Act I, Scene 3: Summary and Analysis
Scene 3 takes place later that day in Cleopatra’s court. Cleopatra is talking of taunting Antony; Charmian warns her against antagonizing him. Antony enters, talks with Cleopatra and tries to find a way to tell her he must go to Rome, at least for a short time. Suspecting the worst, she accuses him of “treason,” although possibly with tongue in cheek. She feigns sickness, hoping to keep him in Egypt and asks him why she should think he’d be true to her when he was false to his wife. Antony has trouble getting even a word in edgewise, as Cleopatra continues her tantrum. Finally he is able to explain that he must return to Rome because his wife is dead. Sextus Pompeius’ forces, which hold Sicily, and whose pirates Menas and Menecrates have been terrorizing shipping through the Straits of Messina, is threatening to march on Rome itself.
Grasping hold of herself, Cleopatra assures Antony of her heartfelt love for him, accepts his decision, wishes him Godspeed, and suggests that life will be difficult for her without him.
Cleopatra’s moods shift (whether truly or feignedly) to the annoyance of Antony. The audience begins to wonder if Cleopatra has the innate ability to love anyone other than herself. Often she acts more like an adolescent girl than like an adult, possibly because she has been a queen for so long, and almost always has her own way. She cannot bear anyone denying her what she wants. When it becomes obvious to her that she cannot control Antony in the same manner as she has controlled her subordinates, she becomes psychologically unsure of herself and attempts to disguise this uncertainty by a bit of bravado. Shakespeare, aware of this tendency in all people (if to a much lesser extent), treats this subject specifically later in the play, when he suggests that people do not know what is truly good for them. The playwright thus foreshadows Cleopatra’s apparent mood changes later in the play that surely were an important, if not absolutely definitive, cause for Antony’s eventual defeat and destruction.