Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 513
Silius: friend of Antony and soldier in Antony’s army commanded by Ventidius
Scene 1 takes place in Syria, probably on a plain near the battlefield. Ventidius, commanding Mark Antony’s army, has won a significant battle against Orodes, king of Parthia. His troops bear the body of Pacorus, Orodes’ son, as a symbol of victory. (The battle constituted revenge against the Parthians for the treacherous murder of Marcus Crassus, a member of the first triumvirate of Rome.) Ventidius is urged to pursue his triumph to conquer adjacent regions, but he refuses, citing the danger of promoting himself and possibly eclipsing his general, Antony. Doing that has proved dangerous before with other generals, and Ventidius wants no part of that here. He has done his duty and is ready to return home, but he wants Antony to understand that his army was so successful because they were well paid and well cared for, something that could not be said for many armies of that day.
This act illustrates the point where rising action ends and falling action begins. In most Shakespearean plays that point occurs somewhere in the third act, with two acts yet to follow. That is a contrast to the situation in modern drama, where rising action usually continues until later in the play—often to somewhere in the final act. In Antony and Cleopatra, surprises continue to occur until the very end of the play, but the final outcome is not in doubt after Act III.
Nevertheless, different commentators could reasonably place the “climax” of this play at any of several other points: (1) at the point where Antony again, at least temporarily, regains his status as a great military leader, (2) at the point where he commits suicide, (3) at the point where Cleopatra commits suicide (and the rather unusual manner in which she does so), or (4) at the point where Octavius (Caesar), deprived of his goal to parade Cleopatra through the streets of Rome as a captive, orders a large state funeral for them and grants Antony’s last wish—to be buried with Cleopatra in her tomb.
The third act emphasizes a major message of Antony and Cleopatra, that many a man has been ruined when he allowed his love (or infatuation) for a woman to overrule his better judgment and destroy both his stature and his life and cause. Women are the heroines of Shakespeare’s plays about as often as they are villains, but they are often portrayed as pawns for men to push around on a giant chessboard. An example of this in the play is Octavia, who has no reasonable choice but to accept her brother’s decision to marry her to Antony.
In Antony and Cleopatra, as in so many of his other plays, Shakespeare portrays the tragic results of letting one’s emotions overpower the intellect. But, as the playwright well knew, the tendency to allow one’s heart to rule one’s head is endemic in the human race, as it always has been since the beginning of recorded history.