Antony And Cleopatra — Acts I, II, III
Act I - First Read
The first word in this play is “Nay.” A guy named Philo comes out and says “Nay, but this dotage of our general’s o’erflows the measure.” He goes on to say more but I just had to stop and appreciate that some guy I don’t know from Adam is immediately in my face and disagreeing with me. Hey Philo, did I tell you your general’s dotage was overflowing with measure? Nay! I did not, sir! So take it back a step, will you? All right then, let’s read the play!
In Scene i, we meet (go on, guess) Antony and Cleopatra! His full name is Mark Antony actually and I think he’s some kind of modern day business mogul? I know not my own jest.
No, this Mark Antony seems to be either a war hero or ambassador of some sort from Rome. He and the Queen of Egypt have fallen in love with each other. Aww. But Cleopatra still seems to have a practical head on her shoulders. When Rome comes calling, she tells Antony that he should probably go answer. But Antony seems reluctant. I think he’s kind of fallen in to the lap of luxury here (literally) and doesn’t want to give up a good thing. One thing is apparent, Demetrius and Philo can see right through him.
Oh, also there were eunuchs in this first scene attending the Queen. But they didn’t speak. There’s no joke here, Varys, move along.
Scene ii brings the new characters! Charmian seems fun and every time I see his name I see “Chairman,” which probably does me a disservice in the reading, especially since he’s a woman.
“O excellent! I love long life and figs!”
I love this line! It is delivered by Charmian after a soothsayer tells her she will outlive the lady she serves. Great stuff, lady. Proper!
And then… things go dark. News arrives that Fulvia is dead.
There’s a comedic beat in there somewhere that I just wrongfully paraphrased but it is a side note. The rest begs the question: Who is Fulvia? Fulvia is Antony’s wife. What? Yeah. Apparently he’s married. Though not anymore I suppose because, as previously stated numerous times: Fulvia is dead.
This news comes from a messenger from Rome who brings updates on war. I turn my head away when talk of war comes on the page. This won’t bode well in many many upcoming plays. I will try to get the better of my faults. In the meantime, have you heard that Fulvia is dead?
Antony seems to take this pretty well because, you know, he’s shtuping Cleopatra. But he has some long discourse where he tries to make amends with his dead wife.
(For those keeping score at home, her name was Fulvia.)
Coming into Scene iii like a crocodile queen with a slippery fish in her mouth! I’m gonna take a step back and start that one over.
In Scene iii, Cleo and Anton (nicknames they’ve never been referred as) are heating it up with impassioned dialogue. The queen gets word that Antony is about to return to, ehh, I want to say Rome? She knows Antony has a wife there and assumes he’s going back to her, thereby leaving Cleopatra a wrecked woman.
The scene that unfolds, to me, is rather humorous. I don’t believe that was Shakespeare’s intention but that’s where I’m sitting, here in the peanut gallery watching the queen go on and on about “Oh woe is me that you should love your wife Fulvia. Go to her then, Antony. I understand. I get it. She’s prettier and has your heart. And what am I but a loathsome beauty who has nothing going for her except, oh that’s right, I rule all of friggin Egypt!”
Antony does his best to stop Cleopatra from continuing to make a fool of herself. He tries to interject at least three times to set her straight. But she keeps her disappointment up and never lets go of the fact that she’s the one who’s the better woman. For letting him go… back to his wife. Ok.
At long last, Antony is able to get a word in edgewise and explains, “Actually babe, Fulvia’s dead. I guess you missed the memo.”
Cleopatra instantly changes her tune and gives her (too late) condolences. She allows Antony to go back to Fulvia to say goodbye.
Also there was something about “garboils” in there somewhere. LOL garboils.
Scene four, Five
Scene iv takes place in Rome where Octavius Caesar and Lepidus talk to each other with words that have meaning of some sort. It’s riveting.
Back to Cleopatra in Egypt for Scene v. She’s really head over heels for Antony and she makes no secrets about it.
Where think’st thou he is now? Stands he, or sits he?
Or does he walk. Or is he on his horse?
O happy horse to bear the weight of Antony!”
