Study Guide

The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra Choices

By William Shakespeare


He was disposed to mirth; but on the sudden
A Roman thought hath struck him.—Enobarbus!
Seek him, and bring him hither.—Where's Alexas?
Here, at your service. My lord approaches.

Enter Antony with a Messenger.

We will not look upon him. Go with us. (1.2.87-92)

First, this "Roman thought" is presented as contrary to mirth. The lovers are both passionate as they are prone to being tempestuous, and changing their actions immediately upon a new thought. Antony quickly changed from his mirth, and Cleopatra was looking for Antony—until he showed up.

I will to Egypt.
And though I make this marriage for my peace,
I' th' East my pleasure lies. (2.3.44-46)

Antony makes this proclamation after listening to a soothsayer tell him Caesar’s fortunes are better than his, so he should go to Egypt. It’s a rare case where reason coincides with passion; Antony proclaims he’ll go to Egypt, not because of the reason the soothsayer has given him, but because his love and pleasure is there.

Canidius, we will fight
With him by sea.
By sea, what else?
Why will
my lord do so?
For that he dares us to 't. (3.7.34-39)

Antony is all impassioned at the questioning of his power. He knows that his ships are weaker than Caesar’s, and that this fight is a risk, but Caesar has dared him to fight at sea. Of course, Caesar only does this because he knows Antony is disadvantaged on the water, and that he won’t back down from a challenge. In the face of competition, Antony’s passion overpowers his reason and good sense.

Is Antony or we in fault for this?
Antony only, that would make his will
Lord of his reason. What though you fled
From that great face of war, whose several ranges
Frighted each other? Why should he follow?
The itch of his affection should not then
Have nick'd his captainship, at such a point,
When half to half the world opposed, he being
The merèd question. 'Twas a shame no less
Than was his loss, to course your flying flags
And leave his navy gazing. (3.13.3-13)

Enobarbus seems rather enraged by Antony’s own lack of reason or willpower. (Enobarbus uses "will" to refer to Antony’s desire.) In fleeing along with Cleopatra, Antony let his passion overrule his reason. Enobarbus charges that he had no reason to do this, and in following his passion, Antony has incurred shame as well as loss.