Act IIIScene 1
This scene is a surprising opening for Act 3 because it deals with a subplot, the campaign lead by Ventidius (a subordinate to Antony) in Syria. Ventidius has avenged Marcus Crassus by defeating the Parthians and recites a speech in praise of Antony standing over the body of Pacorus, the king's son. The scene appears to function as a counterpoint the preceeding revelry with the more brutal side to war and honour, and as an illustration of the greatness and responsibility of Antony: "I'll humbly signify what in his name, / That magical word of war, we have effected".
Agrippa and Enobarbus mock the triumvirate, laughing at Lepidus' hangover, and his sycophancy. As a contrast, the second part of the short scene is taken up with Caesar and Octavia in what appears to be a genuinely sad farewell between affectionate brother and sister.
Cleopatra is quizzing the messenger regarding Octavia in a comic scene where the terrified minion is attempting to respond as the "dread queen" wishes. Cleopatra is comforted by the unfavourable description.
The new rift between Antony and Caesar begins; in this scene Antony tells Octvia of the offences her brother has made against him. He "hath waged/ New wars 'gainst Pompey" and has "spoke scantly" of Antony. Octavia speaks of her unhappiness at being torn between loyalty to husband and to brother. Antony gives her freedom to follow which she pleases.
Eros and Enobarbus discuss the imprisonment of Lepidus at the hands of Caesar on trumped up charges of plotting with Pompey, and his likely death. Pompey has been murdered during a battle with Caesar. Antony is reported as being much disturbed by this news. The scenes in this Act grow increasingly shorter and more chaotic, to mirror the breakdown of political stability.
Caesar is condemning Antony's actions, describing how his public enthronement with Cleopatra insults his marriage to Octavia. Antony's far more viable grudges against Caesar are dismissed by Caesar, who feels he holds the moral high ground due to Antony's irresponsibility regarding his new marriage. Octavis enters, having evidently chosen to side with her brother rather than her new spouse. Caesar stresses Antony's bad conduct by calling her "my most wronged sister".
"You are abused / Beyond the mark of thought"
Enter Cleopatra, mid-argument with Enobarbus over whether she should be allowed to accompany Antony into battle. Cleopatra is petulant and stubborn "Why should we not be there in person?" and Enobarbus' reasoning does not affect her. Antony enters, also obstinate in his choice to fight against Caesar by sea, although as Enobarbus explains, this puts him at many disadvantages. Antony's fortunes at the battle of Actium seem already doomed. A common soldier arrives at court, sent by Antony's men to respectfully imlore him to "trust not to rotten planks" and instead fight on land. Antony is impervious, and the soldier despondent.
Caesar gives his general his written orders for the battle - "Do not exceed / The prescript of this scroll". Although the scene is only a few lines long, it gives an impression of Caesar's absolute authority.
Antony's corresponding commands of a few words are expressed with rambling syntax and less exactitude; yet more humanity.
Enobarbus proclaims Antony's failure "Naught, naught, all naught!": together with Scarus he blames Cleopatra for the disaster at sea. Scarus describes how both sides were at equal advantage when Cleopatra's ship "hoists sail and flies", and how Antony followed after "like a doting mallard". Enobarbus determines to stick with Antony through this catastrophe, even though his sense recommends desertion.
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