Suggested Essay Topics
Act I, Scenes 1 and 2
1. Charmian is Cleopatra’s servant, but the queen depends heavily on her in several ways. List some of these ways and discuss whether Charmian appeared worthy of such trust.
2. Antony obviously has fallen into considerable lassitude as a result of his relationship with Cleopatra. Are there any indications that Antony might return to the stature he enjoyed as the leader of the triumvirate’s forces against Brutus and Cassius at Philippi several years earlier? If so, what are they?
Act I, Scene 3
1. In this and the two previous scenes, the character of Antony and Cleopatra is revealed, but Cleopatra is subjected to more character development here than is Antony. Describe, by using specific references from the text, how Shakespeare proceeds to develop Cleopatra’s character.
2. Charmian, up to this point, has received about as much character development as has Cleopatra. Based on this and the two previous scenes, suggest how Cleopatra might have acted if Charmian or someone similar to her had not been available. Would Cleopatra’s approach to Antony and the solving of her emotional problems have been different without Charmian? Why, or why not?
Act I, Scenes 4 and 5
1. Scene 4 is, essentially, a conversation between Octavius (Caesar) and Lepidus. Both characters will receive much more development later in the play. Based on what transpires in Scene 4, compare the character and manners of these two triumvirs.
2. Alexas is represented in some editions of this play as a servant of Antony and in other editions as a servant of Cleopatra. He serves throughout the first half of the play as a kind of messenger from Antony to Cleopatra when Antony is out of the area. Do Cleopatra and her attendants consider him Antony’s servant and treat him accordingly, or do they consider him one of their own? Give examples to support your position.
Act II, Scenes 1 and 2
1. Contrast the attitude of Antony with that of his friend Enobarbus. Given that Antony is in the power position, discuss any examples that might indicate that Enobarbus was thinking more clearly and intelligently than Antony about the situation in Egypt and in Rome. Had you been Enobarbus, would you have acted and spoken as he did under the circumstances? Why, or why not?
2. Had you been Octavia, how would you have felt about what was transpiring during these two scenes? Would you have felt good about being the wife of a great warrior and triumvir of Rome and the sister of another triumvir? Or would you have preferred to live a much more private life apart from the realms of royalty? Why, or why not?
Act II, Scenes 3, 4, and 5
1. Why would Cleopatra want as much personal information about Octavia as she could possibly acquire? Suggest several possible reasons and estimate the validity of each reason. Did she intend to use this information against Octavia? Against Antony? If so, what were her chances of success?
2. In Scene 5, Cleopatra grossly mistreats the messenger who brings her the news that Antony has married Octavia. Discuss the character of Cleopatra as if the only picture you had of her was that offered in Scene 5. Then consider whether this picture of the queen harmonizes with the picture you formed of her from previous scenes (including those in the first act), or whether your picture of Cleopatra has changed substantially from what it was before.
Act II, Scenes 6 and 7
1. Write a personal portrait of Pompey, comparing or contrasting (1) Pompey’s view of himself, (2) the triumvirs’ view of him, (3) his associates’ and friends’ view of him, and (4) history’s view of him.
2. History has considered Lepidus the weakest member of the second triumvirate. Summarize how Shakespeare portrays his weakness, then indicate some reasons why historians have considered him weak. Was his weakness the result of his personal failings or of circumstances over which he had no control? Why?
3. If Menas had simply murdered the three triumvirs and then told Pompey that he had done so, how would Pompey have handled the situation? How would he have preserved his “honor” in the view of the world?
Act III, Scene 1
Suggested Essay Topics
1. Ventidius was afraid that if he conquered more territory than Antony had told him to, Antony might have been displeased and might have punished Ventidius. Based on what you have learned thus far about Antony, was Ventidius’ fear justified? Why, or why not?
2. Orodes, king of Parthia, treacherously murdered Marcus Crassus, a member of the first triumvirate of Rome. In your opinion, did the circumstances surrounding the death of Crassus justify the invasion of Antony’s army under the command of Ventidius and the killing of the king’s son Pacorus? Why, or why not?
Act III, Scenes 2, 3, and 4
1. Agrippa and Enobarbus, in Scene 2, discuss whether Lepidus loves Octavius more than Antony or Antony more than Octavius. The discussion distinctly denigrates Lepidus, also a triumvir of Rome. Does his conduct in the play justify the ridicule offered by these two soldiers? Why, or why not?
2. In Scene 4, Antony is explaining to Octavia how her brother Octavius has wronged him. Do these accusations appear to you to justify Antony’s anger with Octavius? Why or why not?
Act III, Scenes 5, 6, and 7
1. Octavius has deposed Lepidus from his place on the triumvirate and imprisoned him in Rome. Some historians tell us Lepidus joined Pompey in making war on Octavius, but Shakespeare does not mention that matter. If Lepidus had been guilty of such treason, the actions taken against him would have been justified. Were they justified on the basis of what Shakespeare tells us in this play? Why, or why not?
2. Why do you think Cleopatra refused to return to Egypt from Greece when Enobarbus strongly suggested that she do so? What reasons, if any, did she offer for deciding to stay in Greece while Antony fought the battle? What was her real reason for staying?
Act III, Scenes 8-11
1. In the first sea battle of the war between Antony and Octavius (Caesar), Cleopatra’s ships turn tail and flee from the battle, granting Octavius the victory....
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