Midpoint–enter Octavia then pivot

Using Professor Rodes’ midpoint theory, let’s take a look at Antony and Cleopatra.

There are 3039 lines in in the play, which means the midpoint is at line 1520, or at Act Three, Scene Six, line 37. According to Dr. Rodes’ theory, you could find at this midpoint–or within twenty lines either way–a speech that perfectly sums up a major theme of the play (the 20-line leeway was to help remove the differences in prose line lengths between individual editions).

Interestingly, Act Three, Scene Six, is one of the fifteen (of forty-three) scenes in the play that include neither Antony nor Cleopatra.

This is the scene in which Octavian complains to Maecenas about the actions of Antony in Alexandria, and then Octavia arrives to broker a peace between her brother and her husband, only to be informed by that brother of that husband’s betrayal and flight to Egypt. The midpoint occurs two lines before Octavia’s entrance.

On the surface, this couple-less midpoint would appear to almost negate Rode’s theory.


However, Octavia can be seen as an example of Antony’s rashness, a trait that we’ve seen related to his tragic hero’s hamartia or “error in judgment.” His marriage to Octavia is impulsive, and while it’s politically expedient, it seems–within this play at least–not to be the one he wants, not the one holding a passion for him.

Also, for Cleopatra Octavia represents her rival, one against whom the Egyptian queen must compare herself–as in the reportage of the messenger less than 100 lines earlier…in Cleopatra’s most previous appearance in the play.

In a sense, this midpoint marks Cleopatra’s victory over Octavia. Octavia is now separated from Antony and will remain so. This will be her last appearance in the play (she’ll speak her final line–“Is it so, sir?” [III.vi.97]–exactly 60 lines later). On the other hand, in the very next scene, Antony and Cleopatra are reunited after a ridiculously long absence from one another…and nothing will separate them–for any major length of time, at least–for the remainder of (the their lives together in) the play.

While we could argue that Octavia is linked to Antony’s stature as tragic hero, there’s nothing in the speeches at this midpoint that, well, point to that. Thus, I feel the same way about this play’s midpoint as I did about the one for All’s Well That Ends Well: that this is more about structure than theme. This becomes a kind of pivot point.

Not completely Rodes-ian. But philosophically helpful all the same.

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