Antony and Cleopatra

The world literature knows a lot of different interpretations of a sad life story of Cleopatra and her love to a Roman Antony. One of the most skillfully written plays, depicting the story of love of the Egyptian queen and the Roman is the play by William Shakespeare “Antony and Cleopatra”.
This play presents a particular view of the author on the love of Antony and Cleopatra and events that happened at that time. A particular feature of this work of W. Shakespeare is the importance the author paid to each character, especially, Cleopatra, Antony and Julius Ceasar.
However, unlike many other writers who researched this problem and attempted to describe the story of Antony and Cleopatra, William Shakespeare underlines the importance of every character he creates in his play. In fact the major characters, which have been just mentioned, seem to be helpless without minor characters, which constitute an essential part of the whole work.
Among the minor characters, particularly important roles play Enorbabus, Charmian, Octavius Ceasar, and Octavia. All of them produce a great impression on a reader and it seems as if they are as important as major character at least a reader feels their presents near the major characters at the most significant moments of the play.
Obviously in order to better understand the role of minor characters mentioned above it is necessary to analyze each of them in details.
Probably it would be better to start with the characters which were the most close to Antony and consequently to Cleopatra and who dramatically influenced the final outcome of their life and love story.
First of all a few words should be said about the best friend of Antony, Enobarbus. At first glance Enobarbus is quite a good person and he is a friend of Antony. The relations between friends are quite good and faithful they seem to be quite tolerant even despite some contradictions. In fact it is quite surprising that they are so good friends, since Enobarbus is just a lieutenant in the army of Antony and he is not a kind of person who could easily live within the atmosphere of the Queen Cleopatra court as well as any other royal court because he is quite a rude person in actuality that is quite typical for soldiers and probably the author of the play wants to depict a typical Roman soldier through the character of Enobarbus.
Anyway, this character produce quite a dubious impression because on the one hand he is a blunt, rough-spoken man while, on the other hand, he possesses a degree of humorous wisdom and probably due to this fact a reader understands that he is not a bad person in fact and why he is one of the best friends of Antony. Such a wisdom of him becomes obvious when he gives a famous description of Cleopatra in her barge coming down the Cydnus.
Gradually, on reading the play, a reader understands that Enobarbus is a typical Roman soldier and he cannot ignore his nature neither can he overcome it. He cannot rebel against Rome, against his motherland, against legal emperor and he betrays Antony that is particularly tragic in the context of the bosom friendship that used to be lasting for so long time. In the same time, he is a good person in the depth of his soul since he cannot bear the betrayal and eventually he dies because of remorse when Antony sends his treasure after him.
So, Enobarbus is a symbol of Roman soldier who is loyal to his motherland and in the same time he is noble and hate evil and dirty tricks, especially when they are played at his best friends.
Not less significant and less symbolic is Octavia, a sister of Julius Ceasar and a wife of Antony. As Enobarbus is a symbol of a Roman man, or to put it more precisely of a Roman soldier, so Octavia is a symbol of a Roman woman. She has absorbed the best qualities a Roman woman is supposed to possess, she is chaste and virtues sister of the emperor and she is ready to serve to Rome and its interests she puts higher than her personal once, since even her marriage on Antony is mainly politically motivated as a means of achieving the power by her brother, Julisus Caesar and she seems to be just an instrument in a political play of Caesar and Octavian against their opponents. IT is probably she and Enobarbus whom Antony addresses first in his words:
What’s brave, what’s noble
Let’s do’t after the high Roman fashion
And make death proud to take us
(Shakespeare act 4, sc.15,1. 86-8)
Probably only real Romans, such as Octavia and Enobarbus really know what ‘the high Roman fashion’ in such a context means.
Furthermore, to a certain extent Octavia may be treated as an antipode of Cleopatra. For Romans it is Octavia who is a real and legal wife of Antony and only her they are ready to accept as his wife, while Cleopatra, being a Queen, will never achieve such an acceptance that is supposed to be particularly hurting for her self-esteem. On the other hand Octavia will never be as beloved by Antony as Cleopatra is. In such a way the author reveals the split between social acceptance and personal happiness represented by Octavia and Cleopatra and without the former it would be practically impossible to make such a conclusion.
Among noble Romans, such as Octavia and even Enobarbus are, a dark figure of Octavius Caesar seems to be particularly striking. He is a kind of ‘evil genius’ of the play. Probably the author wants to warn readers about the next generation or even generations of Romans since Octavius is a young, adopted son of Julius Caesar but despite his young age he readily marries off his foster sister Octavia to Antony, in order to rid himself of Lepidus, the other triumvir and to get more power. Moreover, to achieve this goal and to satisfy his self-esteem and unlimited desire of power he breaks the civil war on Antony after Caesar’s death. In such a way the author underlines that it is he who really starts the civil war where a Roman will kill a Roman.
Furthermore, he is deprived of any nobility and he can betray without any remorse, which led to the death of Enobarbus. On the contrary he easily betrays Octavia goes to Egypt, where he defeats Antony, which used to be a friend of his foster father, Julius Caesar, and consequently a friend of him. Quite symbolically that such an unfair, power-thirsty person remains the only ruler of the huge Roman empire after the suicides of Antony and Cleopatra and it is hard to rid of impression that the author in such a way attempts to foretell the ruin of Roman empire because such people as Octavius have started to come to power.
And, finally, the only Egyptian that is in the list of the minor characters that are discussed in terms of this paper is Charmian, a Cleopatra’s favorite waiting-woman. In fact like Octavia is a symbol of a Roman woman, so Charmian is a symbol of an Egyptian woman, fully devoted to her Queen. Obviously on comparing Octavia and Charmian, a reader understands the difference between a woman that used to live in a relatively democratic republic (Octavia) and a woman that used to live in a kingdom (Charmian), where the power of a king or queen is unlimited. She possesses faithfulness and wisdom since it is she who advises Cleopatra to give in to any wish of Antony and it is she who in the end commits suicide after her Queen’s death. So, she incorporates all positive qualities an Egyptian woman was supposed to possess and she is not a passive character who obeys to her Queen, on the contrary she plays important role in decisions, or at least some of them, Cleopatra takes.
Thus, taking into consideration all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that every character in the play “Antony and Cleopatra” by William Shakespeare is important and symbolic in the same time that makes this work particularly interesting for reading and research.

1. Shakespeare, W. Antony and Cleopatra. New York: Penguin Classics, 1998.

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