Act I, Scenes 1 and 2: Summary and Analysis
Philo: friend of Mark Antony
Cleopatra: Queen of Egypt
(Mark) Antony: triumvir of Rome
Messenger: one of several carrying messages between Rome and Egypt. Other messengers appear during the play; none are named
Demetrius: friend of Mark Antony
Charmian: attendant of Cleopatra and, apparently, the queen’s favorite attendant
Alexas: friend of Cleopatra and Mark Antony and sometimes the unofficial representative of Antony when he cannot be present at Cleopatra’s court
Soothsayer: accurately predicts the future and warns Antony to beware of Octavius
Iras: attendant of Cleopatra
(Domitius) Enobarbus: Roman soldier and friend of Mark Antony
Mardian: a eunuch attendant of Cleopatra
Other attendants, soldiers, etc., sometimes unnamed
In Scene 1 at Cleopatra’s court in Egypt, Demetrius and Philo are discussing the idle behavior of their beloved friend and general. Cleopatra and her attendants enter with Antony. A message arrives from Octavius and Lepidus demanding Antony return and help them in their fight against the son of Pompey the Great. Antony refuses to receive the messengers, but Cleopatra urges him to hear the message. He refuses. She knows that Fulvia (Antony’s wife) is a rival, with a greater claim on Antony than she has, even though she is the queen.
In Scene 2, which takes place the next day at Cleopatra’s court, the Soothsayer’s comments in lines 4 and 5 suggest that Antony will fall before the onslaught of Octavius. The messengers return and deliver their message from Octavius and Lepidus. They demand Antony’s return to Rome. Antony learns that Fulvia has died of wounds received in military action.
Octavius was not the son of Julius Caesar but rather was the son of his niece. Julius Caesar “adopted” him when he was 18 years old and named him his heir. Shakespeare calls him “Caesar” throughout Antony and Cleopatra. In this study guide, he is usually referred to as “Octavius,” because he really had not achieved the position of caesar, regardless of his adopted name, until both of the other two triumvirs were dead and he had consolidated the Roman Empire under his rule as emperor.
Shakespeare understood and vividly portrayed the willful and impetuous nature of Mark Antony. Antony had been wildly successful in defeating Brutus and Cassius at Philippi to secure control of the Roman Empire for the triumvirate. Unfortunately, his success at Philippi led to both arrogance and the belittling of aid given to him there by Octavius and by the third triumvir, Lepidus.
Shakespeare considered Lepidus too weak a man to seriously consider as a leader, either military or civil. His actions in the play add to the audience’s opinion of him as weak and lacking in personal discipline. The playwright knew that a man lacking in personal discipline was unlikely to be a successful leader on the battlefield or in the halls of government for very long. Lepidus, both in the play and in real life, quickly faded from public view. Even today, most historians consider him to have been a weak leader at best.
Shakespeare’s principal characters in this play were real people well known in history. Under such circumstances, there is a limit to how far the playwright can stretch the truth. Antony’s impetuosity is obvious in the play; whether he was just as impetuous as a younger man leading the forces of the triumvirate against Brutus and Cassius is a matter of question. What is emphasized is the fact that General Mark Antony, once a man of strong personal discipline, had lost much of that quality through his dalliance with the beautiful Cleopatra. Only near the end of the play, does Antony begin to reassume the figure of the disciplined soldier that marked his younger and most successful years. His fall from his position of near worship by soldiers and friends, visible even in the first few lines of the play, is more than obvious. Near the end of the play he begins to regain their respect.
Although Shakespeare does...
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