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An Analysis of the Character of Mark Antony

From Shakespeare's Roman Plays by M.W. MacCallum. London: Macmillan.

"Be a child o' the time," says Antony, and he carries out his maxim to the letter. Only that time could bring forth such a devotee of the joys of life and lavish on him such wealth of enjoyment. But the time was one that devoured its own children. Those who chose to be merely its products, must accept its ordinances, and it was cruel as well as indulgent. It was the manlier as well as the safer course for the child to possess the time, to repudiate its stock, and, if might be, to usurp the heritage.

We must bear the counter admonition of Octavius in mind when we approach the personage to whom it was addressed. All who have a wide range of interests, and with these warmth of imagination and spontaneity of impulse, must feel that their judgment is apt to be bribed by the attractions of Mark Antony. He is so many-sided, so many-ways endowed, so full of vitality and vigour, potentially so affluent and bright, that we look to find his life a clear and abundant stream, and disbelieve our senses when we see a turbid pool that loses itself in the sands. If we listen to the promptings of our blood, we hail him as demi-god, but the verdict of our reason is that he is only a futility. And both estimates base on Shakespeare who inspires and reconciles them both.

Of course we are apt to carry with us to the present play the impression we have received from the sketch of Antony in Julius Caesar. And not without grounds. He is still a masquer and a reveller, he is still a shrewd contriver. But we gradually become aware of a difference. First, the precedence that these characteristics takes is reversed. In Julius Caesar it is the contriving side of his nature that is prominent, and the other is only indicated by the remarks of acquaintances: in Antony and Cleopatra, it is his love of plea sure that is emphasised, while of his contrivance we have only casual glimpses. And the contrast is not merely an alteration in the point of view, it corresponds to an alteration in himself; in the earlier drama he subordinates his luxury to his schemes, and in the latter he subordinates his schemes to his luxury.

But this is not all. In the second place, his two main interests have changed in the degree of what may be called their organisation. In Julius Caesar he concentrates all his machinations on the one object of overthrowing the tyrannicides and establishing his power; his pleasures, however notorious, are random and disconnected dissipations without the coherence of a single aim. In Antony and Cleopatra, however manifold they may be, they are all subdued to the service of his master passion, they are all focussed in his love for Cleopatra; while his strategy is broken up to mere shifts and expedients that answer the demand of the hour. Passion has become not only the regulative but the constitutive force in his character.

When the action begins, he is indemnifying himself with a round of indulgence for the strenuous life between the fall of Julius and the victories at Philippi, some of the toils and privations of which, passed over in the earlier play, Octavius now recalls in amazement at the contrast. It is not so strange.

One remembers Professor von Karsteg's indictment of the English that they spare no pains because they live for pleasure. "You are all in one mass, struggling in the stream to get out and lie and wallow and belch on the banks. You work so hard that you have all but one aim, and that is fatness and ease!" 1 Something similar strikes us in Antony.

It is natural that action should be followed by reaction and that abstinence should lead to surfeit. It is doubly natural, when effort and discipline are not prized for themselves or associated with the public good, but have only been accepted as the means to a selfish aim. By them he has acquired more than mortal power: why should he not use it in his own behoof, oblivious of every call save the prompting of desire? A vulgar attitude, we may say; but it is lifted above vulgarity by the vastness of the orbit through which his desire revolves. It is grandiose, and almost divine; in so far at least as it is a circle whose centre is everywhere, and whose circumference is nowhere. He has a gust for everything and for everything in the highest degree, for each several pleasure and its exact antithesis.