Take it easy, sister. Don’t you have a kingdom to run? But she goes on, even when a messenger from Rome comes to speak to her. She hears that Octavius Caesar (any relation to Julius? I am literally this naive on lineage.) sends good tidings and she immediately asks about Antony. The messenger has no word and says “But Caesar…” And Cleopatra shuts him down. “If you won’t give all honor and grace to my beloved Antony, I’ll knock your teeth out.”
She really says this: “I’ll bloody your teeth!” Cleo rules. She also mentions her “salad days” which I would be willing to bet was the first use of this phrase, in English. Go Shakespeare! Go Willy! It’s your birthday! Get stupid!
Then, Cleopatra demands an ink and paper to decree an official day in Antony’s honor, I think. Or she’ll “unpeople Egypt.” That’s a hell of a way to end Act One. Love it.
Act II - First Read
Scene One, Two
The curtain rises on a few dudes with terrible names, sitting around, jawing like pecking hens over Antony’s rumored return to Rome. One of the dudes, Domitus Enobarus actually keels over and dies when someone poisons him for having such a stupid name. Kidding. That doesn’t happen. And if you yourself are named Domitus Enobarus, well God bless you, sir.
Scene ii is a little more juicy. Octavius Caesar meets with Antony and is questioning him on where his loyalties lie. Antony is being cagey about it, even though everyone in the room clearly knows what’s up.
<insert dated whip cracking sound here>
Someone named Agrippa goads Antony by telling Caesar he (Agrippa) has a beautiful sister who just happens to be unwed. And since Antony’s wife is dead… (Remember Fulvia? Yup. She’s still dead.) … he can morally take a new wife and join their kingdoms. Or something. Maybe Agrippa is suggesting Caeser’s sister for this joint union? Either way.
scene three, four
In Scene iii, Mark Antony asks a soothsayer what he makes of Octavius Caeser’s entire dealy-o. The soothsayer tells him in no uncertain terms that Caesar is the Big Daddy here and Antony will never be a match for him. Burn! Antony tells the sorry soothsayer to take a hike. I don’t think he liked what he soothed to say.
Scene iv just informed me that minor characters are speaking of Octavia and the likelihood (or unlikelihood?) of Antony ever kissing her. So there you go. Octavia is obviously Octavius’ sister to wed him, not Agrippa’s. Phew! There’s one mystery solved!
Scene v rules, ya’ll! We are back in Egypt and Cleopatra receives a messenger. There is a lot of back and forth banter where she asks him news of her beloved Antony. If he’s dead, she tells the messenger, he will be pained for his message. The messenger assures her Antony is alive… many times. But but but. She pleads with him to spit his news out. But as long as Antony is alive and well, as he had already faithfully reported, the Queen promises to shower the messenger with gold, to pour gold down his throat and so on.
The messenger at long last tells her that Antony is alive yes, but married to Octavia. Oh snap.
She strikes the messenger and shouts: “Thou shalt be whipp’d with wire, and stew’d in brine, Smarting in lingering pickle.”
She sends the beaten messenger away and then calls him back to repeat his news again! I believe this is supposed to be drama but to me, this whole scene is great fodder for comedy. It’s fantastic. Cleopatra lays her hurt and betrayal so thick that it is laughable. At the same time, beneath her angered and high octane reactions, she is deeply wounded. So I also have to feel deeply sorry for her. Has Carol Burnett ever played the role of Shakespeare’s Cleopatra? Because she’s all I can see in this scene. She would absolutely own it!
Remaining Act Two Scenes
Scene … dear Lord Act II is long! Well, I’ll say this, the best part of Act II just occurred in Cleopatra’s scene. The rest involves Octavius Caesar and Antony and a bunch of other dudes back in Rome. They sit around and talk about Antony’s new marriage to Octavius’ sister. There isn’t much to speak of because it’s boring so they discuss how Cleopatra will take it. Not well, probably! As we’ve seen!
Next they all get drunk and one guy gets carried away. They may or may not all be on a ship headed back to Egypt to confront Cleo.
