonerates Cleopatra from the loss of the battle at Actium, placing the blame fully on Antony. He says that Antony allowed his passionate love for Cleopatra to come in the way of his duty and that there was no reason for Antony to have followed her when she fled from the war. When Cleopatra asks him what can be done now, his terse reply is, "Think, and die."

Euphronius arrives, bringing Caesar's terms and conditions. When Cleopatra learns that Caesar wants her to murder Antony, she is horrified. Antony is also beside himself with rage at Caesar's demands. He loses all control and challenges Caesar to a personal combat. Enobarbus wisely observes that Caesar has routed not only Antony's soldiers but his judgment as well. He knows that Caesar will treat Antony's challenge contemptuously and that Antony's defeat has made him oblivious to the realities of life. Enobarbus begins to question his decision to remain with Antony. In an aside, he muses that loyalty to fools is folly; but he also believes that those who remain with their fallen masters earn their place in history as they conquer that which led to their master's defeat. In the end, he decides to stay with Antony.


Thyreus enters and is received cordially by Cleopatra, in spite of the fact that he comes improperly and without ceremony. He immediately suggests that Cleopatra should surrender to Antony out of fear. Cleopatra vaguely and cunningly responds that although she was conquered, her honor "was not yielded." Then in an attempt to save herself, she says that she pays obeisance to Caesar's supremacy and that she lays her crown at his feet; but she never says she is disloyal to Antony. Enobarbus is disgusted by what he thinks is Cleopatra's betrayal of Antony and goes off to find his master.

Antony arrives, accompanied by Enobarbus. When he sees Cleopatra smiling as Thyreus kisses her hand, he is seized by jealousy and anger and orders Thyreus to be whipped. Enobarbus is disappointed with Antony's childish display of empty and futile violence and sighs, "'Tis better playing with lion's whelp than with an old one dying." Antony then denounces Cleopatra, accusing her of trying to please Caesar by stooping so low as to "mingle eyes" with his attendant. He basely accuses her of adultery. Cleopatra denies his charges and asks, "Not know me yet?" Touched by her response and realizing he has falsely accused her, Antony again reconciles with the queen.

Antony then makes plans to fight Caesar again. With frenzied valor, he outlines the steps he will take to defeat his enemy. Cleopatra is proud of Antony's revival of spirits and exultantly exclaims, "That is my brave lord!" Buoyed by her support of him, he calls for a night of feasting, wanting to instill some hope in his "sad captains." Antony and Cleopatra leave the stage to make preparations.

Enobarbus, left alone on the stage, expresses his dismay at Antony's wild and buoyant spirits. He is realistic about the proposed battle, knowing that Antony does not stand a chance. He wisely remarks, "When valor preys on reason / It eats the sword it fights with." He decides he must seek an opportunity to leave Antony.

Notes

This is an intensely dramatic and exciting scene in which the main characters vacillate in their emotions. Upset by Antony's cowardice and flight from battle, Cleopatra feels that she has no choice but to acknowledge the supremacy of Caesar even though she still loves Antony. In an effort to save her own life, she flatters Thyreus, the messenger from Caesar, by allowing him to kiss her hand and by hinting she will surrender to Caesar. When the jealous Antony sees her smiling at the messenger, he is enraged and accuses her of adultery. He is so upset that he says he will fight Caesar once again. Impressed by his renewed buoyancy of spirits, Cleopatra encourages and supports him in his plans. Warmed by her kindness, Antony reconciles with her. Enobarbus cannot believe what he sees or hears. He is certain that Antony has lost his mind to reconcile with Cleopatra or to fight with Caesar. Knowing that his master is sure to lose to Caesar a second time, the vacillating Enobarbus makes plans to leave Antony as soon as possible.


Commentators have conventionally criticized Cleopatra's flattery of Caesar in this scene. However, it is difficult to condemn her political overtures to Caesar at the expense of her love of Antony. After all, it is only an attempt to save her own life. Antony had done much the same thing when he married Octavia to patch up the differences between himself and Caesar.

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