Antony and Cleopatra

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Messages, Warnings, and Omens Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Love, Pleasure, and Decadence Theme Icon
Honor, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Strategy, Manipulation, and Power Theme Icon
Messages, Warnings, and Omens Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Antony and Cleopatra, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Messages, Warnings, and Omens Theme Icon

Shakespeare’s tragedy is filled with messages and warnings; messengers and helpers come and go in both Rome and Egypt, bringing important news to major political players like Antony, Cleopatra, and Octavius. The play shows the importance of these intermediary characters who are necessary for the main characters’ plans to be carried out (and upon whom the plot of the play relies). But at the same time, the play shows the danger of being in the position of the messenger. Antony and Cleopatra continually disregard messages, and Cleopatra makes a habit of literally blaming the messenger, as with the one who tells her of Antony’s marriage to Octavia.

Another form of message often disregarded in the play are the omens and prophesies that recur throughout the tragedy. In Egypt, a soothsayer predicts that Antony will have a lesser fortune than Octavius and should stay away from him. Later in the play, Antony’s soldiers think they hear signs of Antony’s patron deity, Hercules, abandoning him. These things bode poorly for Antony and Cleopatra, but they ignore such signs, just as they ignore the messenger from Rome in the first scene of the play. In addition to correct, but ignored prophecy, the play also offers an example of a faulty prediction in Cleopatra’s dream of a gigantic, powerful Antony. This vision gives her hope for a successful fight against Octavius, but, as she later learns, this turns out to be nothing more than a dream.

All this interpreting of omens and attempting to tell the future is reflective of the Egyptian and Roman context of the play—augury of various sorts was very important to both cultures. It is also, though, an effective device for Shakespeare to create dramatic irony, as the audience knows how the historical events fictionalized in the tragedy actually played out. Various characters’ unsuccessful attempts to tell the future thus arouse pathos, an intense form of sympathy crucial to tragedy, in the audience or reader. Antony and Cleopatra desperately try to decipher what their destinies hold in store, but only Shakespeare, his audiences, and his readers know the script that has already been written for them.

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Messages, Warnings, and Omens Quotes in Antony and Cleopatra

Below you will find the important quotes in Antony and Cleopatra related to the theme of Messages, Warnings, and Omens.
Act 2, Scene 1 Quotes

My powers are crescent, and my auguring hope
Says it will come to the full. Mark Antony
In Egypt sits at dinner, and will make
No wars without doors: Caesar gets money where
He loses hearts: Lepidus flatters both,
Of both is flatter'd; but he neither loves,
Nor either cares for him.

Related Characters: Sextus Pompey (speaker), Mark Antony, Octavius Caesar, Lepidus
Page Number: 2.1.13-19
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Pompey, a rebel and the enemy of the co-consuls Mark Antony, Octavius Caesar, and Lepidus, discusses the situation in Rome with his generals. His comments reveal just how tangled and twisted the political reality of the Roman Empire really is right now. Pompey notes how Antony is currently wasting himself in Egypt, how Caesar is greedy and uncharismatic, and how the weak Lepidus attempts to "flatter" both other leaders, even though none of the three actually like each other.

Although Pompey is of course inclined to think of his enemies as disconnected and dysfunctional, his words still paint a troubling picture of the Roman Empire's leaders. Jealous and power-hungry men, they are supposed to rule together, and yet actually are constantly seeking to undermine each other.

In this environment, Antony's love for Cleopatra is a huge handicap. It gives him a weakness for his fellow leaders to exploit, and takes his attention away from the power games that all those around him are playing. 


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Act 3, Scene 12 Quotes

From Antony win Cleopatra: promise,
And in our name, what she requires; add more,
From thine invention, offers: women are not
In their best fortunes strong; but want will perjure
The ne’er touch’d vestal: try thy cunning, Thidias;
Make thine own edict for thy pains, which we
Will answer as a law.

Related Characters: Octavius Caesar (speaker), Mark Antony, Cleopatra, Ambassador
Page Number: 3.12.33-39
Explanation and Analysis:

In a strategically advantageous position, Octavius Caesar now schemes to drive a wedge between Cleopatra and Mark Antony. He sends one of his men, Thidias, to "win" Cleopatra from Antony, ordering Thidias to "promise" Cleopatra whatever she wants. Octavius goes on to display his contempt for women, asserting that even the most virtuous woman will betray and lie if she is truly desperate (or is offered something especially appealing). 

Octavius's orders make clear his cunning and shifty nature. Antony, by contrast, is a sincere and deeply loyal man. Octavius, though, attempts to exploit others' weaknesses, and believes the worst about human nature.

His statement about women also brings up a crucial plot point: Octavius's constant underestimation of Cleopatra. As we will see as the play continues, Octavius's sexism and arrogance consistently make him think that he has the upper hand over the intelligent and crafty queen. The gravity of his mistake will become fully apparent by the end of the play, even when he is technically "victorious" over her. 

Act 3, Scene 13 Quotes

Most kind messenger,
Say to great Caesar this: in deputation
I kiss his conquering hand: tell him, I am prompt
To lay my crown at ’s feet, and there to kneel:
Tell him from his all-obeying breath I hear
The doom of Egypt.

Related Characters: Cleopatra (speaker), Octavius Caesar
Page Number: 3.13.90-95
Explanation and Analysis:

The deceitful and flattering Thidias comes to Cleopatra, promising her Octavius's favor if she betrays Antony. Cleopatra replies that she acknowledges Caesar as her conqueror, and that she will place her "crown" at his "feet" in order to avert the "doom of Egypt."

This statement is a complicated and troubling one from Cleopatra. On one hand, she is very close to betraying Antony--a terrible action from a woman who claims to be deeply in love with the man who has thrown away his life for her.

On the other hand, Cleopatra must think not only about herself, but also about her country. Despite her love for Antony, her duty to Egypt comes first, and she is prepare to do whatever it takes to protect it from the conquering Octavius. 

On the surface, this passage makes it seem like Cleopatra is faithless and calculating. After further reflection, however, it is clear that she is in an impossible position, caught between her love for Antony and her love for her country, and is attempting to make the choice that will benefit her people rather than herself. 

Act 5, Scene 1 Quotes

Come hither, Proculeius. Go and say,
We purpose her no shame: give her what comforts
The quality of her passion shall require,
Lest, in her greatness, by some mortal stroke
She do defeat us; for her life in Rome
Would be eternal in our triumph: go,
And with your speediest bring us what she says,
And how you find of her.

Related Characters: Octavius Caesar (speaker), Cleopatra, Proculeius
Page Number: 5.1.72-79
Explanation and Analysis:

The triumphant Caesar instructs one of his men on how to greet Cleopatra. Wishing to parade his triumph over the queen in front of the Roman people, he is worried that she will thwart him by committing suicide. As such, he tells his messenger to say whatever it will take to soothe Cleopatra, reminding him that bringing Cleopatra back to Rome would make his victory "eternal." 

In this passage, Caesar is both cunning and mistaken. He has no strong relationship to truth, and is willing to do whatever it takes to ultimately humiliate Cleopatra in front of the Roman populace (thus reinforcing his own victory and mastery). At the same time, however, he believes that Cleopatra is weaker and less intelligent than he is. In truth, the queen is fully aware of what he intends to do, and cannot be swayed from her ultimate course--committing suicide. In believing that he can deceive her, Octavius is himself deceived.