Meeting and Conversation as Character Development in Antony & Cleopatra

January 23, 2019 by Essay Writer

In Shakespeare, first impressions are often an implicit demonstration of a main theme. In Antony and Cleopatra, the first meeting of Antony and Octavius Caesar is no exception. In this reunion of the triumvirate, the three leaders of Rome, Shakespeare addresses the ideas of duty and honor through the dialogue between Antony and Caesar. The significance of this scene lies in its illustration of the triumvirs’ characters, which also amplifies the theme of duty versus desire. To underscore the contrast between Antony and Caesar, it is important to emphasize their approach to the conversation as it augurs the eve of an imminent power struggle.Antony and Caesar have their first meeting in Act Two, Scene Two. Up to this point, Antony has been idling in Egypt and neglecting his duties as a triumvir. The news that his wife has died, however, brings him back to Rome with some sense of conviction about his inactivity. This is seen as Antony evaluates his own behavior when told of his wife’s death, saying “Ten thousand harms, more than the ills I know, / My idleness doth hatch” (1.2.129-130). Little does Antony realize how accurately his speech foretells the future, for as he is making his way back to Rome the play gives us a glimpse of Caesar’s feelings toward Antony. Caesar reveals himself to be both disappointed in and frustrated with Antony, the robust soldier who once “didst drink / The stale of horses and the gilded puddle / Which beasts would cough at” (1.4.61-3). As this speech continues to describe Antony’s stamina, Caesar dwells on the unmatched military prowess of Antony’s days as a devoted soldier. Caesar also acknowledges how Antony has thrown all this away and “fishes, drinks, and wastes / The lamps of night in revel” with Cleopatra, and thus supplants his duty his desires (1.4.4-5). Act Two, Scene Two, is very constructive for revealing the character of each triumvir. Antony, as we know, is a general of the Roman army whose “captain’s heart” earned him his position as one of the three most powerful men in the West. As we see in his conversation with Caesar, Antony associates this title with his honor. This is especially made obvious when Caesar accuses Antony of breaking “the article of [his] oath” in which Antony pledged to supply Caesar with military aid whenever he asked (2.2.83). Antony takes this allegation more seriously than Caesar’s previous ones, and hushes Lepidus’ interference by saying “let him speak. / The honor is sacred which he talks on now” (2.2.83-4). Antony mentions his honor again several lines later, this time referring to the pardon that “befits [his] honor / To stoop to in such a case” (2.2.97-8). Here, Antony is demonstrating how his laudable position has inflated his dignity so much so that he refuses to apologize for his wife’s wars. Importantly, this shows that he has set limits for condescension even where another man of status is involved. Caesar, by contrast, proves to associate his position as a triumvir with duty above honor. Caesar, the nephew of the great Julius Caesar, demonstrates his value for duty in his devotion to Rome and its Western values. Unlike Antony, who revels the night away in pleasure and indulgence, Caesar’s role as a triumvir is the centrality of his existence. Act Two, Scene Two, shows Caesar’s fixation on duty through his antagonism towards Antony, whom he accuses of denying him “arms and aid when [he] requir’d them,” or military force at his request (2.2.88). Not only does he see this as a broken oath, he sees it as a violation of Antony’s duty in the triumvirate. On top of that, Caesar asserts that Antony “shall never / Have tongue to charge me with” the breaking of an oath (2.2.82-3). With this, Caesar is extolling his own sense of duty, which has no reservation prevent its purpose.This scene is also a means of subscribing Caesar and Antony as the proud, self-important characters they are. When Caesar chastises Antony for abusing his messengers, for example, Antony excuses it by saying that he gave the servant explanation for his undeserved punishment-that being drunkenness-and said that explaining himself “was as much /As to have ask’d him pardon” (2.2.78-9). Antony also refuses to apologize to Caesar for his negligence and the wars waged against him. His only allowance is to “play the penitent” to Caesar so far as his honesty does not “make poor [his] greatness” (2.2.91, 92). In other words, Antony acknowledges that it is the honorable thing to admit a fault, but he refuses to let this belittle his power and status in any way because he feels that he “could not help” what transpired in his absence (2.2.71). Through this, Antony circumvents apologizing for the laxity that Caesar equates with rejecting duty. Caesar’s pride is observed in his treatment of Antony, which focuses mostly on how Antony’s negligent behavior affected him. As unwilling as Antony is to give a true apology, Caesar is equally reluctant to forgive him for what he considers to be a violation of duty for the sake of pleasure. To Caesar, there is no worse reason for rejecting duty, especially when that duty concerns him.Both Caesar and Antony take a particular approach to the conversation, coming at it as they might approach a preliminary boxing match that forecasts the outcome the real match. In this first round, they dance around the ring throwing