How does Shakespeare present the action in Act three?
The point of Act three Scene one is to show the audience the political side of Antony and Cleopatra. All of the triumvirate are worried about their reputations and this short scene suggests that they are not that generous.
Shakespeare makes Scene two seem comic because Enobarbus and Agrippa mock Lepidus and say that he is Caesar and Antony's ‘beetle’, ‘They are his shards, and he their beetle’. The way in which Shakespeare has presents Enobarbus’s and Agrippa’s speech, allow the audience to have a bit more background information about the main characters from a completely different, unbiased point of view.
Shakespeare gets rid of Lepidus quickly and quietly. Act three Scene two is his last scene and he only speaks one line. I think Shakespeare wants to get rid of Lepidus to emphasise the action that is about to happen between Caesar and Antony and other main characters. At the end of this scene, Enobarbus begins to mock Antony. Shakespeare is making it seem as though Antony is fake and he isn’t what he says he is.
Scene three concentrates on Cleopatra’s messenger giving Cleopatra the description of Octavia. It is a very comic scene because the messenger was ‘scared out of his wits’ last time he was with Cleopatra and so this time, he tells Cleopatra everything that will make her feel happy and friendly towards him. I think Shakespeare has put this particular scene here because it breaks up the more important action between the triumvirate and Pompey. The audience find it comical and it reinforces how serious and determined the other characters are in the following scenes. In scene four this is especially emphasised when we find out that Caesar has ‘waged a war’ with Pompey and made Antony look bad in public. In this scene, we realise that the triumvirate is no longer and things are falling apart. I think Shakespeare reinforces the fact that the audience will be shocked by placing this scene immediately after a comic scene which trails off from the more important action.
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Shakespeare incorporates Octavia into this scene as being the sensible woman who will ‘act as a go between’ and so the audience feel less anxious about Antony and Caesar having a war. The fact that Antony deserts Octavia is at the moment seen to be the reason for the deterioration of the triumvirate. Act three Scene five however makes clear to the audience that this cant be counted as a reason because Caesar was already ‘establishing his power’ before this. Also in this scene, ‘Caesar is increasing in power’ and Shakespeare presents this by using two of the minor characters to raise this subject and talk about it so that the audience hear it from a reliable source.
Act three Scene six is a very important scene to enable the audience to understand Antony and Caesars behaviour towards each other. In this scene, Antony ascends the thrown with Cleopatra and Octavia is yet to find out from Caesar. This scene proves how quickly things are taking place in this play. During the last two scenes, the subject has been about Antony and his progression in the war and then, in this scene, Shakespeare has concentrated on Caesar. Shakespeare presents Caesar clearly in this scene and he ‘emerges as a commanding figure’. He very confidently acts, speaks and plans his route in the war.
Act three Scene seven is the scene in which Antony decides to fight at sea although he is much weaker than Caesar at sea. Antonys generals tell him that ‘no disgrace will fall on him’ for refusing Caesars offer of fighting at sea. But Antony refuses because he says Caesar has in a way dared him to and he doesn’t want to look like a wimp in front of Caesar. This scene keeps us informed of the advancing state of both sides and reveals at the end how Caesar had deceived Antony by sending small amounts of his men out at a time.
Following this scene are two very short scenes, eight and nine, which inform us how Caesar and Antony are controlling their men, Caesar tells his men what not to do and Antony tells his men what to do. These two short scenes show the audience Antony and Caesars differences and prepare them for Scene ten in which the sea battle commences. Again I think Shakespeare builds up the action well by using short, informal scenes and by preparing us for the climax in scene ten.
In Scene ten, Antonys weak side is presented to the audience because when Cleopatra leaves the battle, Antony follows her instantly without turning round and speaking to his men. Scarrus uses metaphors such as death and pestilence to suggest how Antonys side is sure to lose now and also to suggest how shocked he is by Antonys actions. This scene ensures that Antonys men will leave him, for example, Camidius says that Antony has set him an example and so he will do the same and follow him. Enobarbus however stays loyal to Antony for the moment and decides to stick with him even though he knows it won’t turn out very well. Shakespeare puts doubt in the audiences minds now about Antonys state of mind and what will happen from here onwards.
Shakespeare shows in Scene eleven that Antony is feeling very sorry for himself and tells all his soldiers to leave. All of this was easy to interpret from the previous scene because of the way Shakespeare presented the action.
Scene twelve contrasts scene eleven completely as Shakespeare goes from describing poor, sulking Antony to confident, in charge Caesar. In this scene, Caesar is seen to be very superior to Antony because Antony is begging for him to let him live in Egypt. Shakespeare firstly presents Caesar as being superior because of how Antony is acting towards him but then when Caesar replies that Antony is not allowed to live as a free man, the audience realises that Caesar himself is making him seem too good for anyone else. Shakespeare presents Caesar as being totally in control of everyone when he tells Cleopatra she must either turn Antony in to him or kill him herself. This scene also shows how un-noble Antony is because the way he treats Thidias is much like the way in which Cleopatra treated her messenger in Scene three. Shakespeare has presented them like this to reveal how similar they are to each other – they are both easily provoked and agitated when things don’t go their way.
Enobarbus’s role in this scene ‘mirrors his larger role in the whole of the play’. He is present for the entire scene and judges the characters for the audience.
Shakespeare confidently places Enobarbus at the end of Act three to tell the audience how he feels about Antony. The audience throughout this act will have gradually been building up their thoughts on Antony as Shakespeare has presented him in many different ways and so by placing Enobarbus at the very end of the Act (just before more events begin to happen) the audiences mind can be made up for them.