The Political Leaders
So much for the freedman whom Antony hails as his master, thrice nobler than himself. But what about his betters, the “great fellows” as Menas calls them, his rivals and associates in Empire? Let us run through the series of them; and despite his pride of place we cannot begin lower than with the third Triumvir. Lepidus, the “slight unmeritable man, meet to be sent on errands,” as he is described in Julius Caesar, maintains the same character here, and is hardly to be talked of “but as a property.” In the first scene where he appears, when he and Octavius are discussing Antony's absence, he is a mere cypher. Even in this hour of need, Octavius unconsciously and as a matter of course treats Antony's negligence as a wrong not to them both but only to himself. The messenger never addresses Lepidus and assumes that the question is between Caesar and Pompey alone. At the close this titular partner “beseeches” to be informed of what takes place, and Octavius acknowledges that it is his “bond,” but clearly it is not his choice. No doubt on the surface he pleases by his moderate and conciliatory attitude. When Octavius is indicting his absent colleague, Lepidus is frank in his excuse: [p. 369]
Knowing the zeal and influence of Enobarbus, he recommends his mediation as a becoming and worthy deed, and tries to mitigate his vehemence:
I must not think there are
Evils enow to darken all his goodness:
His faults in him seem as the spots of heaven,
More fiery by night's blackness.
And when the Triumvirs meet, the counsels of forbearance, which Shakespeare assigns to him and which in Plutarch are not associated with his name, are just in the right tone:
Your speech is passion:
But, pray you, stir no embers up.
But all this springs from no real kindliness or public spirit. Pompey understands the position:
That which combined us was most great, and let not
A leaner action rend us. What's amiss
May it be gently heard: when we debate
Our trivial difference loud, we do commit
Murder in healing wounds: then, noble partners,
The rather, for I earnestly beseech,
Touch you the sourest points with sweetest terms,
Nor curstness grow to the matter.
It is mere indolence and flaccidity of temper that makes him ready to play the peace-maker, and his efforts are proof of incompetence rather than of nobility. He is so anxious to agree with everybody and ingratiate himself with both parties, that he excites the ridicule not only of the downright Enobarbus, but of the reticent and diplomatic Agrippa:
Lepidus flatters both,
Of both is flatter'd: but he neither loves,
Nor either cares for him.
He will be all things to all men that he himself may be saved; and his love of peace runs parallel with his readiness for good cheer. He likes to enjoy himself and soon drinks himself drunk. The very servants see through his infirmity:Eno.
O, how he loves Caesar!
Nay, but how dearly he adores Mark Antony!
Caesar? Why, he's the Jupiter of men.
What's Antony? The god of Jupiter. [p. 370]
Spake you of Caesar? How! the nonpareil!
O Antony! O thou Arabian bird!
Would you praise Caesar, say “Caesar”: go no further.
Indeed, he plied them both with excellent praises.
And they proceed to draw the moral of the whole situation. Lepidus' ineptitude is due to the same circumstance that brings Costard's criticism on Sir Nathaniel when the curate breaks down in the pageant. “A foolish mild man; an honest man, look you, and soon dashed. He is a marvellous good neighbour, faith,. . . but, for Alexander,alas, you see how ‘tis,--a little o‘erparted.” Lepidus too is a marvellous good neighbour, but for a Triumvir, --alas, you see how ‘tis,--a little o‘erparted. He is attempting a part or role that is too big for him. He is in a position and company where his nominal influence goes for nothing and his want of perception puts him to the blush. [p. 371]Sec. Serv.
As they pinch one another by the disposition, he cries out “no more”; reconciles them to his entreaty and himself to the drink.1
In his efforts at bonhomie, he becomes so bemused that even Antony, generally so affable and courteous, does not trouble to be decently civil, and flouts him to his wine-sodden face, with impertinent school-boy jests about the crocodile that is shaped like itself, and is as broad as it has breadth, and weeps tears that are wet. Caesar, ever on the guard, asks in cautious admonition: “Will this description satisfy him?” But Antony is scornfully aware that he may dismiss punctilios:Sec. Serve.