weak punches that give them a feel for their opponent. Each one is carefully taking in the reactions of the other and using them to gauge the competition that they face. Coming into the scene, both Caesar and Antony thus seem to be trying to get a reaction from each other without stepping over the defensive line. This begins with Antony’s jab at Caesar’s character, “I learn you take things ill which are not so– / Or being, concern you not” (2.2.28-9). Here, Antony is saying that Caesar not only interprets all things negatively, but that he also makes the bad things part of his business regardless of whether or not they concern him. Caesar defends himself with an equal and opposite response, saying that it is more ridiculous to “name [Antony] derogately, when to sound [Antony’s] name / It not concerned [him]” (2.2.33-4). Literally, Caesar is saying that it would be worse to disparage Antony’s name if it is none of his business. Reading between the lines, however, Caesar is taking a thrust at Antony’s sojourn in Egypt with no more intention to wound his pride than to incite a reaction. Antony, in turn, responds with his own experimental jab, and they continue poke and prod for weaknesses of temper in each other. To gain a sense of what this scene means in terms of the plot, it is useful to emphasize how their approach reflects their individual goals both in this conversation and in the play as a whole. Caesar’s overall ambition is to gain sole control of the Roman Empire, and to do this he must get rid of his fellow triumvirs. In Act Two, Scene Two, the first traces of this are seen in the way he takes every opportunity to rouse Antony’s rage, thus laying blame for any future conflict on him. His approach is characterized by the rhetoric of a savvy politician who does what he can to twist the conversation in his favor. When Antony explains his role-or lack thereof-in the wars his wife waged against Caesar, Caesar turns this account into a personal attack, saying that Antony is “laying defects of judgment” on him by “patch[ing] up” a lousy excuse for himself (2.2.55, 56). Caesar’s immediate goal in this scene is to agitate conflict as a means of accomplishing his ultimate aspiration. Antony is also laboring to get a response from Caesar. The fact that his approach is more direct-using unambiguous questions and statements to clarify Caesar’s ambiguous comments-demonstrates that he is not keen on using Caesar’s same wooly rhetoric. An early example of this is when Caesar makes an obscure hint at Antony’s affair and its ill repute, to which Antony replies, “My being in Egypt, Caesar, / What was’t to you?” (2.2.35-6). Through this we see that Antony is reluctant to jump to conclusions, and takes the approach of forcing Caesar to spell out the meaning behind his provocative jabs. When Caesar later indicts him of breaking an unspecified oath, Antony again asks for clarification over the oath to which he is referring. Antony also refuses to let Caesar slide with vague accusations that have no purpose other than to “patch a quarrel,” or pick a fight, with him (2.2.52). Whereas Caesar seems anxious for a reason to start a war so he can take over the empire, Antony is more content to play his role in Rome without the drama of unnecessary conflict. Seeing as he has no idea of Caesar’s plot, Antony can approach this meeting with the calm reasoning of a leader working to resolve issues of state. Interestingly, it seems that Antony is more concerned with duty here than Caesar, whose ambition has hijacked his attention. What begins as a small fist-fight, then, ends up as an all-out brawl in which in which the reconciliation of the triumvirs hinges on Antony’s decision to marry Caesar’s sister, Octavia. This pending nuptial is the suggestion of Agrippa, who uses it as a means of salvaging the crumbling relationship between Caesar and Antony. As he says, the marriage of Antony and Octavia would “knit your hearts / With an unslipping knot,” and so bind them together in enduring amity (2.2.125-6). Though this temporarily resolves the quarrel, it falls upon Antony to protect his position by remaining faithful to Octavia. This confrontation thus prefigures the rising action of ensuing battle because we know that Antony cannot keep from Cleopatra for long. This inevitable power struggle is also hit on by Enobarbus, who proposes that they simply “borrow one another’s love for the / instant” and “return it again…when [they] have nothing else to do” (2.2.103, 105-6). Rather than resolving the quarrel here, Enobarbus is suggesting that they duke it out later on, preferably when the affairs of state are in order. Ironically, his idea is exactly what happens in the plot despite the pledges of brotherly love exchanged by Antony and Caesar. Although no champion emerges from their verbal fray, the first meeting of Antony and Caesar does a great deal to show how character and ambition affect the relationship between the triumvirs. In demonstrating aspects of their characters that post them against one another-offset by their approaches-this scene plays a significant role in setting the stage for the battle between Antony and Caesar. Above and beyond that, it is the means of showing how duty and desire, Caesar and Antony, are called to the extraordinary fate of becoming each other’s worst enemy in the tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra.

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