Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 509
Octavius (Caesar): triumvir of Rome, later to become Augustus Caesar
Lepidus: triumvir of Rome
Scene 4 takes place at Octavius’ house in Rome, before Antony returns from Cleopatra’s court. Octavius (Caesar) and Lepidus discuss Sextus Pompeius’ challenge. Pompeius’ pirates control the Straits of Messina and nearby waters between Sicily and the Italian peninsula. Octavius condemns Antony for his wanton behavior and dereliction of his duties as a triumvir, but Lepidus attempts, weakly, to defend him.
In Scene 5, at Cleopatra’s court after Antony’s departure to Rome, Cleopatra and her attendants discuss the existing situation. Cleopatra is thinking of Antony so much that even Charmian chides her for doing so. The queen receives Alexas, an emissary from Antony, and promises to write to Antony every day.
Scene 4 marks the beginning of a downward spiral for Lepidus that leaves him incapable of any meaningful action, and hence no longer in command of his third of the empire. Later, after Antony has left Rome for Athens, Octavius and Lepidus act in a manner so antagonistic to Antony’s interests (by abrogating the treaty with Pompey and launching a military attack on him, and by denigrating Antony in public speeches) that it becomes apparent that the only possible result can be open warfare against Antony.
This scene is the first indication that Octavius is beginning to consider Antony as a rival rather than as a colleague. “Tumble on the Bed of Ptolemy” means “engage in a sexual romp with Cleopatra.” Ptolemy was an earlier husband of Cleopatra but such a close blood relative to her that the marriage would have been of questionable validity, even in ancient Rome. “Rebel to Judgement” means “refuse to abide by one’s own common sense and fail to exercise self-discipline.” Octavius (Caesar) again comments on Antony’s misconduct. It becomes clear that Octavius (Caesar) will use this, and Antony’s treatment of Octavia, as a pretext for a military challenge.
In Scene 5, the eunuch Mardian puns on Cleopatra’s question “Indeed?” by stating that, because he is a eunuch, he can do nothing “in deed,” an example of Shakespeare’s frequent bitter humor. Note Cleopatra’s comment: “O happy Horse, to bear the weight of Antony!” which validates, to some extent, Charmian’s concern that Cleopatra’s constant thought of Antony is overly distracting the queen from other business. Nevertheless, such hyperbole verifies Cleopatra’s deep feelings for Antony, even though it causes a titter among the queen’s confidantes. Cleopatra loves Antony, whether wisely or otherwise, and challenging that love on the basis that it is not intelligent misses the point. Love, as Shakespeare reminds us time and again throughout his plays, is not to be measured on an intellectual yardstick.
It is obvious by the time Cleopatra promises to write to Antony every day that either she cares deeply for Antony or wants Alexas and her attendants to believe that she does so. Alexas’ report of Antony’s message to Cleopatra makes it clear that he is devoted to her.