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.
Messages, Warnings, and Omens ThemeTracker
Messages, Warnings, and Omens Quotes in Antony and Cleopatra
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.
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.
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.
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.