Philo and Demetrius, two friends of Antony, discuss their mutual friend’s love affair with Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt, and its adverse effects to Rome’s state of affairs. Presently, they observe as Antony dotes on Cleopatra, dismissing and ignoring a letter from Rome. Cleopatra urges Antony to attend to state affairs--to no avail. Antony will have nothing do with them, much less with Fulvia his wife. His only concern is to make the most of his time with Cleopatra. Philo and Demetrius hope that, soon, things will change for the better and that Antony will come to his senses, dispelling the popular rumor in Rome that Antony has become incorrigibly negligent.
Charmian, Iras, Alexas, and Enobarbus, friends and followers of Cleopatra and Antony, idly spend their time feasting on food and drink and having their fortunes read by Lamprius, the soothsayer. Their idleness is interrupted when Cleopatra enters the scene, asking for Antony’s whereabouts. Apparently, Rome’s state affairs has all of a sudden absorbed Antony’s interests, depriving Cleopatra of his doting presence. Anon, Antony is espied approaching, prompting Cleopatra to make herself scarce so as to be seemingly indifferent to Antony’s sudden abatement of love. Interrogating various messengers, Antony becomes apprised of Rome’s dire state of affairs. His wife, Fulvia, has died for one thing, and for another foreign armies, levied by Labienus (on behalf of Brutus and Cassius who are dead), are massing on the Empire‘s borders. Enobarbus urges Antony to remain in Egypt for Cleopatra’s sake, but, citing the necessity of checking Pompey’s son’s growing power, which is yet a another threat to Rome, Antony orders Enorbarbus to inform his officers to prepare themselves for immediate deployment.
Distressed that Antony has not sought her out, Cleopatra orders Alexas to find Antony and to tell him that Cleopatra is happy if Alexas finds him in a state of sadness and vice versa. When Charmian disagrees and argues that Cleopatra should not be cross with Antony and indulge him at every turn, Cleopatra scorns Charmian, arguing that that would be a sure way to lose Antony. Presently, Antony emerges of his own accord to tell Cleopatra of his imminent departure. Cleopatra calls Antony a liar, a betrayer, and tells him that he should leave without making a fuss. Antony objects, arguing that his departure is prompted by a state emergency (a civil war is imminent if nothing is done to head it off) and moreover by Fulvia’s death which requires that Antony pay his respects. He argues that he only lives for Cleopatra and when he leaves that he takes Cleopatra with him in his heart and/or his very soul remains with Cleopatra in Egypt. Cleopatra is inconsolable, however. She argues that Antony will shed tears for Fulvia and with those very same tears express his sorrow for leaving Cleopatra.
Octavius and Lepidus, two of Rome’s triumvirates (Antony being the third), discuss Rome’s current predicament. According to reports, Pompey’s son’s popularity is growing among the masses, and pirates who are in league with Pompey are wreaking havoc on the coasts of Italy. In light of this, Octavius expresses his hope that Antony will shake off his idleness and negligence and return to his former state of hardiness and discipline. Lepidus argues that Antony has too much intrinsic virtue in him to let a moment of idleness and sloth to get the better of him. But Octavius is sorely disappointed with Antony and is anxious for his return from Egypt. Presently, Octavius and Lepidus resolve to assemble and deploy their armies to confront and turn the tide vis-à-vis Sextus Pompeius.
In light of Antony’s absence, Cleopatra tries to beguile the time through various methods: sleep via narcotics and idle chatter with Mardian, a eunuch. By and by, Alexas arrives with greetings from Antony: Antony has promised to conquer the whole of the East on behalf of Cleopatra. For now, though, a pearl from the East must suffice. Accepting the pearl, Cleopatra asks Charmian if there ever was a man as glorious as Antony. Charmian suggests that Julius Caesar may have been the greatest of men, angering Cleopatra. Charmian concedes that Marc Antony is indeed special. By and by, Cleopatra writes a letter to Antony, never mind that she had only just sent a number of messengers to deliver her greetings to Antony--messengers who were going to when Alexas was coming fro.