This helps the audience to understand and agree with Antony’s abandonment of Octavia and makes us think of Antony and Cleopatra’s relationship as more than just and adulterous affair. Octavia is a modest ‘noble Ladie’ and unlike Cleopatra is not fond of a fuss being made of her. When Octavia enters Rome in act 3 scene 4 , Caesar is angry that she has not come with a great train of attendants in the manner which is befitting for the sister of Caesar and wife of Marc Antony but instead comes like ‘A Market maid to Rome’ (3. 6. 51).
However this is how Octavia feels most comfortable and tells Caesar ‘God my Lord to come thus was I not constrained, but did it on my free will. ‘ Octavia is a Roman woman and comes from a world where women have a very submissive role; this is in complete contrast with Cleopatra who rules her country of Men and Women single handedly. Where Cleopatra is compared to Elizabeth I, Octavia can be compared to the Wife of James I or Mary Queen of Scots. In Rome men are god and women are merely there to serve them thus meaning Octavia has no power, all decisions are made for her by her male relations as Hughes-Hallet observed:
Roman women, could conduct no legal or financial business on their own. All their affairs were handled by a male guardian (usually a husband or Father), and his signature was required to ratify any deal or agreement. (Hughes Hallet, 13) Octavia is a gentle and sincere character, ‘My nobal brother’ (3. 2. 4) ‘O, bless my lord and husband! ‘ 93. 4. 16) she cares for both her Brother and her Husband. We the audience fell empathy and admiration for Octavia, she gives up her chance of real love and real marriage in the hope that by sacrificing herself to her brothers need she maybe able to bring Caesar and Antony together and untied once more.
Even when she is torn between the two men she cares most fore: Antony and Ocatvius; and Antony has told her to chose between the two of them: ‘can never be so equal that your love can equally move with provide your going; choose your own company, and command what cost your heart has mind to’ (3. 4. 35-39) Octavia tries to bring the two men back together and tries to help them reconcile. Octavius used his sister as a pawn to win Antony back on his side, he believed as did others that Octavia could solve the problems but in hindsight we can see it was Antony’s treatment of Octavia that caused further rift between the two men.
The two men used Octavia and she was aware of this and allowed them too, showing a weak character in comparison to the strong-minded Cleopatra. Shakespeare also uses stage directions to indicate the purpose of the marriage: as in act 2 scene2, Caesar and Antony enter with ‘Octavia between them’ as a form of go between. Maecenas states the ‘beauty, wisdom, modesty’ of Octavia are juxtaposed to the wantonness of Cleopatra. In Shakespeare’s time Octavia would have represented Puritans and Cleopatra Cavaliers, the contrast between these two women within the play help the audience to understand the choice in which Antony has to make.
Cleopatra is Egypt and Octavia is Rome, Antony must choose which life to led. Cleopatra and Octavia act merely as a visible contrast between each other’s culture. Hughes-Hallet observes: Cleopatra chose her own lovers. No Father or Brother gave her to her partners, as Octavius gave his sister to Antony (Hughes-Hallet, 74) In different performances these differences between the two women from opposite cultures can be emphasised in a variety of ways including the uses of costume.
Cleopatra’s would be more revealing and sexual whereas Octavia’s would be long, covering all areas, as a traditional Roman Woman’s would be. More subdued lighting could be used on Cleopatra to show her dark and more mysterious manner than Octavia. A strong, predominant actress would portray the role of Cleopatra well just as a more quiet and natural looking actress would perform well in the role of Octavia and thus the two would together would enable the audience to understand the difference between the two women, the two worlds and the two lifestyles.
In conclusion I would say Ocatavia and Cleopatra each embody different aspects of womanhood that can be seen in the time of Egyptian dominance of the east and Roman dominance of the west, in Shakespeare’s time through Cavaliers and Puritans and nowadays in Eastern and Western countries. They both represent different worlds with different views and help by the end of the play to show that their worlds need to be kept separate because together results in heartache, pain and destruction.