William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra: Antony and Octavian Caesar Character Comparison
The War between Antony and Octavian Caesar
In Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare, we are introduced to a young man who is struggling in a way of what he values more, duty and honor or his love for Cleopatra. The story portrays Antony as a sympathetic character which means a character “with whom we associate, forming a bond through which we vicariously share their experiences. We also get a sense of their attributes which we would perhaps like to have more of for ourselves”. (“character types”). I will be comparing and contrasting two characters to prove the points on how I personally believe that Antony is more a sympathetic character vs Octavius Caesar who an unsympathetic character because he is mostly all duty and responsibility.
While reading the play I personally could understand some of his choices because I could see myself making some if I were in his shoes. Which is what being a sympathetic character means for me as the reader to understand his motivation and can share. For instance, sometimes love is more important than duty and responsibilities as Antony seems to portray in some parts of the play. For example, (Act I Scene I) he received a letter from Rome right when he was going to express his love to Cleopatra and instead of reading it and answering it, he just ignored it. She was the one who convinces him to read it because it might be important but he explains that his duty is here in Alexandria and his love for her. In this case, Antony is choosing to stay and love her which might not have been the best decision but I saw it as, him not wanting to deal with his responsibility to the triumvirs because he was enjoying his day with Cleopatra. I believe he would have answered it later on the next day if she hadn’t pushed him to do it then. Even a warriors deserve a break even if it is just for a day. Antony has a sense of duty and he is a great warrior so he would have answered the letter eventually.
On the other hand, Octavius Caesar is not a sympathetic character because he is all duty and responsibility all the time. While yes duty and responsibility are important, I don’t believe it should overpower love because love is an important part of life. We learn many wonderful things when we love someone not just about the person we love but about ourselves too. As well as sometimes family and the people we love are more important than duty, we do what is best for our family’s or in this case what Antony does for the women he loves. In choosing Cleopatra over Rome. Which Octavius Caesar did not agree with. Octavius Caesar is more of an “unsympathetic characters which mean he “represents qualities that we dislike” (“character types”). Which Octavius Caesar has a few qualities I don’t like. For example, he is a little cold hearted towards Antony when Antony was choosing love over his duty to Rome. Octavius just couldn’t understand the change that Antony underwent when he fell in love with Cleopatra.
In act I scene II, Antony decides it is time to go back to Rome when he finds out his wife is dead and that Pompeii is raising an army against the triumvirate. For Example, “the business she hath broached in the state cannot endure my absence” (Shakespeare). We see Antony finally taking responsibility, like the true warrior he is. Which we all can relate to because we have all put important stuff on hold to go out and enjoy ourselves but once we realize it is time to take responsibilities we also become the warriors to get that A, we want on a paper and we sacrifice sleep and going out to get it done. Just like Antony does, he sacrifices leaving the women he loves, Cleopatra, to go talk things through with Caesar. Antony understands that he has a responsibility to Rome, but he also has a duty to what is in his heart which is why he is such a relatable character. We have all been in that predicament on what is more important to us is the duty to our family and friends or duty to do what makes us happy and smile. Caesar is the type of guy who already answered that question for himself, unlike Antony who, throughout the play we see struggle with what is in his heart and his responsibility to Rome.
Caesar, throughout the play, makes decisions that he believes is best for Rome and to keep the triumvirate at peace. He does not have any conflict in the play having to do with love or anything besides his responsibility to Rome. He didn’t even approve of Antony’s love for Cleopatra. For Instance, in act II scene II, when Antony goes to Rome, one of Caesar’s men suggest that Antony marries Caesar’s sister, Octavia. For example, “Thou hast a sister by the mother’s side, Admired Octavia: great Mark Antony, is now a widower.. To hold you in perpetual amity, to make you brothers, and to knit your hearts with an unslipping knot” (Shakespeare). This was supposed to bond the men’s affection for and alliance with one another. Which of course Antony agreed to for the sake of peace and being the warrior he was he wanted to win back his trust and honor. I do not like how he used his sister to try and manipulate Antony into an alliance that everyone knew was not going to last because true love wins over everything. In life, we all have to make tough choices for the sake of what we believe to be the right thing to do. Antony accepted because he is an honorable man and does not what to be in Caesar’s bad graces anymore. Antony knows it will hurt Cleopatra but sometimes we must hurt the people we love in order to protect them.
In Act III Scene I, Antony has a conversation with his new wife Octavia. For instance, Spoke scantly of me: when perforce he could not But pay me terms of honor, cold and sickly He vented them; most narrow measure lent me: when the best hint was given him, he not took’t, Or did it from his teeth” (Shakespeare). Antony was explaining to Octavia that he did not like how her brother Caesar was belittling him in public. Caesar had no respect for Antony and he was expressing it to others. Which is not something a good leader would do, if he had a problem with Antony he should have spoken to Antony privately. I do not agree with how Caesar is handling his issues with both Antony and Lepidus (part of the triumvirate). Antony sends Octavia to Rome to try and smooth things over with her brother. This proves that he is trying to honor his arrangement with Octavia and with being part of the triumvirate.
As we get deeper in the play we see that Caesar start to get paranoid. For instance, in act III scene V, after the war against Pompeii, we see a conversation between Enobarbus and Eros, that speak about Caesar locking Lepidus up for trying to overpower him. For example, “and not resting here, accuses him of letters he had formerly written to Pompeii; upon his own appeal, seizes him: so the poor third is up, till death enlarge his confine”(Shakespeare). Which is proof that he was losing it and was starting not to trust anyone but a few of his people. Caesar was only thinking of his greatest priority which is his position and power. Lepidus threatened that. Antony does not want power. He simply wants Cleopatra, his priorities are completely different than that of Caesar. We can see this as him becoming an even less likable character because he sent Lepidus to prison after he helps defeat the enemy
In act III scene VI, Caesar threatens Antony because he went back to Egypt to sit as Cleopatra’s king because that is where his heart is. We will always go back to the place we feel at home. Antony just wanted to live in peace in Alexandria with Cleopatra and govern over the land he should have gotten from winning the war against Pompey. Later on in Act III, Antony goes into war with Rome and Cleopatra is determined to be by his said. Because she loves him so, she will be there to fight against the people that speak ill of their love for one another. In the middle of the war, she leaves and Antony follows because his heart belongs to her. For example, he says “Egypt, thou knew’st too well My heart was to thy rudder tied by the strings, And thou shouldst tow me after:”(Shakespeare). He followed her because he loved her even though they lost to Caesar and he was ashamed that they lost because of his love for her. The reader can still sympathize with him because we have all done things for someone we love that we are not proud of that does not make us bad people but makes us human and able to love another deep enough to not care about something like reputation or duty to get in the way of our happiness.
In closing, the play was about a man trying to find what mattered more to him love or duty. We have all had that same question once or twice in our own life. That is why I believe Antony to be a sympathetic character because he is relatable and we have all ask ourselves that question and more often than not we choose love because it is a way better feeling then any kind of responsibility is. Antony dies a hero’s death; he was not about to be humiliated by Caesar just because he chooses love over his responsibilities to Rome. In the play, readers can see the differences between Caesar and Antony. In my opinion, I think Anthony is more of a man because he knows how to love a women and Caesar seems to not care about anyone but his ambitions. It is not till the very end, he sees and believes in the love Antony and Cleopatra share for one another. We see how Anthony is more a sympathetic character than Octavius Caesar because of not approving of Antony’s love for Cleopatra, starting to think people were against him when they are not, Caesar starting a pointless war and last but not least Antony still choice honor and love over his obligation to Rome.
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