In the first scene, Antony and Cleopatra are arguing about Antony’s loyalties. Is Antony loyal to her, or to Rome? Antony is having an affair with Cleopatra, but he is married to Fulvia. He is supposed to be loyal to Caesar, but he has been staying in Egypt and does not want to return to Rome. Antony makes light of the arguing and doesn’t want to hear the messengers from Rome, whom Cleopatra has urged him to hear. She feels like he is shirking his responsibilities.
Fie, wrangling queen!
Whom every thing becomes, to chide, to laugh,
To weep; whose every passion fully strives
To make itself, in thee, fair and admired!
No messenger, but thine; and all alone
To-night we'll wander through the streets and note
The qualities of people. (Act 1, Scene 1)
In this scene, Cleopatra seems to know the score. She asks why Antony would “marry Fulvia, and not love her.” She tries to get Antony to listen to the messengers from Caesar. She is aware that while Antony has been playing in Egypt, Caesar has been gaining power and influence. He can’t run away from his responsibilities forever.
Cleopatra is aware of the precarious position they are in. If we are declaring winners, Cleopatra won the first scene because the next scene has Antony finally listening to what the messenger has to say, and finding out that his wife Fulvia made a move against Caesar. She is dead. Antony is being called to Rome, something he finds difficult. He describes how he must break his “strong Egyptian fetters.”
In the next scene, Cleopatra argues with Charmian about the best way to handle Antony.
Madam, methinks, if you did love him dearly,
You do not hold the method to enforce
The like from him.
What should I do, I do not?
In each thing give him way, cross him nothing.
Thou teachest like a fool; the way to lose him. (Act 1, Scene 3)
Cleopatra knows that Antony wants a strong woman. He likes Cleopatra for who she is. She is not just beautiful, she gives as good as she gets in battle.
The argument that ensues between them is expected at this point. Antony barely gets a word in edgewise in this argument. It is driven by Cleopatra. Cleopatra’s reaction to Antony’s wife’s death is complicated. On the one hand, she sees in his reaction to Fulvia’s death his reaction to her death. She is evaluating it. On the other hand, she is glad he is unattached. However, he has to go back to Rome because of the trouble Fulvia caused, which Antony is being blamed for. He tries to explain this to her.
When Antony is away, Cleopatra frets. The way she maintains control over him is with her feminine wiles. She worries that he will go to Rome and never come back. This is why she sends messengers to see how he is doing. She wants to know every detail. She also comments, though, that she loves Antony and it is not just about maintaining her power.
Who's born that day
When I forget to send to Antony,
Shall die a beggar. Ink and paper, Charmian.
Welcome, my good Alexas. Did I, Charmian,
Ever love Caesar so? (Act 1, Scene 5)
By comparing Antony to Julius Caesar, Cleopatra is making a distinction between the two relationships for the audience. She loves Antony, and it is not just about getting or maintaining her own power. Antony, on the other hand, is diminishing in power. This is why he had to run off to Rome when (Octavius) Caesar demanded it. Cleopatra is worried about what is next for them.