In what does he not feel zest? Luxury, banqueting, drunkenness, appeal to him, so that Pompey prays they, "may keep his brain fuming" (ii. i. 24). Or he acts the god, and with Cleopatra as Isis, dispenses sovereignty from the "tribunal silver'd," as they sit on their "chairs of gold" (iii. vi. 3). Or he finds a relish in vulgar pleasures, and with the queen on his arm, mingles incognito in the crowd, wandering through the streets "to note the qualities of people" (i. i. 52). Or he goes fishing, in which art he is a novice and presently becomes a dupe, when he pulls up the salt-fish "with fervency" (II. V. 18). And a willing dupe, the conscious humorous dupe of love to his tricksy enchantress, he is pleased to be in many other ways:
That time, -- O times! --
I laugh'd him out of patience; and that night
I laugh'd him into patience; and next morn,
Ere the ninth hour, I drunk him to his bed:
Then put my tires and mantles on him, whilst
I wore his sword Philippian. (ii. v. i8.)
In short his breathless pursuit of all sorts of experiences more than justifies the scandalised summary of Octanius:
He fishes, drinks, and wastes
The lamps of night in revel; is not more manlike
Than Cleopatra; nor the queen of Ptolemy
More womanly than he. (i. iv. 4.)
And he goes on to describe how Antony has been so indiscriminate as
to tumble on the bed of Ptolemy;
To give a kingdom for a mirth; to sit
And keep the turn of tippling with a slave;
To reel the streets at noon, and stand the buffet
With knaves that smell of sweat (i. iv. 17.)
Yet, however he may seem to sink in his pleasures, he is never submerged; such is his joyousness and strength that they seem to bear him up and carry him along rather than drag him down. As Cleopatra perceives:
His delights
Were dolphin-like; they show'd his back above
The element they lived in. (v. ii. 88.)
It is this demand to share in all the Erdgeist has to offer, that raises Antony above the level of the average sensualist. His dissipations impose by their catholicity and heartiness. His blithe eagerness never flags and nothing mundane leaves him unmoved:
There's not a minute of our lives should stretch
Without some pleasure now. (i. i. 46.)
This is his ideal, an infinity of pastimes under the presidency of his love; and any ideal, no matter what, always dignifies those whom it inspires. But it also demands its sacrifice; and in the present case Antony with a sort of inverse sublimity offers up to it all that the ambitious, the honourable or the virtuous man counts good.

For a life like his is hardly compatible even in theory with the arduous functions of the commander, the governor, the administrator; and in practice it inevitably leads to their neglect. In the opening scene we see him leave unheard the momentous tidings from Rome, and turn aside to embrace his royal paramour. His followers are filled with angry disgust:
Nay, but this dotage of our general's
O'erflows the measure: those his goodly eyes
That o'er the files and musters of the war
Have glow'd like plated Mars, now bend, now turn.
The office and devotion of their view
Upon a tawny front. (i. i. i.)

The general voice cries out against him at home, where his faults are taunted
With such full licence as both truth and malice
Have power to utter. (i. ii. 112.)
His newly arrived friends find the worst libels verified, as Demetrius admits:
I am full sorry
That he approves the common liar, who
Thus speaks of him at Rome. (i. i. 59.)
Octavius is not unduly severe in his condemnation:
To confound such time.
That drums him from his sport, and speaks as loud
As his own state and ours, -- 'tis to be chid
As we rate boys, who, being mature in knowledge,
Pawn their experience to their present pleasure,
And so rebel to judgement. (i. iv. 28.)
Nor is he without qualms himself. Sudden revulsions of feeling disturb his riots when "a Roman thought hath struck him" (I. ii. 87). He feels that stopping short in his labours and relaxing his energy, he gives his baser tendencies the sway, and cries:
O, then we bring forth weeds.
When our quick minds lie still. (i. ii. 113)
This, however, makes things worse rather than better. It does not rouse him to any constant course, it only perplexes his purpose. He does not wish to give up anything: the life at Rome and the life at Alexandria both tug at his heartstrings; and he cannot see that the Eastern and the Western career are not to be reconciled.

It is still nominally open to him to make a choice, but at any rate the choice must be made. It must often have occurred to him to throw aside his civil ties, and to set up as independent Emperor with his Egyptian Queen. And apart from old associations there were only two reasons why he should not: lingering respect for his marriage with Fulvia, whom in a way he still loved, and dread of the avenging might of Rome directed by all the craft of Octavius. These impediments are suddenly removed; and their removal belongs to Shakespeare's conception.

