illustration of Antony and Cleopatra facing each other with a snake wrapped around their necks

Antony and Cleopatra

by William Shakespeare

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Act I, Scenes 1 and 2: Questions and Answers

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Study Questions
1. Who were the triumvirs who formed the second triumvirate of Rome following the death of Julius Caesar?

2. Why did Mark Antony consider himself at least partially justified in taking an extended “vacation” in Egypt?

3. The Soothsayer in this play performs what function?

4. Mark Antony tends to hold Octavius in contempt. Why? How do we know that he holds such feelings toward Octavius?

5. Why was Octavius so anxious for Mark Antony to return to Rome?

6. Demetrius and Philo perform what extremely important function in the first scene?

7. The Soothsayer carefully absolves himself from causing or even affecting the outcome of events. Why?

8. In Scene 2, Cleopatra says of Antony, “A Roman thought had struck him.” In this context, what is a “Roman thought”?

9. Several lines later the messenger says, “The nature of bad news infects the teller.” What does he mean?

10. How does Antony learn of Fulvia’s death?

1. The three triumvirs of the second triumvirate were Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, Mark Antony, and Octavius (later called Caesar).

2. In the crucial conflict at Philippi between the triumvirate and the conspiracy led by Brutus and Cassius, Mark Antony led almost all the fighting, whereas Lepidus and Octavius did relatively little for the cause.

3. The Soothsayer prophesies that Octavius will triumph over Mark Antony.

4. Mark Antony still considers Octavius a mere lad; it is beneath Antony’s dignity to deal with him. Even Cleopatra refers to Octavius as “scarce-bearded Caesar,” and Antony is irritated by the arrival of Octavius’ messenger.

5. Sextus Pompeius, who controlled Sicily and whose pirates were raiding ships in the vicinity of the Straits of Messina, had challenged the triumvirate. Octavius considered him a major threat and feared all-out war, in which Antony’s expertise would be sorely needed.

6. Their discussion at the beginning of the play informs the audience of Mark Antony’s stay in Egypt and of his relationship with the queen, of which they strongly disapprove.

7. The Soothsayer makes it clear that he merely foresees, but he does not cause the events of the future.

8. With surprisingly piercing discernment, Cleopatra identifies a “Roman thought” as a serious thought, presumably as opposed to an “Egyptian thought” which could be frivolous.

9. Messengers bearing bad news often were beaten or otherwise punished, as if they were the cause of the bad news instead of merely the bearer of the tidings.

10. A messenger from Rome brought Antony the news of his wife Fulvia’s death.

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Act I, Scene 3: Questions and Answers