Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 529
Scene 3 takes place in Rome, at the home of Octavius. The Soothsayer who made the oblique predictions in Egypt of Octavius’ rise and Antony’s fall makes that prediction explicit. He tells Antony that in every instance where he and Octavius are involved in any controversy, Octavius will always win, and he urges Antony to return to Egypt as soon as possible and keep away from Octavius. Antony sends his officer, Ventidius, to Parthia to enter into a campaign that will prove successful and convince the world of the futility of opposing the triumvirate.
Scene 4 takes place on a street of Rome just as the triumvirs are about to leave for the campaign against Pompey in Sicily. Lepidus tells Agrippa and Mecenas that he will be delayed a couple days before he can leave Rome, but that he will meet them in Sicily.
The location of Scene 5 changes abruptly to Cleopatra’s palace in Egypt. Alexas is still there, as Antony’s unofficial representative during his absence in Rome. Cleopatra jokes with Charmian and Mardian about how she played a trick on Antony and, while he was drunk, dressed him in women’s clothes. This forms a bit of comic relief, but a messenger arrives from Rome, and all levity comes to an instant halt. Cleopatra fears that the message is that Antony is dead. Cleopatra queries the messenger and learns that Antony has married Octavia. Furious, she mauls the messenger and orders him whipped. Once she has quieted down, she tries to find out all she possibly can about Octavia and eventually sends Alexas to get a complete physical description of the woman.
In Scene 3 it becomes obvious that Octavia is simply to be a “stick” in this play. Her character is not developed sufficiently for her to be considered a major character. The audience could hardly expect her to show much feeling about Antony. After all, the marriage occurred quickly, and she hardly knew her husband. One would suspect that Antony’s previous wife, Fulvia, although she does not appear in this play, was a far more interesting and compelling character than was Octavia.
Scene 4 serves merely as a transition scene and adds little or nothing to the plot. It does, however, suggest that Lepidus might have something “in the works” of which the two other triumvirs are unaware. History tells us that such almost certainly was the case, but Shakespeare does not develop that possibility here.
In Scene 5, Cleopatra’s mauling and whipping of the messenger represented a practice more or less common in those days. That is one reason why messengers cringed when asked to bear unfavorable news. It illustrates Cleopatra’s impetuous, adolescent nature. She acts so even after Charmian, her chief attendant and probably her best female friend, has strongly urged against it. This stubbornness emphasizes even more the fact that Cleopatra is governed by her emotions, almost totally unrestrained by reason.
By this time the audience knows that Cleopatra really loves Antony. Her feelings are what almost any woman would feel under the circumstances—insecurity and jealousy. Those doubts will be allayed later, but for now, she is thoroughly upset.