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Essay/Term paper: The role of enobarbus in acts i and ii of "antony and cleopatra"

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Shakespeare

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In Shakespeare"s tragedy/history/Roman play Antony and

Cleopatra, we are told the story of two passionate and

power-hungry lovers. In the first two Acts of the play we

are introduced to some of the problems and dilemmas facing

the couple (such as the fact that they are entwined in an

adulterous relationship, and that both of them are forced to

show their devotion to Caesar). Along with being introduced

to Antony and Cleopatra"s strange love affair, we are

introduced to some interesting secondary characters.

One of these characters is Enobarbus. Enobarbus is a

high-ranking soldier in Antony"s army who it seems is very

close to his commander. We know this by the way Enobarbus

is permitted to speak freely (at least in private) with

Antony, and often is used as a person to whom Antony

confides in. We see Antony confiding in Enobarbus in Act I,

Scene ii, as Antony explains how Cleopatra is "cunning past

man"s thought" (I.ii.146). In reply to this Enobarbus

speaks very freely of his view of Cleopatra, even if what he

says is very positive:

...her passions are made of

nothing but the finest part of pure love. We cannot

call her winds and waters sighs and tears; they are

greater storms and tempests than almanacs can report.

This cannot be cunning in her; if it be she makes a

shower of rain as well as Jove.

(I, ii, 147-152)

After Antony reveals that he has just heard news of his

wife"s death, we are once again offered an example of

Enobarbus" freedom to speak his mind, in that he tells

Antony to "give the gods a thankful sacrifice" (I.ii.162),

essentially saying that Fulvia"s death is a good thing.

Obviously, someone would never say something like this

unless they were in very close company.

While acting as a friend and promoter of Antony,

Enobarbus lets the audience in on some of the myth and

legend surrounding Cleopatra. Probably his biggest role in

the play is to exaggerate Anthony and Cleopatra"s

relationship. Which he does so well in the following

statements:

When she first met Mark Antony, she

pursed up his heart, upon the river of Cydnus.

(II.ii.188-189)

The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne,

Burned on the water: the poop was beaten gold;

Purple the sails, and so perfumed that

The winds were lovesick with them; the oars were

silver,

(II.ii.193-197)

And, for his ordinary, pays his heart

For what his eyes eat only.

(II.ii.227-228)

Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale

Her infinite variety....

(II.ii.237-238)

In these passages, Enobarbus turns Antony"s and Cleopatra"s

meeting into a fairy tale and leads the audience into

believing the two are inseparable. His speeches in Act II

are absolutely vital to the play in that this is what

Shakespeare wants the audience to view Antony and Cleopatra.

Also, in these passages, Cleopatra is described as

irresistible and beautiful beyond belief -- another view

that is necessary for us to believe in order to buy the fact

that a man with so much to lose would be willing to risk it

all in order to win her love.

Quite possibly, these passages may hint that Enobarbus

is himself in love with Cleopatra. After all, it would be

hard to come up with such flowery language if a person were

not inspired. Enobarbus may be lamenting his own passions

vicariously through the eyes of Antony. This would be

convenient in questioning Enobarbus" loyalty, which becomes

very important later on in the play (considering he kills

himself over grief from fearing he betrayed his leader).

The loyalty of Enobarbus is indeed questionable. Even

though we never hear him utter a single disparaging remark

against Antony, he does admit to Menas that he "will praise

any man that will praise me" (II.iii.88), suggesting that

his honor and loyalty may just be simple brown-nosing.

Shakespeare probably fashioned Enobarbus as a means of

relaying information to the audience that would otherwise be

difficult or awkward to bring forth from other characters

(such as Cleopatra"s beauty and the story of her betrayal of

Caesar), but he also uses him as way to inject some levity

and humor in the play, showing the characters eagerness to

have a good time. Evidence of this comes in Enobarbus"

affinity for drunkenness. In both Act I and Act II

Enobarbus purports the joys of drink:

Bring in the banquet quickly: wine enough

Cleopatra"s health to drink.

(I.ii.13-24)

Mine, and most of our fortunes,

tonight, shall be -- drunk to bed.

(I.ii.47-48)

He even caps off Act II with a song for Bacchus and a

request for drunken celebration.

In short, Enobarbus is used as any good secondary

character should be; he relays information between

characters, exposes other characters and their traits, gives

background information, and lets the audience in on his

surroundings and the general moods and beliefs of the times

he lived in. He is not just used as a database however,

through his speeches and his actions we find a fully

developed person, someone with thoughts, motives, and

feelings all his own -- a character who can"t be summed up

in just a few sentences.

 

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