Act IV - Scene I

[I A house in Rome.]

Enter Antony, Octavius, and Lepidus.

ANTONY:
These many then shall die, their names are prick'd.
OCTAVIUS:
Your brother too must die; consent you, Lepidus?
LEPIDUS:
I do consent—
OCTAVIUS:
Prick him down, Antony.
LEPIDUS:
Upon condition Publius shall not live,(5)
Who is your sister's son, Mark Antony.
ANTONY:
He shall not live; look, with a spot I damn him.
But, Lepidus, go you to Caesar's house,
Fetch the will hither, and we shall determine
How to cut off some charge in legacies.(10)
LEPIDUS:
What, shall I find you here?
OCTAVIUS:
Or here, or at the Capitol.

Exit Lepidus.

ANTONY:
This is a slight unmeritable man,
Meet to be sent on errands. Is it fit,
The three-fold world divided, he should stand(15)
One of the three to share it?
OCTAVIUS:
So you thought him,
And took his voice who should be prick'd to die
In our black sentence and proscription.
ANTONY:
Octavius, I have seen more days than you,(20)
And though we lay these honors 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;(25)
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.
OCTAVIUS:
You may do your will,(30)
But he's a tried and valiant soldier.
ANTONY:
So is my horse, Octavius, and for that
I do appoint him store of provender.
It is a creature that I teach to fight,
To wind, to stop, to run directly on,(35)
His corporal motion govern'd by my spirit.
And, in some taste, is Lepidus but so:
He must be taught, and train'd, and bid go forth;
A barren-spirited fellow, one that feeds
On objects, arts, and imitations,(40)
Which, out of use and staled by other men,
Begin his fashion. Do not talk of him
But as a property. And now, Octavius,
Listen great things. Brutus and Cassius
Are levying powers; we must straight make head;(45)
Therefore let our alliance be combined,
Our best friends made, our means stretch'd;
And let us presently go sit in council,
How covert matters may be best disclosed,
And open perils surest answered.(50)
OCTAVIUS:
Let us do so, for we are at the stake,
And bay'd about with many enemies;
And some that smile have in their hearts, I fear,
Millions of mischiefs.

Exeunt.

Footnotes

  1. Octavius echoes Antony’s famous turn of phrase from Act III, Scene I. Leaning over Caesar’s bloodied body, Antony calls for the crowd to “Cry ‘Havoc!’, and let slip the dogs of war” (273). While Antony intended to release the Roman public on the conspirators like a pack of hounds, Octavius now characterizes those same conspirators as dogs “bay[ing]” at him and Antony.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. It is fascinating to see new aspects of Antony’s character revealed in this scene. He uses his silver tongue to degrade Lepidus in a darkly comic manner. In the first two acts, Antony was Caesar’s obedient protegé. In the third act, he revealed himself to be a bold leader and a talented, if two-faced, orator. And now we see a side of him that is perhaps disloyal and even deceitful.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. Here Antony can be said to be guilty of the primary crime of which Caesar was accused: ambition. Antony, sensing how close he is to the throne, does not wish to share it with Lepidus, whom he perceives to be a lesser man.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. This is a clever reversal. To say the conspirators names are “prick’d” means they are marked by the pen for death, but specifically in a way that calls to mind Caesar’s stabbing.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. Lepidus probably does not like being sent on errands, especially when he doesn't know where he will find Antony and Octavius when he comes back. Antony considers him "a slight unmeritable man, Meet to be sent on errands." In Antony and Cleopatra, Lepidus will be treated more disdainfully by Antony and eliminated from the Triumvirate, probably by being murdered offstage. In Julius Caesar, Antony is already thinking about getting rid of Lepidus. He asks Octavius:

    Is it fit,
    The three-fold world divided, he should stand
    One of the three to share it?

     

    — William Delaney
  6. The devious Mark Antony used Caesar's will to incite the Roman mob to mutiny. Now he wants to consider ways of cheating the people out of what was promised them in that document. Caesar's will bequeathed seventy-five drachmas to every man, but they may get a lot less, if anything. Antony is a complex character. He is sincere and insincere, generous and cruel, emotional and crafty. The contradictions in his character make him seem human. Men do not rise very high in the world if they are too honest and idealistic.

     

    — William Delaney
  7. Plutarch writes in his "Life of Antony":

    The triumvirate was very hateful to the Romans, and Antony most of all bore the blame, because he was older than [Octavius] Caesar, and had greater authority than Lepidus, and withal he was no sooner settled in his affairs, but he returned to his luxurious and dissolute way of living.

    It was Antony's bad habits, "his luxurious and dissolute way of living," that led to his downfall, as dramatized in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra. Partnerships are fragile things and fail more often than they succeed. The three-way partnership of Antony, Octavius and Lepidus was doomed to fall apart. Then the two-way partnership of Antony and Octavius was also unsustainable because the partners were so different. If Brutus and Cassius had been victorious in the battle at Philippi, their own partnership would not have lasted long because they too were such different personality types. In our times it is very easy for two people to form partnerships but very hard to make them work successfully. In our times even marital partnerships have about a fifty-fifty chance of holding together.

    — William Delaney
  8. It is interesting to compare Antony in this scene with Brutus, who wanted to spare everyone else, including Antony, after the conspirators had killed Julius Caesar. Antony is participating in the creation of a bloodbath and even damns Publius his sister's son offhandedly with a spot of ink. When Cassius urged killing Antony in Act II.1, Brutus had said: "Our course will seem too bloody, Caius Cassius, / To cut the head off and then hack the limbs..." In Act IV.2, we learn that Octavius, Antony, and Lepidus have put to death perhaps as many as a hundred senators, including Cicero.

    — William Delaney
  9. Octavius does not appear in the play until Act IV, Scene  1. Shakespeare seems to have intended this short scene to introduce Octavius, who is a character of great historical importance, and to introduce Lepidus who is the third member of the triumvirate.

    — William Delaney