This shows the lower ranks are very aware of Antony’s need to feel he is the one in control, the authority figure, and by this recognition they highlight exactly what it is he lacks; they falsify his superior fighting ability by lowering their own standards. Does this falsification show how he has fallen from grace or does it in some ways show how he does still have some hold over his men as they feel the need to impress him, even if it is through their own mediocrity?
In this instance, as well as many others throughout the play, Shakespeare has left a certain level of ambiguity in meaning, allowing the audience to imagine the endless ways his words could be interpreted, a technique which makes the audience think and really focus on the language. This is not the only example of the relationship between Antony, Cleopatra and their servants being used to reveal things about the status of the couple and their level of authority at specific moments throughout the play.
The relationships between the leaders and their inferiors are actually a very interesting reference point right through the play. How the two groups interact tells the audience a lot without being patronising; it allows the audience to make their own inferences about the status of the characters. It is clear that the tone of the meetings between the two groups is always set by the leaders. There are many jokey scenes in which the difference in levels of authority almost doesn’t seem to matter and they all seem to get on like friends.
This can however turn sour when the joke is at the expense of one of the servants as in Act 1, Scene 5, where Mardian, the eunuch is feeling the sharp end of Cleopatra’s cruel tongue: “I take no pleasure/ In aught a eunuch has” a comment aimed to highlight the sexual inadequacy of the man. One of the most interesting master/servant relationships is the one between Antony and his soldier, Enobarbus. At times they seem to get on like old friends and Antony is generally more than pleased to take his advice, but he will also pull rank if he doesn’t like what he’s hearing as is shown in Act 2, Scene 2: “Antony: Thou art a soldier only.
Speak no more. ” Here Shakespeare has Antony using imperatives to enforce his authority, Enobarbus takes the point on board but is still sarcastic in his reply: “That truth should be silent, I had almost forgot. ” This a bit cheeky for just any soldier but he seems to get away with it, showing he is higher up the hierarchy than most soldiers, having slightly more of Antony’s respect. The closing stages of the play are very confusing as far as Antony’s authority goes.
In some ways he seems pathetic, unable to even commit suicide successfully a job managed easily by a lowly soldier, Eros, just before him. He attempts to carry out the noble Roman action but fails and when three guards enter he informs them of his failing, “I have done my work ill, friends” and asks them to “make an end/ Of what I have begun” but they refuse. This distresses Antony at the time but works well dramatically as it allows him the time to visit Cleopatra at the monument for their final meeting before he dies.
In other ways though it is his death, and people’s reactions to it, that reminds everyone of the amazing life he did lead and the great and powerful man he once was, a fact which could easily be forgotten given his present state. Caesar’s reaction is particularly effective: “The breaking of so great a thing should make/ A greater crack”. This is a powerful comment showing just how much respect he has for Antony, despite all their disagreements and it seems that Antony was someone who Caesar really looked up to, considering the success Caesar has already achieved and the further achievements he goes on to make.
The respect for Antony is quite complimentary and suggests the authority Antony did have and possibly gives an insight into how he will be remembered. This resonates back to the earlier conversation between Lepidus and Caesar in Act 1, Scene 4, where they reminisce about Antony’s days as a mercenary for Rome when he went through so many trails and yet “Was borne so like a soldier that thy cheek/ So much as lanked not.
” They really respect his resourcefulness in the field and this is clearly portrayed to the audience whose respect for Antony then also grows. Antony and Cleopatra is an interesting play in that its characters are world figures and their actions not only affect themselves and people close to them, but also the majority of the globe; issues are settled not with individual duals but battles involving large fleets and armies.
The audience is reminded of this global scale by comments made throughout the play and the constant flow of messengers gives the idea that something is always going on outside the scene you are currently watching. The audience hears the orders and commands given by Antony and Cleopatra and the fact that they have so much influence over the world certainly puts them in a position of authority in the audiences’ eyes.
It offers an interesting contrast to the intimate scenes we witness from the character’s private lives, an angle seen not by all other characters but just by the audience who are given that unique privilege. It is thus through a combination of language, scene juxtaposition and character relationships that Shakespeare is able to convey to the audience the concept of authority in the play.
The Arden Shakespeare “Antony and Cleopatra” BBC “Antony and Cleopatra” audio tape BBC production of “Antony and Cleopatra” DVD