Questionable Triumph: Does Caesar Achieve Complete Victory?
By the end of the play, the eponymous, tragic hero Antony has lost the battle of Actium and ultimately kills himself after the defeat. Due to this many would say that Caesar has achieved a complete victory over his rival; however, is it this simple? Whilst Caesar has achieved a military victory in the battle that takes place at the climax of the play, this does not necessarily mean he has achieved a victory that is complete. The play is not just about military conflict and in the same way the overall victor of the play cannot be decided purely based upon the Battle of Actium.
One the one hand, the title of the play refers to both Antony and Cleopatra and makes no reference to Caesar; this is because amongst the political strife and conflict this play is about love. Antony has such a strong love for Cleopatra that for her he would “Let Rome in Tiber melt” and for him she would “unpeople Egypt”. For one another they would give up their title’s and epithets, their power and everything they have previously stood for, Antony has been the epitome of a roman man and Cleopatra’s name has been synonymous her country, in his final moments as he dies in her arms Antony says “I am dying, Egypt, Dying”. To be willing to give up everything for one another goes to show how strong their feelings are yet Caesar has no such connection with anyone. Caesar is shown to be alone; his cold, calculating and Machiavellian nature portrays him as a bureaucrat either highly opposed or even incapable of showing emotion for a large part of the play. His refusal to ever lapse into speaking in prose shows his calculating and economical tendencies and his eagerness to give away his sister to his enemy despite claims that she is a sister “Whom no brother / Did ever love so dearly” can lead the audience to doubt his emotional capabilities. When discussing Antony’s absence with Lepidus says “the ebbed man, ne’er loved till ne’er worth love”, which is in essence complaining that people will always complain about the current leader and hope for a new one until the new leader takes power in which case they will then go on to complain about him, he thinks the people can’t see a good emperor when it’s right in front of them. Whilst this is simply his verdict on how politics works it is expressed in aphoristic language, the repetition of “love” and current anger directed towards Antony can lead the audience to believe Caesar is jealous of the love Cleopatra gives Antony. If Antony has something that Caesar can’t then surely Caesar’s victory cannot be seen as fully complete, furthermore, it could even be said that it is a small victory for Antony if Caesar truly is jealous which is not hard to believe as it is shown not to be uncommon for Caesar to feel envious of Antony.
Caesar has never been given the same respect as Antony and likely never will be. A recurring motif in the play is the mythologisation of Antony both by himself and by others, often choric figures that show the general public’s view of Antony. His eyes are “like plated Mars”, he can “speak as loudly as Mars” and his relationship with Cleopatra is likened to “What Venus did with Mars”. He is repeatedly likened to the Roman God of War yet the only mention of Caesar as being at all mythological is meant as a joke, mocking Lepidus’ eagerness to flatter Caesar when Enobarbus says “Caesar? Why, he’s the Jupiter of men.” To which Agrippa replies “What’s Antony? The god of Jupiter”. Even from this light-hearted joking at Lepidus’ expense the choric figures of Agrippa and Enobarbus show a clear sense of a perceived hierarchy in which Antony is above Caesar. The reason it is funny to Agrippa and Enobarbus to say this is clearly because in their eyes and therefore in the eyes of the masses Caesar is not deserving of such mythologisation or respect. Enobarbus again shows this in his dialogue with Lepidus upon the arrival of Antony and Caesar in which Lepidus says “Here comes the noble Anton.” and Enobarbus then says “And yonder, Caesar”. Antony is given an epithet, as is often the case in the play, but Caesar is not. Whilst Antony is flattered (perhaps undeservingly) throughout the play, Caesar is mocked. In his first mention in the play he is referred to as “scarce-bearded Caesar”, mocking him for his youth and therefore his perceived inability to be emperor, this contrasts the moment in the play when Enobarbus fantasizes about what it would be like to be the “wearer of Antonius’ beard”. Antony is further linked to masculinity whereas Caesar is established as a child-like figure, not deserving of respect or the position he holds. When Caesar rants “He calls me boy and chides as he had power” he is acting like the very thing Antony constantly likens him to, a child, and this outburst represents an abandoning of his Machiavellian principles. Caesar’s victory can’t be truly complete if he never obtains the respect his defeated rival commanded and one could even say that simply by getting Caesar angry with the insults is a small victory for Antony.
What is arguably Antony’s final victory against Caesar is his death. Whilst this seems contradictory it is important to note that he died on his own terms, he is “a roman by a roman valiantly vanquished”. Antony, by wording it in this way, is reliving his glory days as a warrior; he has simultaneously died an honourable death in battle and prevented Caesar from taking his life in battle. His name has become synonymous with the idea of a Roman hero, as put by Philo “when he is not Antony / he comes too short of that great property / which should still go with Antony”. Possessing the quality of being like Antony is to be an almost godlike legend. The only thing greater than ‘an Antony’ would be the vanquisher of ‘an Antony’, and in his final moments he has managed to be both. By removing Caesar from the picture the audience perceives him as irrelevant, both in Antony’s death and generally. It is Antony who triumphs in this moment, whilst Caesar has removed his other potential opponent, lying about the reasoning and saying instead that it was because, “Lepidus was grown too cruel.”; he wasn’t able to defeat Antony as it was Antony himself who took that victory from him. As Cleopatra put it, “none but Antony / should conquer Antony”.