Why, this it is to have a name in great men's fellowship: I had as lief have a reed that will do me no service as a partizan I could not heave.
To be called into a huge sphere, and not to be seen to move in't, are the holes where eyes should be, which pitifully disaster the cheeks.
His deposition, which must come in the natural course of things, is mentioned only casually and contemptuously:
With the health that Pompey gives him; else he is a very epicure.
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. (III. v. 7.)Accused of letters written to Pompey! So he had been at his old work, buttering his bread on both sides. His suppression is one of the grievances Antony has against Caesar, who has appropriated his colleague's revenue; and it is interesting to note the defence that Caesar, who never chooses his grounds at random, gives for his apparent arbitrariness:
[p. 372] So this friend of all the world may be accused of inhumanity and misrule. The charge is plausible. Shakespeare could not here forget that at the proscription, Lepidus is represented as acquiescing in the death of his own brother-in-law to secure the death of Antony's nephew. Still his alleged cruelty may only have been a specious pretext on Octavius' part to screen his own designs, and even to transfer his own offences to another man's shoulders. Pompey says, in estimating the chances of his venture,
I have told him, Lepidus was grown too cruel;
That he his high authority abused,
And did deserve his change.
Appian refers to these exactions, but in Plutarch there is as yet no mention of Octavius making himself unpopular by exorbitant imposts, and only at a later time is he said to have done so in preparing for his war with Antony. The subsequent passage, which Shakespeare does not use, or hardly uses, in its proper place, may have suggested the present statement:
Caesar gets money where
He loses hearts.
The great and grievous exactions of money did sorely oppresse the people. . . . Hereuppon there arose a wonderfull exclamation and great uprore all Italy over: so that among the greatest faults that ever Antonius committed, they blamed him most for that he delayed to give Caesar battell. ... . When such a great summe of money was demaunded of them, they grudged at it, and grewe to mutinie upon it.Does Shakespeare, by antedating Caesar's oppressive measures, mean to insinuate his own gloss on the charge of cruelty against Lepidus that he found in Plutarch? At any rate in that case Octavius would be merely following the course that Antony had already laid down:
Octavius certainly carries out Antony's programme in the result, and it would add to the irony of the situation if he had also done so in the process, and, while exploiting Lepidus' resources, had incidentally eased himself of a slanderous load. No wonder that Antony is annoyed. But if he frets at his colleague's undoing, we may be sure that apart from personal chagrin, it is only because Octavius' influence has been increased and his own share of the spoils withheld. Of personal regret there is nothing in his reported reception of the news. Lepidus the man, Antony dismisses with an angry gesture and exclamation: he
Though we lay these honours on this man,
To ease ourselves of divers slanderous loads,
He shall but bear them as the ass bears gold,
To groan and sweat under the business,
Either led or driven, as we point the way: [p. 373]
And having brought our treasure where we will,
Then take we down his load, and turn him off,
Like to the empty ass, to shake his ears,
And graze in commons.
Sextus Pompeius who at one time had a fair chance of entering into a position equal or superior to that of Lepidus, comes higher in the scale than he. He has a certain feeling for righteousness:
The rush that lies before him; cries, “Fool, Lepidus!”
He has a certain nobility of sentiment that enables him to rise to the occasion. When to his surprise he learns that he will have to reckon with the one man he dreads, he cries:
If the great gods be just, they shall assist
The deeds of justest men.
So, when told that he looks older, his reply is magnanimous:
But let us rear
The higher our opinion, that our stirring
Can from the lap of Egypt's widow pluck
The ne'er-lust-wearied Antony.
[p. 374] Antony confesses that he owes him thanks for generous treatment:
Well, I know not
What counts harsh Fortune casts upon my face;
But in my bosom shall she never come,
To make my heart her vassal.