It may be traced in part to his own invention, in part perhaps to the suggestion of Appian, but in any case it is of far-reaching significance.

In the biography the situation is fundamentally different, though superficially alike. There Antony is threatened at once in the West and the East. Octavius has driven his wife and brother out of Italy; Labienus, the old foe of Caesarism, has led the Parthians into the provinces. It is to meet these dangers that Antony leaves Egypt, and to the Parthian as the more pressing he addresses himself first. Only at Fulvia's entreaty does he alter his plan and sail for home with two hundred ships; but her opportune death facilitates a composition with Octavius. Then the alliance between them having been confirmed, and the petty trouble with Sextus Pompeius having been easily settled, Antony is able with ampler resources to turn against the troublesome Parthians.

These are the facts as Plutarch narrates them; and according to them Antony had no option but to break off his love affair and set out to face one or both of the perils that menaced him; the peril from Octavius who has defeated him in his representatives, the peril from Labienus who has overrun the Near East. These items are not wanting in Shakespeare, and as the news of them arrives, his Antony exclaims as Plutarch's might have done:
These strong Egyptian fetters I must break,
Or lose myself in dotage. (i. ii. 120.)
But even as he speaks a second messenger arrives who supplernents the tidings of the first with new circumstances that are really of much later date and quite different significance in Plutarch, and that entirely alter the complexion of affairs. He hears by word of mouth that Fulvia is dead, and, apparently by letter, that Sextus Pompeius stands up against Caesar and commands the empire of the sea. In Plutarch he is called to Rome by the fact not of Fulvia's being dead but of her being alive; and her death only prepares the way for a reconciliation when he is already nearing home.

Still less is his return connected with the enterprise of Pompey which is mentioned only after the reconciliation is accomplished, and, as we have seen, is treated quite as a detail. But Shakespeare, inserting these matters here and viewing them as he does, dismisses altogether or in part the motive which Plutarch implies for Antony's behaviour. Indeed they should rather be reasons for his continuing and proceeding further in his present course. One main objection to his connection with Cleopatra is removed, and the way is smoothed to marriage with his beloved. All danger from Rome is for the time at an end; and the opportunity is offered for establishing himself in Egypt while Pompey and Octavius waste each other's strength, or for making common cause with Pompey, who, as we know, is well inclined to him and takes occasion to pay him court.

But in Shakespeare's Antony, the very removal of external hindrances gives new force to those within his own heart. Regrets and compunctions are stirred. The memory of his wife rises up with new authority, the entreaties of his friends and the call of Rome sound with louder appeal in his ears:
Not alone
The death of Fulvia, with more urgent touches,
Do strongly speak to us: but the letters too
Of many our contriving friends in Rome
Petition us at home. (i. ii. i86.)
With a man of his emotional nature, precisely the opportunity so procured to carry out one set of his wishes, gives the other set the mastery. Of his wife's death he exclaims:
There's a great spirit gone! Thus did I desire it:
What our contempt doth often hurl from us,
We wish it ours again; the present pleasure,
By revolution lowering, does become
The opposite of itself: she's good, being gone;
The hand could pluck her back that shoved her on.
I must from this enchanting queen break off. (i. ii. 126.)
It is no doubt the nobler and more befitting course that he proposes to himself, but it is so only on the condition that he follows it out with his whole heart. If he takes it up to let it go; if one half or more than one half of his soul lingers with the flesh-pots of Egypt, then nothing could be more foolish and calamitous. He merely throws away the grand chance of realising his more alluring ambition, and advances no step to the sterner and loftier heights. For he will patch up the Roman Triumvirate and rehabilitate the power of Octavius to his own hurt, unless he resolves henceforth to act as a Roman triumvir and as the dominant partner with Octavius; and he will never again have so good an occasion for legitimising and thus excusing his relation with Cleopatra.