Yeah, I’m incredible at this.
Act III — First Read
Scene one, two, three
Scene i takes place in… Syria? What?! Someone get me a map. Is Syria near Egypt? How about Rome?
Ok. Context clues have helped me. Rome is at war with Syria. I should have picked this up before but like I said, war escapes me.
Here now, some soldier has died. I believe they said he is Octavius’ son. The plot thickens?
In Scene ii, Antony has a few words with Octavius, in Rome. So I guess they never got on that boat after all! Oops.
Octavius is sad, Octavia is sadder. If they explain the cause of their sadness, I missed it. Though I assume it has to do with the dead soldier in Syria. They just received word. Don’t hold me to any of this. Like, never.
Scene iii is a sort of tampering of the last time we saw Cleopatra in all her fierce jealousy. She’s still a crazy person when it comes to Antony, but to me at least she is the best and most interesting character of this play.
Right now, her Messenger has returned from Rome. I failed to mention previously that she sent him there to scope out Octavia. But messengers are flying back and forth all the time so whatever. Now that he’s back, the queen peppers him with questions. Luckily for him, he delivers answers she can live with (which means he can live with them). And, finding Octavia to be commonplace and unattractive in the report, she dismisses her messenger without another wicked beating. Phew.
Scene four, five, six
Scene iv is between Octavia and Antony. I don’t know what they’re talking about but they’re arguing about something important. Possibly they disagree on her brother Octavius’ war strategies. That’s the closest I can gather. Am I in the ballpark?
Scene v. Yup. Other characters are discussing the same. “Caeser and Lepidus have made wars on Pompey.” Antony didn’t seem to like that.
Scene vi. Octavia comes before her brother and learns that Antony has conspired war against them with a bunch of kings. She has been undone.
Octavius, to his credit, defends his sister’s honor but does so by calling Cleopatra a “whore.” There’s not much “there” there. He’s just a protective brother in this scene. Good on you, Octavius! Except hmm, maybe you should have all seen this coming?
Scenes scenes scenes
The next five or six scenes (you heard me) fly by and a lot happens so fast that my head is spinning. What happens? War, always war. Am I right? Somehow, Antony is back in Egypt talking to Cleopatra but they are both acting like everything’s cool and he hasn’t betrayed her or anything. I don’t get it. Then there is a significant amount of chatter about whether they should fight on land or sea. Antony ends up talking command of a ship and loses a pretty big battle in the name of … I wanna say Egypt?? Boy if I’m wrong then I’m super wrong. But I’m mostly certain he’s back on the side of his queen again. This guy’s got more 180s than … well crap I walked myself into a dead end analogy.
And Act Three keeps going and going…
scene twelve, thirteen
In Scene xii, Egypt capitulates to Rome, having lost the major battle at sea! Octavius sends a message to Cleopatra: I will accept your bending of the knee to me, if and only if you kill Antony. If I’m right about this, it Just Got Interesting!
Scene xiii. Cleopatra says, “What should we do, Enobarbus?” And he replies with the best one liner, possibly ever. He says, “Think, and die.”
I mean come on! If that’s not begging to be Schwarzenegger dialogue, I don’t know what is!
What follows is quite amazing. A messenger comes from Caeser, telling them he is basically ready to receive Egypt as his conquest. I thought this had already been discussed but maybe it was only from Cleopatra’s side. They were willing to submit but never told him. At any rate, here it is now and the queen willingly and predictably folds to Caeser’s will.
Then, in struts Antony who of course has something to say about all this. He’s definitely on the side of Egypt now (but really he’s just always on the side of Antony). He makes grand, lengthy, impassioned speeches about how they will crush Caeser, etc. He even demands that the messenger be whipped! After the deed is done (offstage), he sends the messenger back to Rome with his tail between his legs. Antony then calls everyone to have fun and to drink and forget about it. The guy is an ass, for sure.
Act III comes to a close with Enobarbus proclaiming that Antony will, in effect, eventually be the end of Antony.
But if his end is coming, he won’t reach it today. Y’all come back real soon for the thrilling conclusion to William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. You hear?