We presently get to hear what these were, and must admit that he acted like a gentleman:
He hath laid strange courtesies and great
Of late upon me.
He has moreover a certain filial piety for the memory of his father, and a certain afterglow of free republican sentiment:
Though I lose
The praise of it by telling, you must know,
When Caesar and your brother were at blows,
Your mother came to Sicily, and did find
Her welcome friendly.
But even if all this were quite genuine, it would not suffice to form a really distinguished character. In the first place Sextus never penetrates to the core of things but lingers over the shows. Thus he has no grip of his present strength or of the insignificance to which he relegates himself by his composition. For Shakespeare differs from Plutarch, and follows Appian, in making his rising a very serious matter.2 It is this that in the play, and in complete contradiction of the Life, is the chief motive for Antony's return to Italy: and he gives his reasons. He says that Pompey “commands the empire of the sea” (I. ii. 191),--a great exaggeration of Plutarch's statement that he “so scoored 3 all the sea thereabouts [p. 375] (i.e., near Sicily) that none durst peepe out with a sayle.” He continues, that “the slippery people” begin to throw all the dignities of Pompey the Great upon his son (I. ii. 193), though there is no hint of this popular support in the history. And he concludes that Pompey's
That moved pale Cassius to conspire; and what
Made the all-honour'd, honest Roman, Brutus,
With the arm'd rest, courtiers of beauteous freedom,
To drench the Capitol: but that they would
Have one man but one man? And that is it
Hath made me rig my navy: at whose burthen
The anger'd ocean foams; with which I meant
To scourge the ingratitude that despiteful Rome
Cast on my noble father.
In Plutarch it is not prudence but courtesy that moves the Triumvirs to negociate with him. His hospitality to Antony's mother is expressly mentioned as the cause of their leniency; “therefore they thought good to make peace with him.” Similarly Shakespeare may have warrant from Appian, but he certainly has not warrant from Plutarch, to represent Octavius as listening in dismay to reports of malcontents “that only have fear'd Caesar” (I. iv. 38) crowding to Pompey's banners from love of him; or as harassed by Antony's absence, when this occasion “drums him from his sport” (I. iv. 29); or as driven by fear of Pompey to “cement their divisions and bind up the petty difference” (II. i. 48). In all these ways Shakespeare treats the trifling disturbance of Plutarch's account as a civil war waged by not unequal forces. And even after the tension has been somewhat relieved by Antony's arrival, Octavius bears witness in regard to Pompey's strength by land that it is
. . . quality, going on,
The sides o‘ the world may danger.
Obviously then Shakespeare conceives Pompey as having much to hope for, and much to lose. But Pompey does not realise his own power. By the treaty he throws away his advantages. In the division of the world he only gets Sicily and Sardinia, which were his already; and in return he must rid all the sea of pirates, and send wheat to Rome. By [p. 376] the first provision he deprives himself of recruits like Menas and Menecrates; by the second, he caters for his scarce atoned enemies. Surely there is justification for Menas' aside; “Thy father, Pompey, would ne'er have made this treaty” (II. vi. 84), and his like remark to Enobarbus: “Pompey doth this day laugh away his fortune” (II. vi. 109). He practically gives over the contest which he has a fair prospect of winning, and allows himself to be cajoled of the means by which he might at least gain security and power. But the most that he obtains is a paper guarantee for a fraction of the spoils; though he ought to have known that such guarantees are rotten bands with rivals like Octavius, who will only wait the opportunity, that must now inevitably come, to set them aside. But besides, this magnanimity, which he is so fond of parading, is not only insufficient, even were it quite sterling coin; in his case it rings counterfeit. We cannot forget that his noble sentiments about justice are uttered to Menas and Menecrates, “great thieves by sea.” Is Pompeius Magnus to be avenged, is freedom to be restored by the help of buccaneers who find it expedient to “deny” what they have done by water? Surely all this is not very dexterous make-believe, intended to impose on others or himself. Even his rejection of Menas' scheme for doing away with the Triumvirs, though it shows his regard for appearances, does not imply any honourable feeling of the highest kind. For listen to his words:
Great and increasing: but by sea
He is an absolute master.
