Watered-down Ant’ny

Like I said a couple of days back, 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 a few entries, let’s take a look at the changes in characterizations between the two plays.

Let’s wrap this up with a look at our titular Ant’ny, shall we?

Unlike Lepidus and Octavian, Antony appears throughout Julius Caesar. In his first scene (and the play’s second), he accompanies our title character, even telling him, “When Caesar says ‘Do this,’ it is performed” (I.ii.12). Later in the same scene, Antony says of Cassius to Caesar, “Fear him not, Caesar, he’s not dangerous. // He is a noble Roman, and well given” (I.ii.197-98). Antony says this in the presence of Cassius, and as if Caesar thinks Antony’s statement may have been couched–shall we say–diplomatically, he tells Antony, “Come on my right hand, for this ear is deaf, // And tell me truly what thou think’st of him” (I.ii.214-15). Is Caesar accustomed to Antony’s not-always-truthful public proclamations?

If so, it’s not surprising then when we learn from Antony’s soliloquy, that his early conciliatory statements before the conspirators and the corpse of Caesar are not exactly straightforward: “O pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth, // That I am meek and gentle with these butchers…Woe to the hand that shed his costly blood” (III.i.257-8, 261). And of course, Antony’s funeral oration is the classic example of saying one thing and meaning another.

In short, Antony rarely fails to say what he thinks the listener wants to hear.

Other character traits for Antony from Julius Caesar include his party-boy persona (“gamesome…quick spirit” [I.ii.30, 31] and “revels long anights” [II.ii.116]), his military confidence (“I know” [V.i.7] and “we will answer their charge” [V.i.24]), and his playing the “age card” on Octavian (“I have seen more days that you” [IV.i.18]).

And all these traits make appearances in Antony’s characterization in Antony and Cleopatra

He’s still the people-pleasing speaker, whether the listener is Cleopatra (“Let Rome in Tiber melt and the wide arch // Of the ranged empire fall! Here is my space” [I.i.33-4]), Octavian (“as nearly as I may, // I’ll play the penitent to you” [II.ii.97-98]), or even Pompey (“The beds i’ th’ East are soft; and thanks to you, // That called me timelier than my purpose hither; // For I have gained by ‘t” [II.vi.50-2]). This last one gets double people-pleasing points as Octavian’s sister is Antony’s praised “gain.”

Antony’s still the party boy (“Let’s have one other gaudy night…fill our bowls once more” [III.xiii.183, 184]). He’s still too over-confident my half (“we // will fight him by seas…for that he dares us to ‘t” [III.vii.27-8, 29]). And he’s still drawing attention to the difference between his and Octavian’s age (“young man” [III.xi.62], “the boy Caesar” [III.xiii.17]).

And yet this is not the formidable Antony of Julius Caesar. That Antony was always thinking, always planning ahead. Antony and Cleopatra‘s Antony is much more reactionary. There’s really only one time that I can think of when he sounds like the Antony from the previous play. After he learns of Fulvia’s death and decides to return to Rome, he tells Enobarbus,

 Our slippery people,
Whose love is never linked to the deserver
Till his deserts are past, begin to throw
Pompey the Great and all his dignities
Upon his son; who—high in name and power,
Higher than both in blood and life—stands up
For the main soldier; whose quality, going on,
The sides o’ th’ world may danger. Much is breeding,
Which, like the courser’s hair, hath yet but life
And not a serpent’s poison. Say our pleasure,
To such whose place is under us, requires
Our quick remove from hence.
  • I.ii.184-195

Here, he takes the opportunity of a return to Rome to work against Pompey. He is using an opportunity caused by event A to do B. For the rest of the play, he merely reacts to (and maybe challenges) A.

What changed him?

Is this softening of his brain, evidence of his “dotage” (I.i.1) over Cleopatra, and his resulting “sword made weak by [his] affection” (III.xi.67)?

I’d vote yes.

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