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April 25, 2006

Critical Essay

Denamarie Ercolani
Critical Essay Expansion
March 29, 2006

From the beginning to the end of Antony and Cleopatra, the role of power and the upper hand changed from Cleopatra to Caesar. This was all accomplished through Caesar’s strategy and playing in the game of Cleopatra’s. The downfall of Cleopatra and Antony as well as the rise of Caesar played off one another. Neither one walked away with a true victory. Cleopatra was never able to have supreme power, Antony never able to be with Cleopatra and Caesar just stood back from everything happening. He allowed things to just fall into place, yet he still won in the end. Shakespeare added the character of Caesar in the play for some reason, whether it was to show he held strength or just obtained luck.

Cleopatra held the most power in the play but it seemed to diminish towards the end of the play when Caesar figured out her minds games. Cleopatra’s way of gaining power was to play games with the men in the play. She would say she was upset and this would cause the Roman men, specifically Antony, to make her happy. This allowed for her to get what she wanted without her verbally having to say it. One may think that he wasn’t powerful and in a way lucky to captivating the power of Egypt. Through strategy of starting marriage, Antony and Octavia, this allowed once more for things to fall according to ‘plan’. This idea wasn’t his which allows for luck to fall into place. The idea of Antony and Octavia marrying to resolve problems was all Lepidus’s idea. Caesar was a very conscious leader and at times was not lucky and just intelligent with his decisions of fighting or allowing situations to go their way, while at other times it was complete luck, for example, the marriage.

Cleopatra having the power to have her servants tell Antony she was dead was a coincidence for her helping Caesar and his plan. “The time has come,” Antony told Eros before his suicide. This was luck for Caesar and allowed for him to worry how to gain power through someone else. Everything was working for Caesar; everything was falling into place. Watching actions pursued by Antony and Cleopatra was a conscious choice that allowed room for him to step up if need be. Caesar did however tell Cleopatra that he was going to mock and embarrass her, with that she spoke to him, “…that I will not wait pinioned at your masters court nor once be chastised with the sober eye.” (Levin) Caesar understands that “death is only one of several ways by which Cleopatra could seek to mar his triumph,” and his failure to comply with Cleopatra’s sexual enticement suggests that he wishes to appear implacable to her and thereby prompt her suicide. (Levin) Caesar was afraid to step up and take action for himself; one scene that shows he was a coward is when he refused to meet Antony in one-on-one combat. Instead, Caesar began a battle with his army against Antony’s army. This was luck that Cleopatra removed her ships from battle and having Antony follow. Yet Caesar’s strategy allowed this time for him to “compel Antony’s Roman obedience through deception, surprise, manipulation, reverse psychology, false feeling, misinformation…tactics contrived to…expose Antony’s personal fears and inadequacies.” (Bower)

The relationship between Antony and Caesar in the beginning allowed for change in the middle of the play. This change was Antony’s feelings for Cleopatra and being a true Roman soldier. Antony dying because of the news of Cleopatra dying was an added bonus for Caesar, it made it easier for him to gain the land and power. Now all Caesar had to do was take her hostage and tell her of his plans of parading her throughout the town. Since Cleopatra didn’t want her image to be known as a whore and a horrible person, she committed suicide which helped him gain power, yet diminished him of his showpiece to show other rulers whose lands he hopes to control. Caesar had a little bad luck with Cleopatra killing herself it made it easier for Caesar to take Egypt. He was well aware of the ‘hooks’ she had on Antony and other men and did not give into her sexual powers. He tried to ‘hook’ her with embarrassment, but she knew better than to destroy her image. Having received the power was lucky. Once Caesar became immune to her charms of sexual intentions and mind games to gain power, Cleopatra fell into his plans of him strategizing her suicide, which in the end gives the power back to Caesar.