[p. 377] Here he shows no moral scruple, but only anxiety about his reputation. He would have no objection to reap the reward of crime, and would even after a decorous interval approve it; but he will not commit or authorise it, because he wishes to pose in his own eyes and the eyes of others as the man of justice, principle and chivalry. He is one of the people who “would not play false and yet would wrongly win,” and who often excite more contempt than the resolute malefactor. And the reason is that their abstention from guilt arises not from tenderness of conscience but from perplexity of intellect. They confound shadow and substance; for by as much as genuine virtue is superior to material success, by so much is material success superior to the illusion of virtue. In the case of Pompey, the treachery of Octavius is almost excused by the ostentation, obtuseness, and half-heartedness of the victim. It is fitting that after being despoiled of Italy he should owe his death to a mistake. This at least is the story, not found in Plutarch, which Shakespeare in all probability adopts at the suggestion of Appian. It is not given as certain even by Appian, who leaves it open to question whether he was killed by Antony's command or not. But perhaps Shakespeare considers that his futile career should end futilely through the overzeal of an agent who misunderstands his master's wishes; so he makes Eros tell how Antony
Ah, this thou should'st have done,
And not have spoke on't! In me, ‘tis villany;
In thee ‘t had been good service. Thou must know,
‘Tis not my profit that does lead mine honour;
Mine honour, it. Repent that e'er thy tongue
Hath so betray'd thine act: being done unknown,
I should have found it afterwards well done;
But must condemn it now.
It suits the dramatist too to free his hero from complicity in such a deed, and exhibit him as receiving the news with generous indignation and regret. Yet such regret is very skin-deep. Even Antony's chief complaint in regard to Pompey's [p. 378] overthrow is that he gets none of the unearned increment; or, as Octavius says,
Threats the throat of that his officer
That murder'd Pompey.
Higher still in our respect, if not in our affection, but even in our respect not very high, is Octavius at the head of his statesmen, politicians, men of the world, his Mecaenases, Agrippas and the rest, with their savoir faire and savoir vivre. They never let themselves go in thought or in deed; all their words and behaviour are disciplined, reserved, premeditated. Antony's description of their principal is no doubt true, and it breathes the contempt of the born soldier, who has drunk delight of battle with his peers, for the mere deviser of calculations and combinations:
that, having in Sicily Sextus Pompeius spoil'd, we had not rated him
His part o‘ the isle.
Nor is there any prestige of genius or glamour of charm to conciliate admiration for such men. Theirs are the practical, rather uninteresting natures, that generally rise to the top in this workaday world. They know what they wish to get; they know what they must do to get it; and the light from heaven never shines on their eyes either to glorify their path or to lead them astray. The most obvious trait, as Kreyssig remarks, in the somewhat bourgeois personality of Octavius is his sobriety, in every sense of the word: a selfcontained sobriety, which, though supposed to be a middle-class virtue, is in him pushed so far as to become almost aristocratic. For it fosters and cherishes his self-esteem; and his self-esteem rises [p. 379] to an enormous and inflexible pride, which finds expression alike in his dignity and in his punctiliousness. In both respects it is outraged by the levity of Antony, which he resents as compromising himself. His colleague must
He at Philippi kept
His sword e'en like a dancer; while I struck
The lean and wrinkled Cassius; and ‘twas I
That the mad Brutus ended: he alone
Dealt on lieutenantry, and no practice had
In the brave squares of war.