This latter step was so obviously the natural one that Octavius almost assumes he must have taken it. On making his proposal for the match with Octavia, Agrippa says: "Great Antony is now a widower," but Octavius interrupts:
Say not so, Agrippa:
It Cleopatra heard you, your reproof
Were well deserved of rashness. (II. ii. 122.)
But though he thus shrinks from the irrevocable choice, we see clearly enough at his departure from Egypt that the impulse towards Rome must soon be spent, and that therefore his refusal to commit himself, and his whole enterprise, show rather weakness and indecision than resolution and strength. To soothe Cleopatra he tells her:
Be prepared to know
The purposes I bear; which are, or cease,
As you shall give the advice. By the fire
That quickens Nilus' slime, I go from thence
Thy soldier, servant, making peace or war
As thou affect'st. (i. iii. 66)
He is speaking too true when he says:
Our separation so abides, and flies,
That thou, residing here, go'st yet with me,
And I, hence fleeting, here remain with thee. (i. iii. 102.)
And his last message runs:
Say, the firm Roman to great Egypt sends
This treasure of an oyster; at whose foot,
To mend the petty present, I will piece
Her opulent throne with kingdoms: all the east,
Say thou, shall call her mistress. (i. v. 44.)
And with these pledges like so many mill-stones round his neck, he sets off to swim in the dangerous cross-currents of Roman politics. It is true that pledges do not weigh over heavily with him, but in this case their weight is increased by his inner inclinations.

So the reconciliation with Octavius is hollow from the first, and being hollow it is a blunder. Antony of course is able to blind himself to its hollowness and to conduct the negociations with great adroitness. His dignified and frank apology is just what he ought to say, supposing that the particular end were to be sought at all, and it has an air of candour that could not well be consciously assumed:
As nearly as I may,
I'll play the penitent to you: but mine honesty
Shall not make poor my greatness, nor my power
Work without it. Truth is, that Fulvia,
To have me out of Egypt, made wars here;
For which myself, the ignorant motive, do
So far ask pardon as befits mine honour
To stoop in such a case. (II. ii. 91.)
But this is only another instance of the born orator's faculty for throwing himself into a situation, and feeling for the time what it is expedient to express. It is a fatal gift which betrays him oftener than it helps.

If it prompts his moving utterances over the bodies of Caesar and Brutus, and in so far directly or indirectly assists his cause, it nevertheless even then to some cynical observers like Enobarbus suggests a spice of hypocrisy. Hypocrisy it is not, but it comes almost to the same thing; for the easily aroused emotion soon subsides atter it has done its work and yields to some quite contrary impulsion. But meanwhile the worst of it is, that it carries away the eloquent speaker, and hurries him in directions and to distances that are not for his good.

With Antony's real and permanent bias, even a temporary reconcilement with Octavius is a mistake; but what shall we say of his marriage with Octavia? Yet he jumps at it at once; and with that convincing air of sincerity that can only be explained by his really liking it for the moment, exclaims:
May I never
To this good purpose, that so fairly shows,
Dream of impediment! Let me have thy hand:
Further this act of grace: and from this hour
The heart of brothers govern in our loves
And sway our great designs. (II. ii. 146.)
And again he realises just what is proper to feel and say to his betrothed, and says it so that we are sure he feels it so long as he is speaking:
My Octavia,
Read not my blemishes in the world's report:
I have not kept my square: but that to come
Shall all be done by the rule. (II. iii. 4.)
Yet she has barely left him, when, at the warning of the soothsayer, and the thought of Octavius' success in games of chance and sport, he resolves to outrage the still uncompleted marriage and return to his Egyptian bondage:
I will to Egypt:
For though I make this marriage for my peace,
I' the East my pleasure lies. (II. iii. 38.)
But when this is his fixed determination, why make the marriage at all? Does he fail to see that it will bring not peace but a sword? Yet he is so hood-winked by immediate opportunism that he bears his share in making Pompey harmless to the mighty brother-in-law he is just about to offend. And knowing his own heart as he does, he can nevertheless assume an air of resentment at the veiled menace in Octavius' parting admonition: "Make me not offended in your mistrust" (III. ii. 33).

