Antony and Cleopatra By William Shakespeare Summary and Analysis Act IV: Scene 6

Summary

We now see Enobarbus at Caesar's camp as Caesar, Agrippa, and Dolabella plan for the coming battle. Caesar instructs his soldiers to place Antony's deserters on the front lines, presumably to demoralize Antony and his remaining men, for they will be unprepared for the psychological shock when they discover that they are fighting against their former comrades.

They all exit then, except Enobarbus, who contemplates his fate. He describes the fates of other deserters, especially Alexas, Cleopatra's confidential secretary. Alexas was followed, seized, and hanged. Obviously, Caesar is not welcoming Antony's deserters; they can expect little honor or trust at the hands of their new sovereign, but Enobarbus appears to be an exception.

A soldier enters to tell Enobarbus that Antony has sent "all thy treasure." Enobarbus doesn't believe him at first, and he is heartbroken when he realizes that the soldier has told the truth. He swears to himself that he cannot fight against such a noble-hearted general; his disgust with himself is so great that he vows to "go seek some ditch wherein to die."

Analysis

Antony's gesture of friendship to his old friend has tragic repercussions. Enobarbus is not grateful for his treasure; instead, he is remorseful about his decision to desert his former general. Because of Antony's trust in him and because of Enobarbus's reputation for honesty and integrity, Enobarbus is very respected by Caesar. But regardless of his treatment at Caesar's hands, Enobarbus has lost all sense of his own honor and integrity. It seems that there is nothing that can return these intangible qualities to him, unless he takes his life.

One should note here that in ancient Rome, and in other countries of the ancient world, suicide did not bear the stigma that it does now; then, it was often considered to be an honorable solution to many a problem. In particular, those whose lives might well be forfeited because they were conquered, or taken captive, often sought to end their lives rather than submit to the decrees of an enemy. Enobarbus's situation, however, is a bit different in that his resolve results from despair rather than from a fear of captivity or execution.

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