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SCENE SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
ACT III, SCENE 3
Scene 3 returns to Alexandria. Cleopatra has regained her composure and called back the messenger to quiz him about the appearance of Octavia, her rival. The messenger, who fears the wrath of Cleopatra, enters reluctantly. He decides to paint a false picture of Octavia and says only that she is a widow of thirty with a low voice, a short stature, a round face, and a narrow forehead. Charmian goes along with the deception, not wanting her mistress to be distressed. Cleopatra is so pleased with the description given by the messenger that she rewards him with pieces of gold. Convinced that Octavia is not much of a rival for her own beauty, Cleopatra regains some hope and remarks, "All may be well enough."
This scene is filled with subtle comedy as the messenger gives a vague and somewhat deceptive report of the appearance of Octavia. Cleopatra, wanting to believe the worst about her rival, misinterprets his words and pictures her as an unattractive woman and not much of a challenge to her own beauty. By the end of the scene, Cleopatra's spirits have been lifted. She is so pleased with the messenger's news about Octavia that she gives him several pieces of gold. It is important to remember that this is the same messenger that Cleopatra berated earlier in the play when he revealed the news about Antony's marriage. It is no wonder that he does not tell the whole truth, for he does not want to endure Cleopatra's ire again.
ACT III, SCENE 4
This scene takes place in Athens, where Antony has arrived with his bride. As the two of them enter, Antony complains to Octavia about the behavior of her brother, Caesar. He has spoken negatively about Antony in his absence, publicly read Antony's will in the Senate, and violated their agreement with Pompeius by making war upon him. Octavia feels terrible, for she is caught in the middle of her husband and her brother as they rival for power and supremacy. Octavia tries to calm Antony and then proposes that she travel to Italy in an attempt to effect reconciliation between Caesar and her husband. Antony eagerly agrees to the proposal.
This brief scene emphasizes the rivalry between Antony and Caesar. As soon as Antony departs from Rome, Caesar makes moves to seize more power, breaking the treaty of the Triumvirate by declaring war on Pompeius. He also openly criticizes his new brother-in-law and tries to undermine his power. It is an historical fact that Octavius Caesar read Antony's will in the Senate, hoping to gain political mileage out of it, but there had been no damage done. Because of his deplorable actions, it becomes more obvious that Caesar is a power-hungry politician, who will stop at nothing to achieve success.
As the scene opens, the newlyweds have arrived in Athens, where Antony is decrying the behavior of Caesar to his wife. Octavia feels miserable, caught in the middle between her brother and her husband. She idealistically hopes that there is a way both of them can win. To calm her husband, she suggests that she go to Italy as a peacemaker to try and effect reconciliation between Caesar and Antony. Antony eagerly agrees to the proposal. The audience suspects he wants a chance to escape to Egypt.