He has truly with all diligence digged [sic] a pit for himself. Already he is the wreck of the shrewd contriver whose machinations Cassius so justly feared. And this collapse of faculty, this access of presumption and hebetude belong to Shakespeare's conception of the case. In Plutarch the renewed agreement of the Triumvirs is expedient and even necessary; the marriage scheme is adopted in good faith and for a period serves its purpose; the granting of terms to Pompey is an unimportant act of grace.

Nevertheless some powers of contrivance Shakespeare's Antony still retains. He despatches the capable Ventidius on the Parthian campaign, and he has the credit and eclat, when
with his banners and his well-paid ranks,
The ne'er-yet-beaten horse of Parthia
(Are) jaded out o' the field. (III. i. 32.)
He himself over-runs and conquers Armenia, and other Asiatic kingdoms, and with his new prestige and resources is able to secure the support of a formidable band of subject kings. When Octavia has returned to Rome and he to Egypt, and war breaks out, he is still, thanks to these allies and to his own veteran legionaries whom he has so often led to victory and spoil, the master of a power that should more than suffice to make the fortune his.

But in his infatuation he throws all his advantages away. He pronounces on himself the verdict which his whole story confirms:
When we in our viciousness grow hard --
O misery on't! -- the wise gods seel our eyes;
In our own filth drop our clear judgements; make us
Adore our errors; laugh at's, while we strut
To our confusion. (in. xiii. iii.)
Of the preliminary blunder, which Plutarch signalises as "among the greatest faults that ever Antonius committed," viz., his failure to give Octavius battle, when universal discontent was excited at home by Octavius' exactions, there is no mention, or only a very slight and doubtful one in the play. When Eros has told the news of Pompey's overthrow and Lepidus deposition, Enobarbus at once foresees the sequel:
Then, world, thou hast a pair of chaps, no more:
And throw between them all the food thou hast,
They'll grind the one the other. (III. v. 14.)
And presently he continues:
Our great navy's rigg'd.
Eros. For Italy and Caesar. More, Domitius,
My lord desires you presently; my news
I might have told hereafter.
Eno. 'Twill be nought:
But let it be. Bring me to Antony. (III. v. 20.)
Here we seem to have a faint reminiscence of Plutarch's statement. Eros takes for granted as the obvious course, that the great navy ready to start will make an immediate descent on the enemy's stronghold. Enobarbus, who understands Antony, knows that nothing will come of it, and that their destination is Egypt. In point of fact we learn in the next scene that Antony has arrived in Alexandria and there kept his state with Cleopatra.

But if Shakespeare glides over this episode, he dwells with all the greater detail on the array of imbecilities with which Antony follows it up. First, despite the advice of Enobarbus, he lets Cleopatra be present in the war. Then to please her caprice, and gratify his own fantastic chivalry, he sets aside the well-based objections of Enobarbus, of Canidius, of the common soldiers; and accepts Octavius' challenge to fight at sea, though his ships are heavy, his mariners inexpert, and he himself and his veterans are more used to the dry land.