A man like this, fast centred in himself, cannot but despise the impulse-driven populace; he could never have courted it to sway it to his purposes, as Antony did of old; to him it is a rotting water-weed. This temper, lofty and imposing in some respects, is apt to attach undue importance to form and etiquette, as when the “manner” of Enobarbus' interruption, not its really objectionable because all too incontrovertible matter, arouses his disapproval: but it is a difficult temper to take liberties with. None of his counsellors dreams of venturing with him on the familiarity which Enobarbus, Canidius, and even the common soldier, employ as a matter of course with Antony. And this is partly due to his lack of sympathy, to his deficient social feeling. Such an one plumes himself on being different from and superior to his fellows. He is like the Prince of Arragon in the Merchant of Venice:
No way excuse his soils, when we do bear
So great weight in his lightness.
It is because Antony's vices are those of the common spirits and the barbarous multitudes that Octavius despises him:
I will not choose what many men desire,
Because I will not jump with common spirits
And rank me with the barbarous multitudes.
His own failings do not lie in the direction of vulgar indulgence. He is a foe to all excess. When the [p. 380] feasters pledge him, he objects to the compulsory carouse:
You shall find there
A man who is the abstract of all faults
That all men follow.
And he can address a dignified remonstrance and rebuke to his less temperate associates:
I could well forbear ‘t.
It's monstrous labour, when I wash my brain,
And it grows fouler . . . .
I had rather fast from all four days
Than drink so much in one.
A man of this kind will be externally faultless in all the domestic requirements, a good husband and a good brother, in so far as rigid fidelity to the nuptial tie and scrupulous care for his sister's provision are concerned. He is honestly shocked at Antony's violation of his marriage bond. We feel that if Cleopatra did really entertain the idea of subduing him by her charms, it was nothing but an undevout imagination. One might as well think to set on fire “a dish of skim milk,” as Hotspur calls men of this sort. But the better side of this is his genuine family feeling. His love for his sister may be limited and alloyed, but it is unfeigned. It has sometimes been pointed out that his indignation at Octavia's scanty convoy when she returns from Athens to Rome, is stirred quite as much on his own behalf as on hers:
What would you more? Pompey, good night. Good brother,
Let me request you off: our graver business
Frowns at this levity. Gentle lords, let's part:
You see we have burnt our cheeks ...
The wild disguise hath almost
Antick'd us all.
It is quite true that he thinks of what is due to himself, but he does not altogether forget her claims; [p. 381] and even when he regrets the defective “ostentation” of love--a term that is apt to rouse suspicion, no doubt, but less so in Elizabethan than in modern ears-he bases his regret on the just and valid ground that without expression love itself is apt to die. That behind his own “ostentation” of fondness (which of course he is careful not to neglect, for it is a becoming and creditable thing), there is some reality of feeling, is proved by the parting scene. His affectionate farewell and even his gathering tears might be pretence; but he promises to send her regular letters:
Why have you stolen upon us thus? You come not
Like Caesar's sister. . . .You are come
A market-maid to Rome; and have prevented
The ostentation of our love, which, left unshown,
Is often left unlov'd.
It really means something when a man like Octavius, busy with the affairs of the whole world, spares time for frequent domestic correspondence. And yet this admirable brother has not hesitated to arrange for his sister a “mariage de convenance” with Antony, a man whom he disapproves and dislikes. From the worldly point of view it is certainly the most brilliant match she could make; and'this perhaps to one of Octavius' arid nature, with its total lack of sympathy, imagination and generous ideals, may have seemed the main consideration. All the same we cannot help feeling that he was thinking mainly of himself, and, though with some regrets, has sacrificed her to the exigencies of statecraft. Menas and Enobarbus, shrewd and unsentimental observers, agree that policy has made more in the marriage than love. So much indeed is obvious, even if its purpose is what on the face of it it professes to be, the reconcilement of the men it makes brothers-in-law. But, as we shall see, Octavius may have a more tortuous device in it than this. Treating it meanwhile, however, as an expedient for knitting the alliance with his rival, what inference [p. 382] does it suggest? If for the sake of his own interests, Octavius shows himself far from scrupulous in regard to the sister whom he loves and whose material wellbeing is his care, what may we expect of him in the case of those who are indifferent or dangerous or hostile? He has no hesitation about ousting his colleague Lepidus, or ruining the reconciled rebel Pompeius, despite his compacts with both. Then it is Antony's turn; and Antony is a far more formidable antagonist, with all his superiority in material resources, fertility of genius, proven soldiership and strategic skill. It is not because Octavius is the greater man that he succeeds. It is, in the first place, because he concentrates all his narrow nature to a single issue, while Antony with his greater width of outlook disperses his interest on many things at once. How typical of each are the asides with which respectively they enter their momentous conference. Antony is already contemplating other contingencies:
You shall hear from me still.
