Act IScene 1
The play opens in Cleopatra's palace, in Alexandria, Egypt. Two Roman soldiers are discussing the relationship between their leader and the Egyptian Queen. One of them, Philo, deplores the excessiveness of Antony's passion, which he says "o'erflows the measure", and its effect on his personality: "You shall see in him/ The triple pillar of the world transformed/ Into a strumpet's fool". (Antony is described as "triple pillar" because he forms part of a triumvirate of emperors currently ruling the Roman Empire). The pair typify the Roman condemnation of the liaison, calling Cleopatra a "tawny front" and a "gipsy". Their words make the reader/audience want to see the protagonists for themselves, to determine whether they deserve these harsh judgments. The lovers enter, bantering about their love for each other; Cleopatra teases him to procure compliments: "If it be love indeed, tell me how much". Antony rates their love as unquantifiable, to describe it "must thou needs find out new heaven, new earth". News comes from Rome, but, enraged by Cleopatra's taunts about his subservience, Antony denies Rome to show off to her:
"Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide arch
Cleopatra demonstrates her contrariness by instructing him to "hear the ambassadors" directly after this outburst. They exit, postponing the messengers, and instead choosing to enjoy themselves. "There's not a minute of our lives should stretch/ Without some pleasure now." (Antony)
Cleopatra and her attendants Charmian, Iras, Alexas and Mardian (a eunuch) hear the soothsayer and drink wine and other refreshments. Their talk is playful, and slightly lewd:
"Charmian: Well, if you were but an inch of fortune better than I, where would you choose it?
The beginning of the scene is thus very Egyptian, with its self-indulgent sensuousness and astrological whimsy. It contrasts sharply with the second part of the scene - Antony's serious conference with the messenger, who has to inform him that his wife Fulvia has died. His reaction is paradoxical: he appears to have respected his wife, despite having wished he did not have a wife after he met Cleopatra: "There's a great soul gone! Thus I did desire it."
It makes him realize he should snap out of his adulterous inactivity in Egypt: "I must from this enchanting queen break off". Enobarbus, a Roman whom Antony is close to, praises Cleopatra, and, albeit flippantly, encourages him to look upon Fulvia's death as a blessing. Antony is no longer in relaxed Egyptian mode, and retorts "No more light answers", determining to return to politics.
Cleopatra senses something is amiss and feigns illness to gain Antony's attention and sympathy. Her reaction to news of Fulvia's death is typically self-centered: "Now Isee, I see,/ In Fulvia's death how mine received shall be". They part having exchanged typically hyperbolic affirmations of their love.
This scene depicts what has been going on meanwhile in Rome. We see the other two members of the triumvirate, Octavius Caesar and Lepidus. Caesar is reading report of Antony's behavior in Egypt, and his disapproval is clear even though he expresses it in very restrained, legalistic language, which is a sharp contrast with Antony's impassioned speeches.
"... Let's grant it is not
The quotation demonstrates Caesar's political skill; it is not an outright condemnation of his co-emperor, yet highlights Antony's bad behaviour. It thus makes Caesar look benevolent as well as moral - although under scrutiny his lines show intolerance of Antony and a desire to publicise his faults and weaken his power. Lepidus is evidently a less formidable character, agreeing with Caesar. A messenger arrives, announcing that Pompey, a rebel commander who threatens the triumvirate, has gained power and is "strong at sea". News follows to add that he is supported by Menas and Menecrates, infamous pirates.
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