Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 466
Scene 10 takes place near Antony’s headquarters, the following morning. Antony is surveying the situation to determine how to handle the second day of the battle. He notes that Octavius is preparing for a sea battle. Antony is fighting his battle on earth and water and wishes he also could fight Octavius in air and in fire. Scene 11 has only four lines as Octavius (Caesar) views the situation from a point near his camp. Octavius tells his troops his best advantage, after yesterday’s defeat, is to attack by sea.
In Scene 12 at a vantage point overlooking the sea where the battle is to be joined, Antony and Scarrus see Cleopatra’s ships desert and go to Octavius’ side. Antony knows that their treachery ends his chance for a victory. He blames Cleopatra for ordering the treachery and calls her a whore. He orders Scarrus to tell his forces to give up the battle, then he launches into a bitter tirade against Cleopatra. When she appears, he tells her to leave immediately, or he’ll kill her. She leaves.
In Scene 10, a foreshadowing of disaster for Antony is revealed in an expression of his overconfidence. In his day, people believed there were only four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. Antony, fighting his battle on earth and water, wishes he also could fight Octavius in air and in fire. This statement has been taken as Shakespeare’s prophecy that battles of the future would be fought in the air and with fire, but the possibility appears, at best, strained and, at worst, ludicrous. In Shakespearean drama, a display of undue pride often foretells a fall.
Scene 11 is another short transition scene that allows the audience to see the picture from Octavius’ standpoint.
In Scene 12, Shakespeare offers no real evidence that Cleopatra had anything to do with the desertion of her sailors and ships. Insofar as the audience can determine, the playwright assigns the cause to pure cowardice on the part of Cleopatra’s sailors (and, perhaps, the poor state of repair of their boats, which had been mentioned earlier in the play). Antony thinks she intended to become Octavius’ woman—another wrong guess on Antony’s part. The “shirt of Nessus” is a shirt Hercules’ wife, Deianira, had given him, smeared with the blood of the centaur Nessus whom Hercule––also sometimes called Alcides—had shot with a poisoned arrow. Deianira had thought the blood on the shirt would work as a love charm, but instead it caused Hercules such great and searing pain that he flung the servant who had brought the shirt to him so high in the air that he fell into the sea far from land and died. This is yet another reference to Hercules, from whom Antony claimed descent.