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What Shakespeare doesn’t do is set up one person to be more virtuous than one another. Caesar is the antagonist of the play, but he isn’t shown to be vicious or hateful. In fact, he both likes and admires Antony, and mourns often that they are in opposition to one another.
When he hears of Antony’s death, he says, “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 he heart / Where mine his thoughts did kindle – that our stars / Unreconcilable should divide / Our equalness to this.” (5.1 49-57). This doesn’t sound like someone untouchable or angry. Caesar merely doesn’t let his emotions cloud his judgment. After this monologue, he immediately proceeds to deal with more state business.
Leah and I discussed on Slack how Caesar doesn’t show a whole lot of emotion. He’s not a robot, but he definitely isn’t given to the outrageous displays of passion we see from Antony and Cleopatra. When he hears of Antony’s betrayal, Caesar is upset, but mostly pities Antony. However, unlike his fellow triumvirate, Caesar does not put emotion over ambition, so he proceeds to crush him in battle anyway.Shakespeare juxtaposes this situation with another between Antony and Cleopatra. When Antony discovers that Cleopatra has betrayed him, he is furious, calls her a number of hurtful names, and orders her out of his sight. We see none of Caesar’s control and distance. This ultimately leads to both their deaths, for Cleopatra decides to pretend to kill herself to win Antony’s love back, but Antony believes the ploy and commits suicide for real.
Yet the audience’s sympathy is with Antony and Cleopatra, for their love is hard to resist. They are easy to be attached to and easy to love, and even easier to shake your head at. They are the dynamic center of the play, and you root for them even when you know the end is coming.
To write an actual paper on this, I’d want to research more about the real Antony and Cleopatra. The play starts in the middle of their relationship and leaves out key scenes (like Antony coming back to Egypt and reconciling with Cleopatra after his marriage), so I’d be curious to find out more about what they were really like. Plus, the battles and constantly changing alliances could be confusing so it wouldn’t hurt to get more background on Caesar’s war for dictatorship either.