Notes on Antony and Cleopatra Themes

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Antony and Cleopatra Topic Tracking: Messengers

Act 1

Messengers 1: The first of many appearances by messengers is marked by the messenger's hesitation to deliver the whole message; Shakespeare gives these small characters quite a range of personalities, and it seems that the first messenger fears what might happen if Antony hears the whole message, so he stops and Antony must send for someone else, and again, and again, until finally the fourth messenger tells him of Fulvia's death.

Messengers 2: Two more messengers bring news of the war and tell Caesar how Pompey is gaining power, both through his own conquests and through those of his pirate friends, Menas and Menecrates. As the first four messengers to Antony were, these messengers are also common people, rather than named characters, showing that Antony and Caesar have not yet reached their highest status yet. Later, Dolabella will remark that Antony used to be able to send Kings as messengers; he has clearly not yet reached the height of his power.

Messengers 3: Since Antony's departure, Cleopatra has sent him a messenger every day with a message of her love; Alexas questions this, but she maintains that the reason she does it is to show the scope of her love for him. If necessary, she would use all of the people of Egypt to be her messengers. This not only shows the scope of her love, it also shows the scope of her power and wealth to be able to have so many people at her disposal.

Act 2

Messengers 4: This long scene with Cleopatra and the messenger illustrates many things about Cleopatra's character. She is devoted to Antony and very jealous, and, fearing the news to be bad, quite some time passes before she lets the messenger actually deliver his message, because she keeps interrupting him. She fears at first that Antony could be dead, and promises to reward the messenger if he is not dead. This could be where the phrase "don't blame the messenger" comes from: she praises and rewards him when the news he has is good, and, eventually, physically assaults him when he tells her that her lover is married to another woman.

Act 3

Messengers 5: The messenger that had been attacked by Cleopatra in Act 2 learns from the past: he is back, and though he feared to reappear before Cleopatra, he knows that what he needs to do in order to survive her wrath is to tell her what she wants to hear. She asks for news of Octavia, and he reports only bad things about Octavia so as to please her and convince her that she has nothing to fear.

Messengers 6: A Schoolmaster is sent by Antony as an Ambassador to Caesar; Dolabella recognizes that the lowly status of the Ambassador, a mere teacher, is a good indication that Antony is rapidly losing power. In the past, he could have afforded to send a message by way of a King, but now, he is reduced to using lowly teachers to do his bidding. Caesar takes this as a good sign.

Act 5

Messengers 7: Dolabella becomes an unwitting messenger to Cleopatra; although he is on Caesar's side, he listens to Cleopatra talk about her grief about losing Antony and decides to let her know that Caesar plans to use her to show off his victory. She then sends him to arrange for a way for her to commit suicide, and he obeys, just as a good messenger would do, captivated by her beauty and her heart.

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