Near the town of Actium, Cleopatra tells Enobarbus that she will go into battle with Antony. Enobarbus says to himself that one should not send “horses and mares” together into battle. He tells Cleopatra that there are already rumors that “an eunuch and your maids / Manage this war.” Cleopatra cares little for what people think at Rome, and says that she will go into battle and “appear there for a man.”
Enobarbus has traditional ideas about the place for women in battle (namely, that there isn’t one). Cleopatra, however, insists on going into battle like a man, giving force to the rumors that she is in control of Antony and his forces, something unthinkable in Roman society.
Antony enters with his commander Canidius. He says that he will fight Octavius at sea, against the advice of Canidius. Enobarbus warns Antony, “your ships are not well mann’d,” and advises him to fight on land. Antony, though, is stubborn. He says that he will fight Octavius at sea, off the coast of Actium.
Antony ignores the advice and warnings of Canidius, just as he ignored the messenger from Rome earlier. His stubborn plan to fight at sea will prove a disastrous strategy.
A soldier begs Antony not to fight by sea, saying that his army is used to fighting and winning battles “standing on the earth.” Antony ignores him and leaves with Cleopatra and Enobarbus. The soldier tells Canidius Antony should not fight at sea, and Canidius agrees. He says that Antony is being led by Cleopatra, and they are now “women’s men.” A messenger tells Canidius that he is wanted by Antony, and they leave.
Antony continues to ignore good advice—his arrogance will lead to his own downfall. Canidius is worried that Antony is being manipulated by Cleopatra, such that it is Cleopatra, not Antony, that is leading his forces, in a manner irreconcilable with normative Roman gender roles.