Shakespeare creates a conflict upon Antony, which is already established early in Act 1. Because Antony is part of the triumvirate, it is his duty to help rule the world with Lepidus and Caesar. However, because he is in a relationship with Cleopatra, the queen of Egypt, he fails to meet his obligations by choosing to remain in Alexandria to spend time with Cleopatra. This act causes the dissatisfaction of two other characters: Philo and Octavius Caesar. Shakespeare uses these characters in order to provide the audience with a different point of view on Antony’s behaviour. Both Philo and Caesar believe Antony to have been a man of honour and respect. Caesar regards Antony as having ‘survived a stoic resistance’ whilst Philo saw Antony as a powerful warrior congruent to Mars. Both characters believe that Antony has stooped down low because all of his energy has moved from Rome to Cleopatra. Instead of focusing on his job he spends him looking at a ‘tanny front’. A point of view is therefore establishes that Antony is losing the sense of responsibility for ruling the earth because he has let a woman take control of him. He is regarded as immature because he pawns his experience, being the duty to rule the earth, for the present pleasure, Cleopatra. Shakespeare uses Antony as a means to portray the image that the world needs some rule for order. Even though Philo’s and Caesar’s opinions of Caesar create an impact on the audience, which may influence their perceptions on Antony’s relationship with Cleopatra as one that is a block to Antony’s responsibilities to the world as leader, Shakespeare uses the character of Enobarbus to warm the audience towards Antony’s relationship with Cleopatra. Because Enobarbus is seen as a righteous and honest character, the audience is likely to agree with his opinions that ‘her (Cleopatra’s) passions are made of nothing but the finest part of pure love.’
Shakespeare conveys the image of Antony being indecisive. At the beginning of Act 1 Antony chooses to neglect the news from Rome in order to remain in Alexandria stating ‘let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide arch of the ranged empire fall’ a statement that may reflect that of a traitor from a Roman perspective. However, further on in Act 1 he wants to break off the relationship between himself and Cleopatra because he feels that his duties are more important. This change in opinion is triggered by the problems that have arisen in his absence – his wife’s death, the crowd going against Caesar because they are beginning to support Pompeius and therefore Pompeius gaining power. Antony’s change of mind to return to Rome may be considered as an act to establish the image that the love he feels for Cleopatra is not real and/or strong enough for him to remain in Alexandria. He places Cleopatra second to Rome in his list of importance. On the other hand, in modern context, Shakespeare may use this event to portray the stereotypical male view of society. It is often said that women use their right, more emotional side of their brain whilst men use their left, more logical side of their brain. By going back to Rome Antony is fulfilling this stereotypical view of society by allowing his logic to conquer his emotions. Shakespeare therefore also creates a power struggle between rationality and emotions – a struggle that all human beings can relate to as well as gender representations. Antony’s act of leaving Cleopatra to perform his role as leader in Rome may be seen as a hurtful act towards Cleopatra yet he is depicted as a gentleman because, even though he has made up his mind about leaving Alexandria, he asks Cleopatra for her permission to leave therefore giving her the impression that the choice of his departure is up to her. Before he departs to Rome he tells Cleopatra ‘the strong necessity of commands our services awhile: but my full heart remains in use with you’ and ‘I hence fleeting here remain with thee’ leaving the audience to accept Antony’s choice to departure to Rome because of the romance permeated in his words that reveals a genuine love. Also, by the audience’s acknowledgement of the Jacobean honour code they are able to position themselves as Antony and understand his choice in reason for wanting to return to Rome for his honour as honour played a focal role in society, which men would willingly die for in order to receive it.
Although Caesar is the logical character that spends his time satisfying his duties, it is in actual fact Antony who is liked by the people of Rome even though he, according to Caesar, contains all of men’s faults. The reason for his general favorable reception may be the fact that Antony wanders the streets of Rome to try and understand the people therefore causing the impressions that he makes a real effort in interacting with both the plebians and the patricians. By communicating with the people, Antony is able to let go of his pride and lower his status in society by acting on the same level of the people so that he can learn to understand them better. Because of this act, he removes the big barrier between himself and the people thus removing the ‘them and us’ feeling so that the people feel less alienated. Shakespeare uses the contrast of Caesar’s character, where the people only follow him because of their fear of him, to emphasize Antony’s trait of acceptance by the people.
Shakespeare also uses Antony to portray human nature. First of all Antony, although married to Fulvia, proceeds in having an affair with Cleopatra. This was a common occurrence in Roman times because men married for political reasons thus chose to have many affairs. However, in Jacobean and modern times this act of adultery, although existent, is seen as immoral and is generally not accepted by their society. Antony’s longing for women outside of his marriage reflects the male nature of not being satisfied with only one woman. It perhaps, also fulfills the stereotypical view that women seek stability and exclusivity within a relationship whilst men cannot cope with monogamy. Through the use of Cleopatra’s knowledge of the male race she is able to subtly manipulate Antony by saying ‘you must not stay here longer’ as she knows it will result in Antony wanting to stay longer. Cleopatra’s ability to manipulate Antony suggests that he is a victim of female’s power as well as his own emotions. It also reflects human nature of wanting to do the opposite of what they are told to do and how this human trait has not changed through out time. Antony is a character that can be blinded by love as he chooses to give Cleopatra the whole east part of the world, which is a very generous yet foolish gift as it would be most likely that Caesar and Lepidus disapprove because Cleopatra cannot own a part of the world that is supposed to be ruled by the triumvirate. Although Antony is partially blinded by love, he does not fit the profile of containing the extreme characteristic of being emotional. He retains his logic by leaving Cleopatra in Alexandria to go to Rome. As a matter of fact it is Cleopatra who is the extreme emotional character whilst Caesar is the extreme logical character. Antony, on the other hand, is caught in the middle between these two extremes resulting in conflict. Shakespeare chooses to experiment with the concept of Elizabethan times that the best person is half way between two extremes thus suggesting that Antony is a more interesting character.
In conclusion, through Shakespeare use of dialogue, symbolism and context he presents Antony as a character with immense strength yet one that encompasses a flaw, which is a vital convention used for the protagonist within a tragic drama as it results in conflict, a necessary principle to keep a drama interesting ‘no conflict, no drama’. Antony is portrayed as the interesting character that is caught in between two extremes – Cleopatra and Caesar. Cleopatra represents Antony’s emotions and present pleasure whilst Caesar represents Antony’s logic and responsibility for ruling the world. It is therefore inevitable that Antony will have to someday choose between the two extremes – the necessity of having to make a choice between the two extremes represents that emotions and logic are incompatible.