‘Godgame’ is a term that was defined in Bower’s article and helps us realize the reason behind the luck of Caesar. In this play, it shows a “discrepancy between Antony’s power and the fact that Caesar always prevails.” (Bower) The only time we see the power of Antony is when he confronts Caesar to a one on one battle that Caesar declines. Question is now is ‘Was that Caesar’s strategy to decline, or was it luck that the battle between each others army’s gave lead way to Caesar?’ “Always prevails” is a common phrase that was chosen, in my opinion, to show that lady luck was on his side.

“Caesar will prevail through organization and delegation.” (Bowers) This shows that with Caesar’s great strength that allows him to strategize that he will win. Caesar’s role in the play may seem laid back, however, “Shakespeare had some interest in stressing Octavius’s control and responsibility,” which is shown through his strength to make wise decisions and not always include himself in the situation at hand. (Bower) He is going to gain the power through his intelligence, not by luck. The relationships between Caesar and Antony as well as Cleopatra and Antony allow for Caesars gain of power. This organization of Antony and Cleopatra as well as Caesar as well as his delegation give him lead way to gain what he wants, power. As Caesar delegated with Antony about battling one another because of Antony’s disassociation with the Roman army, this fueled his fire. Not only did Antony allow for Caesar’s win also Cleopatra’s refusal helped. Her rejection of being paraded through town allowed for Cleopatra to commit suicide for that reason as well as Antony.

“Power is exercised rather than possessed” in Antony and Cleopatra and shows that since power is never controlled by one main character, it tends to lead you to the question as to how come Caesar was incapable of gaining this power in less time if he was the master strategist behind the play. (Bowers) Because Caesar was able to give orders doesn’t define him as powerful, it shows he is capable of giving orders to his men. Yet one may define that as power over other men. To say whether or not Caesar was lucky to ‘win’ the power and land of Egypt is a very debatable question. Caesar was not the master of strategy as every one believes, he is very intelligent with making plans, compromises as well as working with current situations however, and this doesn’t allow one to believe that he won the power with not luck handed to him.

The proper definition of lucked out is “to gain success or something desirable by chance,” luck is very similar but it means “he chance happening of fortunate or adverse events.” (dictionary.com) The chance of most of the events that happened in the play were very “fortunate” and by “chance”. It is not to say that Caesar only gained power by luck, but most of his plans were created after the fact that the misfortunes that happened to both Antony and Cleopatra helped him to strategize. Caesar was “characterized throughout the play as one who feels himself a man of “destiny”. (Levin) Shakespeare did write this in the play: “But let determined things to destiny hold unbewailed their way.” (3.6.85-86) Did he mean for this to be defined as Caesar having luck? It is not clear, but you can assume that Caesar knows what life holds for him in the future and he is to stand back, strategize here and there, however, destiny will make him powerful. He has luck on his side and he is well aware of it.

The way the play ended hit every aspect of the plot. You never knew what was going to happen, who was going to do what, if Antony was going to stay with Cleopatra or go back to being a Roman soldier. Another aspect was the luck of Caesar and his way of winning power and a name. Caesar was built on power over others as well as his strategy to work with conflicts and situations. “Caesar and his characteristic procedures, strategic procedures which however detestable are nonetheless effective within the play.” Caesar’s “detestable strategies” lead to the conclusion that he was not at all the powerful person in the play that everyone believed him to be. Caesar was strong in the fact that he was looked at with such a high status and gave him power over his army of men. With this giving him strength, he lacked in the field of gaining power by himself with his own power and ideas. Each plan and strategy was not made by him; he had the help of his right-hand man. However, all is fair in love and war; especially in this play with the relationship between Antony and Cleopatra as well as Caesar.

Works Cited:

Bowers, Rick. "`The luck of Caesar': Winning and losing in Antony and Cleopatra." English Studies 79.6 (1998) 522+.

Levin, Richard. “That I Might Hear Thee Call Great Caesar ‘Ass Unpolicied’.” Papers on Language & Literature 33 (1997): 244-265.

Shakespeare, William. Antony and Cleopatra. Ed. A. R. Braunmuller. New York: Penguin, 1999.

Posted by Denamarie at April 25, 2006 11:59 AM

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