His death is also a triumph in that he dies in the arms of his lover, Cleopatra. Caesar’s sole objective of this play has been to have Antony back in Rome apart from her and so it must be a crushing defeat when Antony not only dies away from Rome, in Egypt but also in the arms of the woman that Caesar was powerless against in the struggle for Antony. Caesar has proven himself to have been unable to destroy Antony’s and Cleopatra’s relationship and since this has been his goal since start of the play, it is obviously a huge failing on Caesar’s part. His original intentions were to regain the help of Antony as he had to bear “So great weight in his lightness” yet instead Caesar has lost both Antony and Lepidus and is ultimately left alone to run an empire that will be far harder to control with no support from those who were once his friends. Not only does this question whether Caesar’s victory is a ‘complete’ one but also whether it can even be seen as a victory at all. Whilst Antony has not won over Caesar as such, this does not necessarily mean that Caesar has won over Antony, it seems that this play instead ends with a situation in which there are no winners. He himself, in the last words of the play, acknowledges it to be a “great solemnity”, after all, can it really be seen as victory for Caesar when the repercussions will go on to directly disadvantage him?
On the other hand, it impossible to deny that Caesar has put him into a position in which he has no rival, he won the Battle at the climax of the play and thus he has secured his position as ruler of the greatest empire in the world. There is no way in which this cannot be seen as a victory in itself, regardless of any other factors. Caesar is shown to have a clear understanding of military tactics as he challenges Antony to battle him at sea which both he and Antony know to be his weakness. Caesar predicts that Antony’s pride will overrule all reason and he is right as Antony proclaims “I will fight at sea.” Antony’s pride and stubbornness are at the root of his downfall, he is begged by a soldier “O noble emperor, do not fight by sea” but even this flattery fails to convince him and “The greater cantle of the world is lost / with very ignorance”. The public opinion of Antony is clearly misguided as he is not the ‘Mars-like’ military hero he once was but a deluded and stubborn old man that has “kissed away / Kingdoms and provinces”. He is said to have “kissed” them away because his ignorance and blind pride is as a result of his infatuation with Cleopatra which is one of Antony’s crucial weaknesses in the play if you are to view it through Caesars’s eyes. The irony is that if we are to base our conclusion on the results of this battle then it is Caesar who is more deserving of the comparisons to Mars, Antony is not the man he once and he is being beaten with relative ease by someone he has previously likened to a child.
Antony is a bathetic character that was once a legendary military hero but has recently become an “old ruffian” and a “strumpet’s fool”, there is no bathos in the character of Caesar however, whilst he never had and perhaps never will have the respect Antony once had in his prime, at least there has been no fall from grace on his part. We can see this by the use of epithets throughout the play, whilst Caesar has rarely been given any at any point in the play, it is noticeable that towards the end of the play the amount they are used when referring to Antony dramatically drops, this represents the public’s realisation that he is no longer ‘an Antony’. This can be shown, for instance, in the lines of one of Antony’s soldiers who is not named. He refers to Antony as his “noble emperor” which is not even true (he is not an emperor) and so goes to show how he respects him and gives in to flattery, however, the same Soldier later removes any epithet and thus any sign of respect and simply calls him “Antony”.
He has lost respect not only because he cannot live up to his own reputation, but because he has betrayed everything he once stood for. Antony was the epitome of what a Roman man should be yet he abandoned his home and his people and in his opening lines of the play expresses his indifference to Rome saying “Let – the wide arch / of the ranged empire fall!” He becomes aggressive and violent, this is shown in his whipping of Thidias, he requests that the whipping does not stop until “like a boy we see him cringe his face and whine aloud for mercy”. The phrase ‘Don’t shoot the messenger comes to mind’ as Thidias is only a mere servant and messenger of Caesar but Antony uses him as a scapegoat and violently takes out all of his aggression out on him when Thidias himself has done no wrong.
By the end of the play, it is impossible to claim that Caesar has not won a victory, yet his triumph is not a complete one. While he has won a complete military or political victory he has not won a complete moral victory. To me for a triumph to be complete it is implied that there is no aspect in which the losing party can be seen as having slight success and equally it implies that the winner has suffered no losses. This is not the case with the play, as there are various ways in which Antony can be seen as having won slight victories over Caesar and Caesar himself has had to give up his sister, for example. To use his own sister as a mere pawn in his political grand scheme means that he has not only given up his sister but also, to a certain degree, he has sacrificed his morality in order to satisfy his unquenchable thirst for power.
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