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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Act II, Scenes 6 and 7: Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 724

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Scene 6 takes place near Messina, Sicily, where Pompey’s ships are anchored. The triumvirate talks with Pompey, hoping to negotiate peace and thus save both sides from losing thousands of men in the fighting. Antony agrees to negotiate with Pompey “on the sea,” where Pompey is especially strong, so as not to threaten him during the negotiations.

Both sides have taken some hostages to prevent treachery by either side. The triumvirate has offered Pompey the islands of Sicily and Sardinia if Pompey agrees to call off his pirates and give up his designs on Rome itself. Pompey reminds Antony that Antony is living in Pompey’s father’s house, which he took without paying for it. Also he mentions the first tryst between Antony and Cleopatra, in which the queen was hidden in a rolled up mattress and brought into Antony’s quarters, without anyone else being aware of the matter. Enobarbus, aware that these veiled taunts might break up the meeting and result in all-out war, tries, successfully, to change the subject of the conversation.

Much to the distress of Pompey’s henchman, the pirate Menas, Pompey accepts and invites all to his galley for a “state dinner” to seal the agreement. After the principals leave the stage, Enobarbus and Menas discuss the situation, telling each other how they see the matter. They jocularly accuse each other of thievery—Menas on the sea, Enobarbus on the land.

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Latest answer posted November 24, 2007, 1:12 pm (UTC)

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In Scene 7, aboard Pompey’s galley in the harbor of Messina, the servants more or less agree that the triumvir Lepidus is pretending to be a much more powerful and wiser man than he actually is. They correctly predict his fall and destruction.

A great deal of drinking takes place, during which Lepidus passes out and must be carried to shore. Menas suggests quietly to Pompey that the cable that holds the boat near the Italian shore be surreptitiously cut, so that the boat will drift away from shore, and that he murder all three triumvirs; then Pompey might be able to take over the entire Roman Empire without significant loss of life. Pompey refuses, but tells Menas that he should have done it without asking permission—a permission that Pompey must refuse or sacrifice his honor: the triumvirs were Pompey’s guests. Menas, in an aside, says that opportunity once spurned never returns again, and thus foreshadows the fall of Pompey.

During the scene, Menas and Enobarbus reveal their feelings about the matter—feelings that hardly do honor to the principals. Menas is sullen, sure that Pompey has made a tragic mistake in handling the situation the way he has. Enobarbus, on the other hand, is quite jovial. The scene ends with the end of the dinner and a drunken dance in honor of Bacchus, the Greek god of wine.

In Scene 6, “Sails” means “ships,” the same substitution appears again in Act III. Enobarbus says that Antony will return to Cleopatra and forsake Octavia, who is “of a holy, cold and still conversation.” He refers to Cleopatra as Antony’s “Egyptian dish,” a rather startling metaphor.

In Scene 7, the servants correctly predict Lepidus’ fall and destruction. This is only one of many places in Shakespeare’s plays in which the conversation of unnamed minor characters validly predicts the future. Notice the simile concerning the crocodile; Shakespeare normally uses metaphor more frequently than he does simile. A great deal of drinking takes place, during which Lepidus, passes out and must be carried to shore. This is another in the series of events that depict Lepidus’ character—lack of personal discipline and self-control—that lead inexorably to his destruction.

Menas suggests that opportunity, once spurned, never returns again. He thus predicts the eventual downfall of Pompey. Unexplained is how the murder of the triumvirs without Pompey’s foreknowledge would have spared him any dishonor. The host is generally considered responsible for the conduct of his servants and staff. No mention is made of what would happen to the hostages in such a case.

Notice the onomatopoeia, “Plumpy,” in line 108 where the word sounds like one meaning for which the word is often used. As the revelry ends, the audience knows that Octavius will triumph and become, in truth, Caesar, and that Pompey, Lepidus, and Antony, are on their downward spirals.

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Act II, Scenes 3, 4, and 5: Summary and Analysis


Act III, Scene 1: Summary and Analysis