Alas, poor Lepidus

In a sense, Antony and Cleopatra is a continuation of the tale begun in Julius Caesar. Not a true sequel, perhaps–as it shares neither protagonist nor central conflict. But we do have three characters that span both plays. Over the course of the next few entries, let’s take a look at the changes in characterizations between the two plays.

Let’s start with the easy one: Lepidus.

Lepidus appears in but one scene in Julius Caesar: Act Four, Scene One, where we see our three common players in an executive setting. But the three are not equal: there is no respect for Lepidus. He is the first to have to consent to have someone he knows (his brother) placed on the political-enemy kill-list. He is sent on a retrieval errant, and in his absence, Antony describes him as “a slight, unmeritable man, // Meet to be sent on errands” (Caesar IV.i.12-13), one who will accept more than his fair share of the “divers sland’rous loads” (Caesar IV.i.20) that may be coming their way after the actions they’re about to take. And he shall bear, to “groan and sweat under the business, // Either led or driven as we point the way” (Caesar IV.i.21-3). After Lepidus’ feats of burden are complete, Antony sees them “turn[ing] him off” (Caesar IV.i.25), a mere piece of “property” (Caesar IV.i.40) for them to use. Despite this, Octavian refers to Lepidus and a “tried and valiant soldier” (Caesar IV.i.28). Antony, ever the general, accepts this, but says that Lepidus must thus be “taught and trained” (Caesar IV.i.35) to do their bidding.

And that’s all we see of Lepidus in the play. The “valiant soldier” is nowhere to be found in the martial final two acts.

So. Lepidus. Not exactly a figure of respect in Julius Caesar.

And in Antony and Cleopatra? Not much changes. Though he appears in six scenes in this play, he drives the plot forward in exactly none of them. In his first appearance, with Octavian, he basically plays the role of sympathizer for Antony, which allows Octavian to continue his rants against the absent Antony. At the end of the scene, Lepidus asks, “What you shall know meantime // Of stirs abroad, I shall beseech you, sir, // To let me be partaker” (Antony I.4.81-3). If he’s asking, he must have been left out before.

He next appears in Act Two, Scene Two, where first he implores Enobarbus to try to keep Antony calm, and then gives the short speech to begin Octavian and Antony’s conversation. He utters a couple of short, fairly inconsequential statements that lean in Antony’s favor but really carry no weight. As the Triumvirs leave the scene, Antony asks Lepidus to join Octavian and Antony. At least Lepidus doesn’t have to ask this time.

Act Two, Scene Four, a short scene with Lepidus, lets the audience know that Octavian and Antony’s armies are about to leave Rome.

In the Triumvirs’ meeting with Pompey (Act Two, Scene Six), Lepidus offers a couple of inconsequential lines.

At the feast in Act Two, Scene Seven, Lepidus is drunk, having consumed more than his fair share (“drink alms drink” [Antony II.vii.5]), and it shows. Antony regales Lepidus with hilariously false reports of Egypt, which Lepidus accepts. By scene’s end, he’s passed out and has to be carried off: a servant “bears the third part of the world” (Antony II.vii.88).

In his final appearance in Act Three, Scene Three, Lepidus is there only to say goodbye to Octavian and Antony.

And that’s it for appearances.

And within the next two scenes, we learn that

Caesar, having made use of him in the wars ’gainst Pompey, presently denied him rivality, would not let him partake in the glory of the action; and, not resting here, accuses him of letters he had formerly wrote to Pompey; upon his own appeal seizes him. So the poor third is up, till death enlarge his confine.
  • Antony III.v.6-11

Octavian has used Lepidus to defeat Pompey (and I find the use of the word “partake” here verrrry interesting), and then arrested his partner. Lepidus has been put out to pasture, just as Antony predicted.

Could this be played as Octavian having a long, vengeful memory for the two (very slight) slights Lepidus offers during the reconciliation scene? What would that say about Octavian? Is it supported by what we find in Julius Caesar?

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