Even so the inspiration of his soldiership and generalship is giving him a slight superiority, when the panic of Cleopatra withdraws her contingent of sixty ships:
Yon ribaudred nag of Egypt, --
Whom leprosy o'ertake! -- i' the midst o' the fight,
When vantage like a pair of twins appear'd,
Both as the same, or rather ours the elder,
The breese upon her, like a cow in June,
Hoists sail and flies. (III. x. 10.)
Not all is lost even then. But Antony follows the fugitive, when, if he were true to himself, the day might still be retrieved. This is the view that Shakespeare assigns to Canidius; and while all the previous items he derived from Plutarch, only distributing them among his persons, and adding to their picturesqueness and force, this is an addition of his own to heighten the ignominy of Antony's desertion:
Had our general
Been what he knew himself, it had gone well. (III. x. 25.)
And the explanation of his "most unnoble swerving," if in one way an excuse, in another is an extra shame to his manhood, and too well justifies Enobarbus' dread of Cleopatra's influence:
Your presence needs must puzzle Antony;
Take from his heart, take from his brain, from's time,
What should not then be spared. (III. vii. II.)
The authority for the idea that Antony was in a manner hypnotised by her love, Shakespeare found, like so much else, in the Life, but he enhances the effect immeasurably, first by putting the avowal in Antony's own lips, and again by the more poignant and pitiful turn he gives it. Plutarch says:
There Antonius shewed plainely, that he had not onely lost the corage and hart of an Emperor, but also of a valliant man, and that he was not his owne man: (proving that true which an old man spake in myrth that the soule of a lover lived in another body, and not in his owne) he was so caried away with the vaine love of this woman, as if he had bene glued into her, and that she could not have removed without moving of him also.
Antony cries in the play:
O, whither hast thou led me, Egypt? . . .
Thou knew'st too well
My heart was to thy rudder tied by the strings,
And thou shouldst tow me after: o'er my spirit
Thy full supremacy thou knew'st, and that
Thy beck might from the bidding of the gods
Command me . . .
You did know
How much you were my conqueror: and that
My sword, made weak by my affection, would
Obey it on all cause. (III. x. 51.)
But in Shakespeare's view the final decision was not reached even at the battle of Actium. Despite that disaster and the subsequent desertions, Antony is still able to offer no inconsiderable resistance in Egypt. In direct contradiction of Plutarch's statement, he says, after the reply to Euphronius and the scourging of Thyreus:
Our force by land
Hath nobly held; our sever'd navy too
Have knit again, and fleet, threatening most sea-like. (III. xiii. 169.)
Whether this be fact or illusion, it shows that in his own eyes at least some hope remains: but in the hour of defeat he was quite unmanned and seemed to give up all thought of prolonging the struggle. When for the first time after his reverse we meet him in Alexandria, he prays his followers to "take the hint which his despair proclaims" (iii. xi. 18), and to leave him, with his treasure for their reward. This circumstance Shakespeare obtained from Plutarch, but in Plutarch it is not quite the same. There the dismissal takes place at Taenarus in the Peloponnesus, the first stopping-place at which Antony touches in his flight, and apparently is dictated by the difficulty of all the fugitives effecting their escape.

At any rate he was very far even then from despairing of his cause, for in the previous sentence we read that he "sent unto Canidius, to returne with his army into Asia, by Macedon"; and some time later we find him, still ignorant of the facts, continuing to act on the belief "that his armie by lande, which he left at Actium, was yet whole." 2

Here on the other hand he has succeeded in reaching his lair, and it is as foolish as it is generous to throw away adherents and resources that might be of help to him at the, last. But he is too despondent to think even of standing at bay. He tells his friends:
I have myself resolved upon a course
Which has no need of you. (iii. xi. 9.)
That course was to beseech Octavius by his schoolmaster,
To let him breathe between the heavens and earth,
A private man in Athens. (III. xii. 14.)
Here he touches the bottom mud of degradation and almost sinks to the level of Lepidus who did obtain permission to live under surveillance at Circeii "till death enlarged his confine." And here too Shakespeare follows Plutarch, but here too with a difference. For in the biography this incident comes after some time has elapsed, and new disappointments and new indulgences have made deeper inroads in Antony's spirit. In one aspect no doubt he is less pitiable in thus being brought to mortification by degrees. In Shakespeare he adopts this course before ever he has seen the Queen, and in so far shows greater weakness of character.

Like Richard II he bows his head at once, and without an effort takes "the sweet way to despair." Yet just for that reason he is from another point of view less ignoble. It is the sudden sense of disgrace, the amazement, the consternation at his own poltroonery that turns his knees to water.

But the very immediacy and poignancy of his self-disgust is a guarantee of surviving nobility that needs only an occasion to call it forth. The occasion comes in the refusal of his pown petition and the conditional compliance with Cleopatra's.