Octavius will not be diverted from the immediate business:
If we compose well here, to Parthia:
So, too, when the composition has taken place, Antony squanders his strength in the invasion of Parthia, the conquest of Armenia and other annexations, not to mention his grand distraction in Egypt. But Octavius pursues his one purpose with the dogged tenacity of a sleuth hound, removes Pompey who might be troublesome, seizes the resources of Lepidus, and is able to oppose the solid mass of the West to Antony's loose congeries of Asiatic allies and underlings, whose disunited crowd seems to typify his own unreconciled ambitions. [p. 383] But even so it is not so much that Octavius wins, as that Antony loses. In another sense than he means, the words of the latter are true:
I do not know,
Mecaenas; ask Agrippa.
It is his extraordinary series of blunders, perversities, and follies that play into his antagonist's hands and give him the trick, though that antagonist holds worse cards and is less expert in many points of the game. But in so far as Octavius can claim credit for playing it, it is due to cunning and chicane rather than to any wisdom or ability of the higher kind. At the outset he prepares a snare for Antony, into which Antony falls, and by the fall is permanently crippled. It seems more than probable that the marriage with Octavia was suggested, not to confirm the alliance, but to provoke a breach at a more convenient season. The biographer expressly assigns the same sort of ulterior motive to a later act of apparent kindliness, when Octavia was again used as the unconscious pawn. When she, just before the final breach, insists on setting out to join her husband, Plutarch explains:
Not Caesar's valour hath o‘erthrown Antony,
But Antony's hath triumph'd on itself.
Her brother Octavius was willing unto it, not for his (i.e. Antony's) respect at all (as most authors doe report) as for that he might have an honest culler to make warre with Antonius if he did misuse her, and not esteeme of her as she ought to be.This was quite enough to suggest to Shakespeare a similar interpretation of the marriage project from the first. He does not indeed expressly state but he virtually implies it, as appears if we realise the characters and circumstances of those concerned. At the time the match is being arranged, Enobarbus quite clearly foresees and openly predicts the upshot to Mecaenas and Agrippa. Will they, and especially Agrippa, who is nominal author of the plan and [p. 384] announces it as “a studied not a present thought,” have overlooked so probable an issue? Will it never have occurred to the circumspect and calculating Octavius, who evidently leads up to Agrippa's intervention and proposal? Or if through some incredible inadvertence it has hitherto escaped them all, will not the vigilant pair of henchmen hasten to inform their master of the unexpected turn that things seem likely to take? Not at all. Despite the convinced and convincing confidence of Enobarbus' prophecy, they waive it aside. Mecaenas merely replies with diplomatic decorum:
No doubt. But though Touchstone says, “Your If is your only peacemaker,” it can also be a very good peace-breaker on occasion. In Enobarbus' opinion (and in his own way Octavius is just as shrewd), Octavia with her “holy, cold and still conversation” is no dish for Antony. But though this is now expressly pointed out to Octavius' confidants, the marriage goes on as though nothing could be urged against it. The reason is that nothing can, from the point of view of the contrivers. If it turns out well, so far good; if it turns out ill, so much the better. Only when it is an accomplished fact, does Caesar give a glimpse of what it involves in the sinister exhortation:
If beauty, wisdom, modesty, can settle
The heart of Antony, Octavia is
A blessed lottery to him.
