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Free Study Guide-Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare-Book Notes
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SCENE SUMMARIES WITH NOTES

ACT I, SCENE 1

Summary

The first scene opens in Cleopatra's palace in Alexandria, Egypt. It begins with a discussion between Demetrius and Philo, two friends of Mark Antony. They are worried that Antony has fallen so deeply in love with Cleopatra that he can no longer act as a warrior on the battlefield. Philo makes a disapproving comment on the "dotage" of his general, Mark Antony, whose "captain's heart" has "become the bellows and the fan / To cool a gypsy's lust". Their conversation is interrupted by the appearance of Antony and Cleopatra themselves. Their verbal interchange clearly expresses their romantic love for each other, as they claim that what they feel is stronger than any other emotion in the world.

An attendant enters and announces the arrival of news from Rome. Antony does not wish to hear the messengers, for he is not presently interested in images of war. Cleopatra, however, insists that Antony receive them. She further taunts Antony with an imaginary construction of what the news might be while reminding him of his position in Rome. She mocks him for being dominated by his wife Fulvia and for his meek submission to Octavius Caesar, one of the Triumvirs. Antony reacts by reasserting his intense love for Cleopatra and declares that his "space" is in Egypt with his beloved. He then goes off with Cleopatra to spend a night of merriment and gaiety. After they depart, the two soldiers, Philo and Demetrius, express their dismay and disillusionment at the transformation of the once pragmatic Antony into a "strumpet's fool."


Notes

Scene 1, which barely exceeds sixty lines, is largely expository, subtly introducing the main aspects of the play. The scene opens with the soldiers' condemnation of Antony's deplorable conduct in Alexandria and returns to the same theme at the end, creating a neat cyclical movement that will be repeated throughout the entire play. The subsequent action of the play charts the gradual degeneration of Antony as he becomes so obsessed by his love of Cleopatra that he ignores his public duties.

The opening scene presents Cleopatra as a sensual, conniving, and powerful woman. She taunts Antony about his attachments to Rome, trying to make him break his bonds there. In addition, she makes him profess undying love for her in exaggerated terms. The scene also introduces Antony as a powerless figure. Cleopatra condemns him for succumbing to both Fulvia (his wife) and to Octavius Caesar (one of the Triumvirs). Finally, the scene establishes the two major settings of the play: Rome and Egypt. By the end of the drama, Antony will be forced to choose between their two differing philosophies and life styles; he will also be forced to choose between love and politics. The first scene, therefore, succeeds in introducing the major settings, characters, and conflict of the entire play.

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