Antony's answer to this slighting treatment is his second challenge. This too Shakespeare obtained from Plutarch, but of this too he altered the significance and the date. In Plutarch it is sent after Antony's victorious sally, apparently in elation at that trifling success, and is recorded without other remark than Octavius' rejoinder. In Shakespeare it is the retort of Antony's self-consciousness to the depreciation of his rival, and it is the first rebound of his relaxed valour.

When the victor counts him as nought he is stung to comparisons, and feels that apart from success and external advantages he is still of greater worth:
Tell him he wears the rose
Of youth upon him; from which the world should note
Something particular: his coin, ships, legions,
May be a coward's; whose ministers would prevail
Under the service of a child as soon
As i' the command of Caesar: I dare him, therefore,
To lay his gay-comparisons apart,
And answer me declined, sword against sword,
Ourselves alone. (III. xiii, 20.)
Of course it is absurd and mad; and the madness and absurdity are brought out, in the play, not in the Life, by the comments of Enobarbus, Octavius and Mecaenas. Indeed at this juncture Antony's valour, or rather his desperation, does not cease to prey on his reason. His insult to Caesar in the scourging of his messenger is less an excess of audacity than the gnash of the teeth in the last agony: as Enobarbus remarks:
'Tis better playing with a lion's whelp
Than with an old one dying. (III. xiii. 94.)
Octavius may treat these transports of a great spirit in the throes as mere bluster and brutality, and find in them a warrant for his ruthless phrase, "the old ruffian." There is a touch of the ruffian in Antony's wild outbursts. Even the mettlesome vein in which he commands another gaudy night on Cleopatra's birthday is open to Enobarbus' disparagement: that a diminution of his captain's brain restores his heart. Truly the last shreds of prudence are whirled away in his storm of recklessness and anguish and love. At the defiant anniversary feast his soul is so wrung with gratitude to his true servants and grief at the near farewell, that he must give his feelings words though they will discourage rather than hearten the company. Cleopatra does not understand it, for her own nature has not the depth of Antony's, and deep Can only call to deep. " What means this?" she asks.
Eno. 'Tis one of those odd tricks which sorrow shoots
Out of the mind. (IV. ii. 14.)
Again, in amazement at his tearful pathos, she exclaims: "What does he mean?" And with an effort at cynicism, Enobarbus, who has scoffed at Antony's emotion over the bodies of Caesar and Brutus, replies: "To make his followers weep"; for Enobarbus tries to think that it is merely the orator's eloquence that runs away with him in his melting mood. Nevertheless his own sympathies are touched for the moment: "I, an ass, am onion-eyed." In truth none can mistake the genuine feeling of Antony's words, though at the hint he can at once change their tone and give them an heroic and even a sanguine turn. 3
Know, my hearts,
I hope well of to-morrow; and will lead you
Where rather I'll expect victorious life
Than death and honour. (iv. ii. 41.)
But whatever deductions be made, Antony's last days in Alexandria bring back a St. Martin's summer of genial power and genial and genial nobility that are doubly captivating when set off against the foil of Caesar's coldness.

The grand proportions of his nature that are obscured in the vintage time of success and indulgence, show forth again when the branches are bare. No doubt he again and again does the wrong things, or at least the things that lead to no useful result. His patron god deserts him as in Plutarch, but that god in Shakespeare is not Bacchus but Hercules, and he departs earlier than in the biography and not on the last night before the end: for the withdrawal of the divine friend is now less the presage of death than the symbol of inefficacy.

Antony's insight and judgment may be failing; his flashes of power may be like his flashes of jealousy, and indicate the dissolution of his being. Still when all is said and done, he seems to become bolder, grander, more magnanimous, as the fuel is cut off from his inward fire and it burns and wastes in its own heat. His reflux of heroism cannot save him against the material superiority and concentrated ambition of Octavius, for it is not the consequent energy that commands success and that implies a consequent purpose in life: but all the more impressive and affecting is this gallant fronting of fate.

