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SCENE SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
ACT 1, SCENE 4
Scene 4 moves to Rome and begins with a dialogue between Octavius Caesar and Lepidus. As Caesar lists his grievances against Antony, Lepidus attempts to serve as a moderator between his fellow Triumvirs and makes excuses for Antony's conduct. Caesar mocks Antony's "revels" with Cleopatra in Alexandria and charges him of being effeminate, "not more manlike than Cleopatra." Caesar also accuses Antony of ignoring the Roman messengers and goes so far as to call Antony "a man who is the abstract of all faults / that all men follow." He claims that Antony's sport in Egypt has caused the collapse of divisions that are crucial to the Romans.
Lepidus pleads on Antony's behalf, saying that his love life is his private affair and that his faults are hereditary rather than being acquired or deliberately cultivated. Caesar answers that perhaps his antics are Antony's private affair when he violates Ptolemy's marriage, equates the importance of his "kingdom" with a "mirth," and forgets his noble identity in "tippling [i.e. going on a drinking spree] with a slave;" however, when Antony's actions threaten the very stability of the state, they no longer remain his private matter, for the rest of the Roman leaders have to clean up his messes.
The conversation is ended when a messenger enters to report the continued successes and increasing popularity of Sextus Pompeius. He tells of Pompeius' rebellion in Sicily and the coastal raids made by his pirate friends, Menecrates and Menas, which almost resulted in a blockade of Italian ports. Caesar responds by lamenting the fact that Antony is no longer a brave warrior fighting such forces. He recalls Antony's past heroism in battle when he showed extraordinary patience and ability to endure personal hardships. It is obvious that he longs for Antony to leave his life of luxury and indulgence in Egypt and return to Rome to help solve their problems and serve as a military leader. After discussing Antony's faults, Caesar and Lepidus pledge their loyalty to each other and then part to evaluate their armies.
Scene 4 introduces the Roman setting and the other two Triumvirs, Octavius Caesar and Lepidus. It is clearly evident that Lepidus is the least powerful of the Triumvirs from his submissive deference to Caesar and his weak attempts to make excuses for Antony. In contrast to Lepidus, Caesar is a picture of power and the embodiment of controlled prudence, restraint, and reason. As a leader, he is the complete opposite of Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt. He is also pictured as the consummate politician who realizes that he needs Antony's military expertise to counter the threat posed by Pompeius. After he lists his grievances against Antony, including an accusation that he has been acting in an effeminate manner, Caesar states that he should return to Rome to help in the effort to maintain the power of the Triumvirs.
Although Antony is absent from the scene, and therefore unable to defend himself, Caesar points out many of his weaknesses. He accuses him of being too fond of food and drink, too sensuous to be logical, and too enamored of Cleopatra to perform his Roman duties. He even questions Antony's basic character, implying that he is base. Caesar does admit, however, that Antony has been a good warrior in the past, known for his strength, patience, and courage.
Caesar's excessive criticism says as much about Caesar as it does Antony. Being younger and less experienced than Antony, Caesar lacks self-confidence and tries to cover it up by belittling the missing Triumvir. He also shows that he can be clever and conniving. He will try to bring Antony back to Rome in order to use his expertise on the battlefield in order to safeguard his own position. In the same manner, he pledges his loyalty to Lepidus, just as Cleopatra has pledged herself to Antony, but Caesar will later show he has no regard for or loyalty to this weak Triumvir.
The reference "to tumble on the bed of Ptolemy" within the scene alludes to the Egyptian tradition of incestuous marriages followed by the Macedonian Dynasty whereby siblings were married and then ruled jointly. Caesar refers to the view prevalent in Rome that Cleopatra had been married to her late brother, Pompey the Great. His criticism of the Queen of Egypt is an expression of the general distaste of the Romans for this female leader.