Summary and Analysis
Act III: Scene 2
As this scene opens, in Rome, Agrippa and Enobarbus enter and discuss recent events. Octavia is to leave Rome with her new husband, Antony. Caesar is sad to see her go, and, for the moment, Lepidus is the butt of everyone's joking. For example, they discuss Lepidus's excessive devotion to both Caesar and Antony and his futile attempts to act as a mediator between them. This is a fittingly ironic, foreshadowing what is soon to happen, for Caesar, Antony, Lepidus, and Octavia enter, and they begin to discuss Octavia's imminent departure with Antony. Like Lepidus, she too is a mediator who loves both her brother and her husband, but she senses a conflict that she feels is somehow tragic.
Caesar admonishes Antony to take good care of his sister, and Antony says he must not seek fault where none exists. He promises that Caesar will find no "cause . . . for what [he seems] to fear"; Antony will be kind to Octavia. Enobarbus and Agrippa, meanwhile, make asides concerning Caesar, comparing his appearance to that of an ill-tempered horse. They wonder if Caesar will cry (he is apparently trying not to), yet even Antony has wept before, they note, and he is certainly no less masculine for having done so. The two men make their farewells, and Antony and Caesar embrace briefly.
The gossipy tone in the first part of the scene, where Agrippa and Enobarbus make fun of the futile efforts of Lepidus to be loyal to both Antony and Caesar, foreshadows the fact that Octavia's role as a mediator will also prove ultimately unsuccessful. Yet, for now, the key focus is on Lepidus; he is described by Enobarbus as suffering from the "green-sickness" ever since Pompey's feast, described earlier. "Green-sickness" was an ailment supposedly suffered by adolescent girls when they fell in love; they became wan and weak from worry about their lovers. In this context, it probably refers to the painful hangover that Lepidus probably suffered the day after he was encouraged to drink too much at the banquet.
Lepidus is said to love both Caesar and Antony, and to be totally devoted to both men. Of course, this is impossible. The two men are rivals. Yet it is true that Lepidus is very much like a young girl — that is, he is unable to decide to whom he should give his loyalty. And in comparison to both Antony and Caesar, Lepidus has so little power that all he can do is fret and worry. Agrippa says bluntly, "both he loves," to which Enobarbus retorts, "They are his shards, and he their beetle." This figure of speech refers to the shiny wing-cases of beetles which were called "shards" because of their resemblance to fragments of shiny pottery or glass. Figuratively, Lepidus is like a beetle in that he is helpless without his bright wings — Antony and Caesar. In addition, Lepidus can be compared to the dull-colored insect whose bright wings are far more noticeable than the small little body to which the wings are attached.
Agrippa and Enobarbus leave then, as the others enter, and Caesar tells Antony:
Let not the piece of virtue which is set
Betwixt us as the cement of our love,
To keep it builded, be the ram to batter
The fortress of it; for better might we
Have loved without this mean, if on both parts
This be not cherish'd (29-34)
The image here that Caesar evokes is of a building, and the love of the two men for the virtuous Octavia is the cement. (She is the "piece" or masterpiece of virtue referred to here). But were Octavia to be ill-treated, or if she were to be considered as a hostage, she would be the battering ram that would cause the whole structure of their precarious alliance to crumble. Thus, Caesar says that he would hate Antony more if Octavia were to be misused than he would hate Antony if Octavia had never been given to him to "cement" their peace.
Antony warns Caesar not to pursue this mistrust any further, lest he (Antony) take offense at it. Caesar then says goodbye to Octavia, who is weeping; her tears, Antony gallantly describes as being like "April's [showers] in her eyes; it is love's spring." He suggests that like the spring rains that water the ground, her tears commemorate the beginning of the growth of their love for one another.
When Octavia says that she wishes to whisper in Caesar's ear, perhaps to give some private message or ask that he not forget her, he is touched by her grief. Antony too is affected, and again he tries to be gallant. He suggests that she is too filled with emotion to speak clearly, and like "the swan's down-feather / That stands upon the swell at full of tide," she cannot clearly express her loyalty and love to either Caesar or Antony — that she is torn by her devotion to both, and thus she turns first one way and then another, like a feather fluttering on the water. This image aptly sums up her helplessness as an object who will be used later by both men in their competing for power.
Enobarbus and Agrippa observe Caesar and Antony, and they comment that Caesar "has a cloud in his face," meaning that he is either frowning or attempting to suppress tears. Agrippa notes that Antony, in contrast, was not too proud to weep when Julius Caesar was killed, nor later when Brutus was slain; in neither case was he considered less manly for having wept. Enobarbus quips that Antony did indeed have a lot of "rheumy colds" that year, meaning that he wept a lot, and he suggests that Antony perhaps wept because of what he had destroyed — meaning Brutus.
The soldiers' comments are not very complimentary to either of the triumvirs. It is hinted that Caesar refrains from crying because he is too insecure to permit himself to show any weakness, while Antony almost too willingly expresses emotions that perhaps he doesn't actually feel. Thus, his gallantry towards Octavia may rest on a questionable basis — that is, his devotion to her is likely to be short-lived.