Thus when Antony returns to Cleopatra, as he was bound to do, Octavius manages to represent himself as the aggrieved party, as champion of the sanctity of the hearth, the vindicator of old Roman pieties; [p. 385] and in this way gains a good deal of credit at the outset of the quarrel. And for the fortunate conduct of it, he is indebted, apart from Antony's demoralisation, to his adroitness in playing on the weakness of others, rather than to any nobler strength in himself. Thus he irritates Antony's reckless chivalry, both vain and grandiose, by defying him to give battle by sea at Actium. Antony is not bound even by any punctilio of honour to consent, for Octavius has twice declined a similar challenge.
Let not the piece of virtue which is set
Betwixt us, as the cement of our love,
To keep it builded, be the ram to batter
The fortress of it.
But Octavius knows his man, and this appeal to his audacity, enforced by the command of Cleopatra, determines Antony like a true knight-errant to the fatal course. This passage is of great significance in Shakespeare's delineation of Octavius, because, though suggested by Plutarch, it completely alters the complexion and some of the facts of Plutarch's story. That records the two-fold challenge of Antony, but represents it as answering, not preceding the message of Octavius. Moreover that message contains no reference to a naval combat and has nothing in common with the shape it assumes in the play.Ant.
Will fight with him by sea.
By sea! What else?
Why will my lord do so?
For that he dares us to't.
So hath my lord dared him to single fight.
Ay, and to wage this battle at Pharsalia,
Where Caesar fought with Pompey; but these offers,
Which serve not for his vantage, he shakes off;
And so should you.
Octavius Caesar sent unto Antonius, to will him to delay no more time, but to come on with his army into Italy: and that for his owne part he would give him safe harber, to lande without any trouble, and that he would withdraw his armie from the sea, as farre as one horse could runne, until he had put his army ashore, and had lodged his men.[p. 386] That is, in the original Octavius takes the lead in dare-devilry, and seems voluntarily to suggest such terms as even Byrhtnoth at the Battle of Maldon conceded only by request. Shakespeare could not fit this in with his conception of the cold-blooded politician, and substitutes for it a proposal that will put the enemy at a disadvantage; while at the same time he accentuates Octavius' unblushing knavery, by making him apply this provocation after he has twice rejected offers that do not suit himself. Again, having won his first victory through Cleopatra's flight, Caesar cynically reckons for new success on her corruptibility:
This scheme indeed miscarries owing to Antony's intervention, but meanwhile it has become unnecessary owing to the torrent of deserters. So Octavius is sure of his case, and can dismiss with ridicule the idea of a single fight. In Plutarch he does so too, but with the implied brag that he would certainly be victor: “Caesar answered him that he had many other wayes to dye then so ;” when the he stands for Antony: but owing to North's fortunate ambiguity Shakespeare takes it as referring to the speaker:
From Antony win Cleopatra: promise,
And in our name, what she requires; add more,
From thine invention, offers: women are not
In their best fortunes strong; but want will perjure
The ne'er-touch'd vestal: try thy cunning, Thyreus.
A more subtle contumely; for it implies that Caesar with scornful impartiality acknowledges Antony's superiority as a sabreur, but can afford to dismiss that as of no moment. His response has already [p. 387] been annotated in advance by Enobarbus, when Antony was inditing his cartel:
Let the old ruffian know
I have many other ways to die; mean time
Laugh at his challenge.
Octavius has by this time the ball at his feet, and can even cast the contemptuous alms of his pity on “poor Antony,” as he calls him (IV. i. 16). Nor are his expectations deceived, for he reckons out everything:
Yes, like enough, high-battled Caesar will
Unstate his happiness, and be staged to the show,
Against a sworder! . . . That he should dream,
Knowing all measures, the full Caesar will
Answer his emptiness! Caesar, thou hast subdued
His judgement too.
And though he suffers a momentary check, he presently achieves the final triumph through the treason and baseness of Antony's Egyptian followers, on which he rightly felt he might rely. And when he has won the match he makes use of his advantage with more appearance than reality of nobleness. He wishes to have not only the substantial rewards of victory, but the shows and trappings of it as well. He seeks to preserve Cleopatra alive,
Go, charge Agrippa.
