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SCENE SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
ACT II, SCENE 2
Scene 2 opens in Rome in the house of Lepidus. The Triumvirs are to gather here to discuss the state of Roman affairs. As always, Lepidus is trying to smooth away the dissension between his fellow partners. He attempts to enlist the support of Enobarbus, Antony's trusted friend, in his efforts to effect reconciliation between the mighty Caesar and the "noble Antony." He asks Enobarbus to advise Antony to answer Caesar's charges gently, but Enobarbus replies that he will "entreat him / To answer like himself." When Lepidus reminds him that in such grave times it is not wise to be egoistic and take personal affront, Enobarbus says that even small matters are important, just like the larger issues.
Antony confidently enters with Ventidius, his general. He does not seem to be at all concerned about this crucial meeting with Caesar. Almost at the same time, Caesar enters with this trusted advisers, Maecenas and Agrippa.
Lepidus' opening speech shows that he is, in deed, a meek, mild- mannered man who tries to please everyone and offend no one. He tells the other Triumvirs, "That which combined us was most great, and let not / A leaner action rend us." Antony reacts with faintly disguised contempt for the man. Antony then takes Caesar by surprise when he complains that Caesar is taking undue offense on private matters that should not concern him. Caesar replies that it would be foolishness on his part to meddle in Antony's private affairs. Antony then asks Caesar why he was offended by his stay in Egypt, which is really not Caesar's business. Caesar argues that Antony's actions threatened the stability of the state; therefore, his personal affairs became a political matter.
Caesar accuses Antony of inciting Fulvia and Lucius to make war on him. Antony replies that he had no hand in the rebellion and claims that Fulvia was trying to undermine his authority, as well as Caesar's. He says that it is easier to tame his third of the world than to control a wife like Fulvia. Enobarbus interrupts the serious discussion to make a bawdy comment about Fulvia. Caesar then accuses Antony of ignoring his messenger in order to continue his merry-making in Alexandria. Antony explains that the messenger had entered unannounced and without permission while he was feasting with three kings. He adds that he had apologized to the messenger on the following day.
Caesar then accuses Antony of violating the "article of your oath" by refusing to lend him military support during the civil war waged by Fulvia. Alarmed by Caesar's increasingly overbearing attitude and list of charges, Lepidus begs him to speak softly; Antony, however, is willing to answer all of Caesar's grievances against him. He explains that he had not refused to give Caesar military reinforcement but rather neglected it since he was immersed in the pursuit of pleasure and enjoyment. He says that he will accept his faults and pray for forgiveness, but he states that his "honesty" will not impoverish his "greatness." Antony then blames Fulvia for inciting the civil war in an attempt to make him leave Egypt.
Maecenas interrupts to remind the Triumvirs of the present danger of the uprising in Sicily under the leadership of Sextus Pompeius. Caesar, however, is not finished with Antony. He states that he agrees with the logic of Antony's argument, but he does not like the manner in which it has been put forth. Seeing that the two men are on the verge of a quarrel, Agrippa makes an attempt to solidify their relationship. He suggests that Antony, now a widower, should marry Caesar's sister, Octavia. Antony surprisingly agrees to the suggestion.
Antony turns the conversation to the pressing matters at hand. He voices some concern about fighting Pompeius, who has recently done him some favors. Lepidus remarks that if they do not attack Pompeius, he certainly will attack them. Antony agrees and says that he will lend his support to the battle. Having reached an agreement about handling Pompeius, Antony, Caesar, and Lepidus depart to find Octavia to tell her the news about her marrying Antony.
Agrippa and Maecenas question Enobarbus about the luxurious life and splendors of Egypt. They are particularly inquisitive about Cleopatra, whose beauty and charm is renowned. The famous description of the Egyptian Queen on the river is then given.
The meeting and conflict between Antony and Caesar is entirely Shakespeare's own creation, for it was not reported in Thomas North's translation of Plutarch. The scene is important for it reveals more information about both men. Antony proves himself to be self-confident and able to handle Caesar's many grievances against him. When Lepidus tries to quiet Caesar, Antony insists that he continue with his charges, for Antony wants to get them out in the open so he can answer them one by one. Unfortunately, Antony does not handle his women as well as he handles Caesar; he is unable to control them in any way. Earlier in the play, Cleopatra was able to easily manipulate Antony. Now he admits that he could not control his own wife, Fulvia. He even states that she waged war against Caesar in an attempt to bring Antony back to Rome from Egypt.
Caesar is depicted in a less positive light than Antony. He meddles in the private affairs of Antony and then tries to justify his actions. He poses several petty charges against Antony and refuses to drop the matter even when Maecenas tries to turn the conversation to the pressing issue of Pompeius. He accuses Antony of inciting Fulvia to make war against him when he knows that Antony really had no part in it.
For the first time in the play, Antony speaks negatively of Cleopatra in this scene. He says that she "poisoned" him during his stay in Egypt. Obviously everything is not perfect between the two of them. This is further proven when he agrees to marry Octavia, Caesar's sister, in order to attempt reconciliation between Caesar and himself. For the moment, he is more concerned about his political life than his love affair with Cleopatra.
Although the scene is very serious in mood, there are moments of comic relief offered by Enobarbus. His comments are so frequent that Antony finally has to insist that he remain silent. After the Triumvirs depart, however, Enobarbus shows his keen insight. He gives a lovely description of the luxuries of Egypt and the beauty of Cleopatra. He then tells Maecenas that Antony will never be able to leave Cleopatra, even if he marries Octavia for political reasons, foreshadowing the outcome of the play.
The scene is also a clear contrast of Rome and Egypt. When in Rome, Antony acts like the Romans. He becomes a political creature, capable of defending himself and his actions against the accusing Caesar. He is also capable of making quick and correct military decisions, as evidenced by his support of fighting against Pompeius. Additionally, he agrees to marry Octavia, even though he barely knows her and is not in love with her. This is a completely different man than the one pictured earlier as he enjoyed the luxuries and sensuousness offered by Egypt.