Act IV, Scenes 1, 2, and 3: Summary and Analysis
Scene 1 takes place at the camp of Octavius and his forces, near Alexandria. Octavius (Caesar) receives the letter from Antony, resents that Antony has called him “Boy,” and refuses to fight a duel with him. Mecenas wisely suggests that Octavius take full advantage of Antony’s angry and irrational behavior and be careful not to become angry himself. Octavius mentions that enough men have defected from Antony’s forces to assure Octavius’ victory.
In Scene 2 at Cleopatra’s palace in Alexandria, Antony learns from Enobarbus that Octavius will not fight a duel with him. He discusses the coming land battle and invites his friends to a lavish dinner. He bids his leaders farewell and alludes to the “last supper” Jesus ate with his disciples, another anachronism. Enobarbus upbraids Antony for the defeatist speech to his comrades, but Antony insists he did not mean it in that manner. Notice Cleopatra’s “asides” to Enobarbus, asking what Antony meant by his words.
Scene 3 takes place where some soldiers are keeping watch near Cleopatra’s palace. The soldiers hear sounds of revelry, apparently coming from beneath the pavement where they are standing. One soldier says that it is the sound of Hercules, from whom Antony claimed descent, now leaving him. They agree it is an ominous omen for Antony.
For a day and a half, Antony begins to resemble the great Mark Antony of his younger years. His contempt for Octavius still oozes from his language, but he can inspire his men and overcome blows, such as the defection of Enobarbus. Now that he has a chance to fight on land, rather than sea, he can out-general Octavius and win the day.
Eros and Enobarbus, two of Antony’s closest friends, are contrasted here. Throughout the play to this point, Enobarbus has occupied the superior position and was entrusted with more responsibility than was Eros. But it is Enobarbus who defects to the enemy, and Eros who stays with his friend and commander to the moment of their deaths. The audience may ponder what it was in the characters of the two men that caused the proverbial tables to be turned, nearly at the end of the play, and demonstrated that Eros was, in fact, the superior man, whereas, throughout almost the entire play, Enobarbus was given that position.
Never resolved is why Cleopatra’s navy deserted her and Antony. The audience is to assume that Cleopatra did indeed love Antony, probably as much as such a woman could love any man. Could she not control the commanders of her navy? Did she know she could not do so? If she did know, why had she not warned Antony? She had boasted of her naval strength only days before the treachery. In the first sea battle, her ships had fled, with Cleopatra aboard. Could she not have controlled her admirals? She did not protect Antony when presumably she could have done so, nor was she willing to risk herself to descend from her “monument” to kiss and talk with her dying Antony; she insisted that he be raised up to where she was. Perhaps the audience is to understand that a woman such as Cleopatra could not truly love anyone but herself.
At the moment of Antony’s death, the conflict of emotions within Cleopatra must have been heavy. She knew that the immediate cause of his death was her arranging to have a false report of her own suicide brought to him. That she should have done such a thing strongly indicates her own immaturity and lack of self-confidence—even a desperate psychological need to find out if Antony really cared about her. She had thought, too late, that her plot might have caused his suicide; a fully mature woman probably would have thought of that possibility before she initiated the plot. On the other hand, she had had sufficient control of her faculties to realize that once she was in the clutches of Octavius’ soldiers, it would be difficult for her to follow Antony in suicide. Therefore, she had made arrangements for the delivery of the figs, with the asps...
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