Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 843
Eros: friend and servant of Mark Antony
Towrus: second in command of Octavius’ army
Camidius (Canidius): second in command of Antony’s army
In Scene 5 at Antony’s house in Athens, somewhat later in the day than the previous scene, Enobarbus and Eros discuss the existing political situation, primarily as it concerns Octavius and Antony. Octavius has seized and imprisoned Lepidus—that after the two triumvirs had fought a successful campaign against Pompey.
Scene 6 takes place in Rome, just after Octavia has arrived from Athens. Octavius (Caesar) receives Octavia and tells her that Antony has greatly wronged her and has enlisted the help of many nations in a forthcoming war against him—a considerable overstatement at best. Octavius is angry with Antony for not providing a sufficient escort for so great a woman as Octavia—a totally invalid charge, because Antony had offered her as much of an escort as she desired.
In Scene 7 at Antony’s camp in Actium, Greece, Enobarbus and Cleopatra discuss the situation. Enobarbus urges Cleopatra to return to Egypt. He explains that she will distract Antony’s attention from the crucial matter at hand—defeating Octavius (Caesar) if a battle ensues. In an analogy, he says that a stallion cannot properly devote himself to his master and rider if there are mares in the pasture with him. The stallion, even with the rider on his back, will mount the mare if she is in heat. But Cleopatra refuses to abide by his advice and insists on not only being with Antony but also in having her navy attack Octavius and precipitate a sea battle. Octavius soon will dare Antony to fight him on the sea.
The news arrives that Octavius has quickly crossed the Ionian Sea and taken the city of Toryne, to the amazement of Antony, who could hardly believe that he had crossed so quickly to Greece. After Antony refuses to reconsider his rash decision to fight Octavius on the sea, a soldier swears by Hercules that his efforts to dissuade Antony from a sea battle were valid and correct. Camidius, Antony’s second in command, agrees with the soldier.
In Scene 5, Octavius seized and imprisoned Lepidus—after the two triumvirs had fought a successful campaign against Pompey. Historians tell us that Lepidus did turn against Octavius in the war against Pompey, but Shakespeare neither mentions nor alludes to that fact anywhere in this play. Had he done so, the imprisonment of Lepidus could be considered to be at least somewhat justified. Shakespeare’s contempt for Octavius (Caesar) gradually becomes evident. Perhaps it was to engender such contempt among the audiences of his day that the playwright omits this important detail. If so, it is another example of the manner in which Shakespeare “adjusts” the known facts of history to suit his purposes, which usually, but not always, heightens the dramatic effect of the action on stage.
Scene 6 yields more such examples of Octavius’ attempts to belittle Antony in the eyes of everyone else, including his own sister, Octavia. Octavius’ telling Octavia that Antony has greatly wronged her and has enlisted the help of many nations in a forthcoming war against him is a considerable overstatement at best. At worst, it is an outright lie. The intended effect is to make Octavia feel sorry for herself (more than she already does) and convince her what a scoundrel Antony really is. Octavius’ misstatement of the situation is a forewarning of his less than pure motives for whatever he does. Octavius’ anger with Antony for not providing a sufficient escort for so great a woman as Octavia is groundless. Antony had offered her as much of an escort as she desired.
In Scene 7, Cleopatra’s insecurity probably precipitates her highly unwise decision not to return to Egypt and allow Antony to fight Octavius (Caesar) without having to think about her. She apparently felt she could not take a chance on being away from Antony any longer than absolutely necessary. Furthermore, she thought that her offer of her navy would serve to solidify their relationship.
Antony foolishly and with far too much pride accepts Octavius’ dare to fight a sea battle, and thus seals his own doom and that of Cleopatra. His disregard of all the efforts by seasoned commanders and soldiers to dissuade him from a sea battle leads to the understanding that Antony will be utterly destroyed. The synecdoche “sails” (the part) meaning “ships” (the whole) appears for the second time in this play. (A synecdoche, in which the part stands for the whole, is the opposite of a metonymy, in which the whole stands for the part.)
Antony claimed to be a descendant of Hercules, a mythical Greek hero who had become a demigod. Hercules had won a significant victory (against Antaeus) while standing on land. When Hercules, however, later put himself into the power of a woman, he was destroyed. This supposed tie between Hercules and Antony, well known to many of Antony’s day, explains several events that occur later.