Three of Cleopatra’s servants, Charmian, Alexas, and Iras, consult a soothsayer. Enobarbus, an advisor to Antony tells them to bring wine for Cleopatra. The soothsayer begins to tell the future of Charmian and Alexas and, among other things, says that they will both outlive the woman they serve, Cleopatra. However, he says that they will have futures that will be worse than the lives they have lived so far.
Given the turbulent and uncertain political world of the play, many characters try to find out what the future holds for them. The soothsayer predicts bad fortunes for Cleopatra’s servants—these prophecies are correct, as readers know that in real life Antony and Cleopatra were eventually defeated by Octavius.
The soothsayer says that Iras has a similar fortune. Displeased with their fortunes, Charmian and Iras pray to Egyptian gods for bad things to happen to the soothsayer. They get quiet, though, as Cleopatra enters, looking for Antony. She says that he was happy, but suddenly thought of Rome and was in a bad mood. She asks Enobarbus to go find Antony, but just then he enters. Annoyed with him, Cleopatra leaves and takes all her attendants with her.
The servants discount the soothsayer’s prophesying because they don’t like what they hear, just as Antony disregards any news from Rome that might disrupt his pleasurable time with Cleopatra. Cleopatra appears capricious and flighty, rapidly changing emotions and toying with Antony.
Antony is now on-stage alone with a messenger, who informs him that his wife Fulvia went to war against his brother Lucius, but then allied with Lucius against Octavius, who defeated both of them. The messenger says that he has more bad news: Antony has lost parts of Asia minor to an enemy. He hints that all this has happened while Antony has been dallying with Cleopatra, and Antony tells him not to mince his words, but to criticize Cleopatra in the very words Fulvia would use. He encourages the messenger to point out his wrongs. The messenger exits.
The messenger delivers important news that will put into motion the plot of the play. The story of Fulvia illustrates the shifting alliances of the unstable political landscape: she fights against her own brother, then allies with him to fight the man her husband is allied with. The messenger hints that by enjoying himself in Egypt, Antony has allowed such things happen.
Another messenger arrives and says that another messenger has news. He leaves to get this other messenger, and Antony reflects that he must break free of his “Egyptian fetters.” The other messenger enters and announces that Fulvia has died. Antony admits that he had often wished for this to happen, but now wishes she were not dead. He resolves that he “must from this enchanting queen break off.”
Again, an important event is only revealed through a second-hand messenger. Despite his love for Cleopatra, Antony decides that he must uphold his duty and loyalty to Rome, and leave Egypt. But his sense of honor and duty will only hold out for so long against his new love.
Enobarbus enters and Antony tells him that he wants to leave Egypt. Enobarbus says this will be like death for their women, but says that “between them and a great cause, they should be esteemed nothing.” Antony tells Enobarbus that Fulvia is dead, and Enobarbus thinks that this is good news, as he can now pursue a new woman freely. Antony says he has business at Rome that “cannot endure my absence.” He says that Sextus Pompey, the son of Pompey the Great, has been gaining power. Enobarbus goes to make preparations for them to leave Egypt.
Enobarbus exemplifies a traditional (sexist) viewpoint on gender, regarding women as of trivial importance when compared with political matters. Antony, by contrast, has recently been spending his time prioritizing pleasure over serious political and military issues, though his basic viewpoint may not be so different from Enobarbus’s, as he now at last decides that he has to leave Egypt and Cleopatra to fulfill his duty to deal with Pompey, as various leaders jostle for power over Rome.