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 III, Scenes 12 and 13: Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 568

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Dolabella: friend of Octavius (Caesar)

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Thidias: friend of Octavius

Scene 12 takes place at Octavius’ camp. Antony has sent his children’s schoolmaster to Octavius—perhaps a final insult to the victor, whom Antony always has called a mere boy. The emissary asks that Antony be allowed to live in Egypt, or, if not Egypt, as a private man in Greece. Cleopatra agrees to submit to Octavius’ rule. Octavius refuses to grant Antony’s request but gives the emissary a favorable answer to Cleopatra, providing only that she drive Antony from Egypt or kill him. Then he sends his own emissary, Thidias, to Antony and Cleopatra. Thidias is authorized to offer Cleopatra any terms he thinks appropriate.

Scene 13 takes place at Cleopatra’s palace in Alexandria, where she and Antony have returned following the disastrous sea battle. After Antony’s defeat, Cleopatra asks Enobarbus, “Is Antony or we at fault for this?” “Antony,” Enobarbus answers, for Antony would “make his Will Lord of his Reason.”

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Antony, aware of Octavius’ terms that the price of Cleopatra’s safety is his own destruction, writes Octavius a letter, challenging him to a sword duel to settle the matter, rather than destroy thousands of soldiers in a final battle. Thidias arrives and tells Cleopatra that Octavius knows that she took up with Antony through fear of him, not love of him.

Antony returns and orders Thidias whipped—another sign that he lets his emotions control his intellect. Then he asserts his will to continue the war: “I am Antony yet,” after which he obliquely accuses Cleopatra of acting like a whore: “Would you mingle Eyes With one who ties his [Octavius Caesar’s] Points?” In a famous speech she defends herself and satisfies Antony, who now plans a final military and naval attack on Octavius. Antony proposes a feast, to which Cleopatra agrees, reminding him that it is her birthday.

In Scene 12 Antony has insulted Octavius (Caesar) by sending his children’s schoolmaster to Octavius, whom Antony always has called a mere boy. (At this point, in 31 B.C., Octavius was 32 years old; Antony was 51.) It is evident that Octavius has no intention of abiding by his own or Thidias’ promises to Cleopatra. All he desires is physical possession of Cleopatra. Shakespeare, never an admirer of Octavius Caesar, paints a vivid picture of his lack of character.

In Scene 13, when Cleopatra asks Enobarbus which person was at fault in the defeat, the playwright makes a point which is made many times in his plays: that every man is responsible for his own actions. When Octavius tells Cleopatra that he knows she took up with Antony out of fear of him, not out of love for him, he offers Cleopatra an “out.” However, Octavius’ “gracious” comment is not valid; Cleopatra did not submit to Antony through fear. Nevertheless, Cleopatra accepts his statement as true, displaying her own weakness–a weakness which she bemoans later in the play.

When Antony returns to the scene and orders Thidias whipped, the audience sees another indication that Antony lets his emotions control his intellect. Nevertheless, his statement, “I am Antony yet,” and his willingness to continue the war, suggest that the old (and real) Antony is returning to the stage. At this point, Cleopatra’s stature, too, takes a turn for the better. (“But since my lord is Antony again, I will be Cleopatra.”)

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Act III, Scenes 8-11: Summary and Analysis


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