Octavius Caesar has a pivotal role to play in Antony and Cleopatra: as a member of the triumvirate (the ruling council of the Roman Empire, composed of three members, the others being Lepidus and Antony), he has the responsibility to run part of Empire, he also has a long-standing rivalry with Antony, and dislike Antony’s relaxed mood, especially his affair with Cleopatra. We first see Caesar towards the end of scene one, where he is criticising Antony for spending too much time with Cleopatra.
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Two common habits of Caesar are shown in the first few lines of this scene:
It is not Caesar’s natural vice to hate our great competitor [Antony] … he fishes, drinks and wastes the lamps of night in revel. (I.iv.2-3a, 4b-5a) Not only does Caesar like to himself in the third person (“Caesar’s natural vice…”) he also has a tendency to criticises anyone who likes to enjoy themselves; this is seen again at the feast on Pompey’s ship.
Caesar then goes on to list more of Antony’s faults, as Lepidus, ever eager to stop any arguing, tries in vain to excuse Antony, and calm Caesar down:
Lepidus: I must not think that there are Evils enough to darken all his [Antony’s] goodness. Caesar: Let’s grant that it is not Amiss to tumble on the bed of Ptolemy, [To] keep the turn of tippling with a slave … and stand the buffet With knaves that smells of sweat. (I.iv.10b-11, 16b-17, 19, 20b-21a) Caesar again complaints that both Antony and Cleopatra are committing adultery, and then says that Antony has been drinking too much, and fighting with “knaves,” which means that he is not focusing on running the Empire, as he should be, and also that it gives a bad impression of the triumvirate and Caesar especially – something that Caesar himself is very worried about, as is seen later.
However, Caesar changes tack later on, after his messengers bring word that Pompey is growing in strength, and also that two famous pirates, Menecrates and Menas, are also acting on Pompey’s behalf. Caesar apostrophises Antony, in a scene that is thought by many to be highly significant, as it one of the very few times that Caesar is seen, in the play, to pay a genuine complement to someone. Caesar remembers a time when Antony “slew’st Hirtius and Pansa, consuls [of Rome.]” Although the imagery that Caesar uses is not particularly pleasant, (“stale of horses” and “eat strange flesh,”) it is the fact that Caesar praises someone, especially a person that he does not particularly like, which is important. At the end of scene four, Lepidus and Caesar are talking about getting more information about what is going on in the world, giving the current problems that t they are having:
Lepidus: What you shall know meantime Of stirs abroad, I shall beseech you, sir, To let me be partaker. Caesar: Doubt not, sir, I knew it for my bond. (I.iv.83b-86) This short dialogue, containing some quite harsh-sounding phrases for people are that are meant to be friends, shows that there might be a small rift growing between these two men, in addition to the disagreements between Antony and Caesar. Lepidus asking for information about what is going on, from Caesar shows that there might be an issue of a lack of trust developing, whilst Caesar’s rebuttal of “doubt not, sir, I knew it for my bond,” shows that Caesar could be losing patience with Lepidus, who is always portrayed as being quite a weak and unimportant character anyway.