As Cleopatra arms him for his last little victory, he cries with his old self-consciousness:
O love,
That thou couldst see my wars to-day, and knew'st
The royal occupation! thou shouldst see
A workman in 't. (IV. iv. 15.)
He welcomes the time for battle:
This morning, like the spirit of a youth,
That means to be of note, begins betimes. (IV. iv. 26.)
Cleopatra recognises his greatness and his doom:
He goes forth gallantly. That he and Caesar might
Determine this great war in single fight!
Then, Antony, -- but now -- well, on. (IV. iv. 36.)
That day he does well indeed. He pursues the recreant Enobarbus with his generosity and the vanquished Romans with his valour. He returns victorious and jubilant to claim his last welcoming embrace.
O thou day o' the world,
Chain mine arm'd neck; leap thou, attire and all,
Through proof of harness to my heart, and there
Ride on the pants triumphing. (IV. viii. 13.)
Then the morrow brings the end. His fleet deserts, and for the moment he suspects Cleopatra as the cause, and overwhelms her with curses and threats. The suspicion is natural, and his nature is on edge at the fiasco, which this time is no fault of his.
The soul and body rive not more in parting
Than greatness going off. 4 (IV. xiii. 5.)
But his mood changes. Even before he hears Cleopatra's disclaimer and the news of her alleged death, he has become calm and only feels the futility of it all; he is to himself "indistinct, as water is in water" (IV. xiv. 10.)

Then comes the message that his beloved is no more, and his resolution is fixed:
Unarm me, Eros; the long day's task is done.
And we must sleep. (IV. xiv. 36.)
His thoughts are with his Queen in the Elysian fields where he will ask her pardon 5, and he only stays for Eros' help. But when Eros chooses his own rather than his master's death, Antony in his large-hearted way gives him the praise, and finds in his act a lesson.
Thrice-nobler than myself!
Thou teachest me, O valiant Eros, what
I should, and thou couldst not. (IV. xiv. 95.)
The wound he deals himself is not at once fatal. He lives long enough to comfort his followers in the heroic words:
Nay, good my fellows, do not please sharp fate
To grace it with your sorrows: bid that welcome
Which comes to punish us, and we punish it
Seeming to bear it lightly. Take me up:
I have led you oft: carry me now, good friends,
And have my thanks for all. 6
He has heard the truth about Cleopatra, and only importunes death that he may snatch that one last interview sacred to his love of her, his care for her, and to that serene, lefty dignity which now he has attained. The world seems a blank when this full life is out; and looking at the race that is left, we feel inclined to echo Cleopatra's words above the corpse:
O, wither'd is the garland of the war,
The soldier's pole is fall'n: young boys and girls
Are level now with men; the odds is gone,
And there is nothing left remarkable
Beneath the visiting moon. (IV. xv. 64.)

1. The Adventures of Harry Richmond.

2. He learns the truth however before he sends Euphronius as delegate.

3. Which latter for the rest may be found in North but not in Plutarch...

4. A familiar thought with Shakespeare. Compare Anne's reference to Katherine in Henry VIII:
O, God's will! much better
She ne'er had known pomp: though't be temporal.
Yet, if that quarrel, fortune, do divorce
It from the bearer, 'tis a sufferance panging
As soul and body's severing. (II. iii. 12.)
This scene is almost certainly Shakespeare's.

5. Dido and her AEneas shall want troops.
And all the haunt be ours. (iv. xiv. 52.)

We have not got much further in explaining Shakespeare's allusion than when Warburton made the Warburtonian emendation of Sichaeus for AEneas. Shakespeare had probably quite forgotten Virgil's
Ilia solo fixos oculos aversa tenebat:
atque inimica refugit
In nemus umbriferum. (AE. vi. 469.)
Perhaps he remembered only that AEneas, ancestor and representative of the Romans....intercalated the love-adventure, which alone seized the popular imagination and which of all the deities Venus alone approved, with an African queen.

6. No word of this in Plutarch.

How to cite this article:
MacCallum, M. W Shakespeare's Roman Plays. London: Macmillan, 1910. Shakespeare Online. 2 Aug. 2011. (date when you accessed the information) < >.

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