Plant those that have revolted in the van,
That Antony may seem to spend his fury
This is the secret of his clemency and generosity, that he would have her “grace in captive bonds his chariot wheels.” And if he has another reason for sparing her, it is not for the sake of clemency and generosity in themselves, but for the parade of these qualities: as indeed Proculeius unconsciously lets out in the naïf advice he gives her:
for her life in Rome
Would be eternal in our triumph.
[p. 388] And ably does Octavius play his role: he “extenuates rather than enforces,” gilds his covert threats with promises, and dismisses the episode of the unscheduled treasure with Olympian serenity. His only fault is that he rather overacts the part. His excess of magnanimity, when by nature he is far from magnanimous, tells Cleopatra all she needs to know, and leaves little for the definite disclosures of Dolabella:
Do not abuse my master's bounty by
The undoing of yourself: let the world see
His nobleness well acted, which your death
Will never let come forth.
But, though not magnanimous, he is intelligent: and his intelligence enables and enjoins him to recognise greatness when it is no longer opposed to his own interest, and when the recognition redounds to his own credit, by implying that the conqueror is greater still. His panegyrics on Antony, and afterwards on Cleopatra, are very nearly the right things to say and are very nearly said in the right way. When he hears of his rival's suicide, his first exclamation does not ill befit the occasion:
He words me, girls, he words me, that I should not
Be noble to myself.
But this disinterested emotion does not last long. The awe at fallen greatness soon leads to comparisons with the living greatness that has proved its match. The obsequious bystanders find this quite natural and point it out without a hint of sarcasm:
The breaking of so great a thing should make
A greater crack: . . . the death of Antony
Is not a single doom; in the name lay
A moiety of the world.
Agr.So Octavius proceeds to a recital of Antony's merits in which he bespeaks a double portion of the praise he seems to dispense: [p. 389]
Caesar is touch'd.
When such a spacious mirror's set before him,
He needs must see himself.
And here, as business calls, he breaks off and postpones the rest to “some meeter season.” Similarly when he finds Cleopatra dead he has the insight to do her justice:
I have follow'd thee to this; but we do lance
Diseases in our bodies: I must perforce
Have shown to thee such a declining day,
Or look on thine: we could not stall together
In the whole world: but yet let me lament,
With tears as sovereign as the blood of hearts,
That thou, my brother, my competitor,
In top of all design, my mate in empire,
Friend and companion in the front of war,
The arm of mine own body, and the heart
Where mine his thoughts did kindle,--that our stars,
Unreconciliable, should divide
Our equalness to this.
Then follows the official valediction:
Bravest at the last,
She levell'd at our purposes, and, being royal,
Took her own way.
So the last word is a testimonial to himself. These are eulogies of the understanding, not of the heart. They are very different in tone from the tributes of Antony to his patron Julius or his opponent Brutus. The tears and emotion, genuine though facile, of the latter are vouched for even by the sarcasms of Agrippa and Enobarbus. Octavius' utterance, when he pronounces his farewell, is broken, we may be sure, by no sob and choked by no passion. His éloge has been compared to a funeral sermon, and will not interfere with the victor's appetite for the fruits of victory. But though his feeling is [p. 390] not stirred to the depths, he is fairly just and fairly acute. He is no contemptible character, this man who carries off the palm from one of infinitely richer endowment. The contrast between the two rivals, and the justification of the success of the less gifted, is summed up in a couple of sentences they exchange at the banquet off Misenum. When Octavius shrinks from the carouse, Antony bids him: “Be a child o‘ the time” (II. vii. 106). Possess it, I'll make answer, is Octavius' reply and reproof. [p. 391]
She shall be buried by her Antony:
No grave upon the earth shall clip in it
A pair so famous. High events as these
Strike those that make them; and their story is
No less in pity than his glory which
Brought them to be lamented.