illustration of Antony and Cleopatra facing each other with a snake wrapped around their necks

Antony and Cleopatra

by William Shakespeare

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Why, according to Scarrus, is Antony’s naval retreat an action of shame?

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Scarrus is one of Antony's most enthusiastic and martial supporters. He is thus dumbfounded when Antony abandons the sea battle against Caesar to follow the retreating Cleopatra and her ships. Denouncing Cleopatra to his fellow soldiers, Scarrus lets loose with a string of insults that are strongly gender-based, calling her a "nag" and a "cow," indicating that he suspects Cleopatra has weakened the manliness of his master Antony:

Yon ribaudred nag of Egypt,--
Whom leprosy o'ertake!--i' the midst o' the fight,
When vantage like a pair of twins appear'd,
Both as the same, or rather ours the elder,--
The breese upon her, like a cow in June,--
Hoists sails and flies.

This flight in the wake of a mere woman is, in Scarrus' eyes, the height of shame and unmanliness:

I never saw an action of such shame;
Experience, manhood, honour, ne'er before
Did violate so itself.

It is not, however, enough to shake his basic allegiance to Antony, and he will fight victoriously for his master again later in the play.

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