Summary and Analysis
Act IV: Scene 1
After they have formed the Second Triumvirate, Antony, Octavius, and Lepidus meet in Rome to decide which Romans shall live and which shall die. Lepidus agrees to the death of his brother, and Antony agrees to the death of a nephew. Antony then sends Lepidus to obtain Caesar's will so that they can reduce some of the bequests. After he exits, Antony tells Octavius that Lepidus may be fit to run errands but that he is not fit to rule one-third of the world; after they are through using him, they will assume the power he temporarily enjoys. Octavius does not want to argue with Antony, but he recognizes Lepidus to be a proven, brave soldier. Antony answers that his horse also has those qualities; therefore, Lepidus will be trained and used. Antony and Octavius then agree that they must make immediate plans to combat the armies being organized by Brutus and Cassius.
In his funeral oration, Antony spoke to the people of Caesar's will. He told them of a bequest of money and property to the people of Rome. With blinding speed, Antony seeks to revoke that will, keeping the money and properties for himself, for Octavius, and for the third member of the triumvirate who will rule Rome, Lepidus. In this manner, you can confirm what you may already believe — that Antony has manipulated the people with his own advantage in mind.
The question, then, is not whether these men will respect Caesar's final wishes (they will not), but which of the three men now in power will dominate. Lepidus, who is, in effect, Antony's messenger, sent to retrieve Caesar's will, has no power. The real battle takes place between Octavius and Antony with no clear winner established. So why does Shakespeare concern the reader with this question? Because this power struggle is another aspect of the concern that desire and appetite are at the root of the destruction taking place in Rome. At first glance, one sees only the plebian mob being ruled by passion and standing ready to wreak havoc, but growing evidence shows that the conspirators and the triumvirate are as passionate as the mob.
Despite the fact that Brutus tries to convince himself that he kills Caesar because of logic and reason, he and the others are as much ruled by passion as anyone else. (For evidence of this, see Act II, Scene 1, where their passion is externalized and presented to the audience as disturbances in the natural world.) Brutus is unaware of his own emotional nature and denies it, thus losing its potential power.
On the other hand, Antony is able to accept both sides of his nature and use them to his own advantage. In this scene, his emotional nature can be sidelined when cruel, rational thought is required. How else would he be able to discuss the murders of so many people, the betrayal of so many promises, so easily? Thus Antony embodies both the problem and the solution. He is able to understand and control passion. The Antony who likes drink and women, the Antony who could weep with sincerity over Caesar's corpse, is best able, because of his emotional experience, to take charge.
From Plato through to modern day, reason has been valued over emotional response. Questioning and debating that belief was central to the audience's imagination in Shakespeare's time. Shakespeare is telling his audience that it is possible to live a successful life by combining the two, but also questions what that success entails. The triumvirs, particularly Antony, are more "successful" than are the conspirators, as the audience sees in the next scene; however, this success comes at the cost of cruelty, betrayal, and tyranny. Shakespeare is telling his audience that there is a way to combine the two. It seems as though this group has managed it while the conspirators, as the reader sees in the next scene, are losing control of their feelings. Brutus, in particular, is unable to get a handle on fear, even paranoia. On the other hand, the coldness expressed by Antony and ("He [Antony's nephew] shall not live; look, with a spot I damn him") Octavius ("Your brother too must die"), and even by Lepidus' ("I do consent") to his own brother's death, indicates the horror of men who have replaced their affective for effective sides. The debate is a complex one and not yet complete.
triumvirate Group of three men — Mark Antony, Octavius, and Marcus Lepidus — who band together in order to rule over the Roman Empire.
prick'd checked on a list.
cut off some charge in legacies determine how not to pay off Caesar's bequests.
unmeritable weak man, not deserving of the same status as Antony and Octavius.
threefold word divided These three men declared themselves a triumvirate and controlled the empire between them.
sland'rous loads Octavius and Antony are going to use Lepidus to do some of the dirty work that will be necessary.
empty unburdened or discharged; here, relieved of his load
provender provisions, food
taste measure. Here, Lepidus follows rather than leads.
One that feeds . . . begin his fashion Lepidus is not as up-to-date as Antony and Octavius. He follows trends rather than leads.
make head go forward, advance. Here, to raise an army.
made brought in.
how covert matters may be best disclos'd to make plans about how to disclose hidden dangers.
surest answered best met.
at the stake fastened to a stake.
bay'd about surrounded as by baying dogs.