Andrew Luke Consider the function and presentation of Enobarbus in the play
Enobarbus' actions are an important part of the plot, but his commentaries on the main characters and events are evenly important: Consider the presentation and functions of Enobarbus in the play.
Enobarbus, soldier and aide appears as an amiable fellow, Loud, likeable and a dependable figure for the eponymous protagonists and to Rome. He is no mysogynist, rather a chauvinist and a comedian, and capable of drinking us under the table. This however is balanced with a quick sobering and ability to take orders while respectfully calling a spade a spade. Enobarbus can be brutally cynical yet enjoys the freedom of the royal courts of Rome and Egypt. He has a pragmatism indicated candidly, and at times sarcastically. For the first three acts, he has little or no romantic or nostalgic opinion. His speech is ironic, it works with concealment and allusion but is presented as direct statement, with a sense of comedy that is at times indelicate. What Shakespeare gives us in Enobarbus an experienced and proficient man-at-arms, tough yet entertaining! Elements of this character in place I have examined in specific and I hope to demonstrate the function and presentation of the character in the workings of the play.
Presented as universal down-to-earth persona grata the stalwart veteran is an interpretive commentator in the play. Prior to Antony and Caesar's reconciliation, Shakespeare's Enobarbus explains their relationship exporting visual and audile aspects. These insights he offers produce a reaction Plutarch nor Roman art can provide; the revelation of physiognmy. Through Enobarbus, Shakespeare also hints at an animator's style in the wonderful Cleopatra barge scene. Through the paradox of fantasy, namely the addition of perceptual and imaginative processses, this divorcing from reality firmly brings to the play Enobarbus' mind.
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A rich facet of the character's illuminating dialogue is ability to foretell. In Antony's conflicting marriage to Octavia, for example. When Maecenas remarks that Antony must leave Cleopatra, Enobarbus replies,
"Never; he will not" (II.ii.235)
And before Pompey's feast, to Menas,
"He will to his Egyptian dish again. Then shall the sighs of Octavia blow the fire up in Caesar, and - as I said before - that which is the strength of their amity shall prove the immediate author of their variance. Antony will use his affection where it is. He married but his occasion here." (II.vii.128-134)
In seven lines, Shakespeare imparts through Enobarbus the strength and nature of the lover's bond, the doom of the marital union and its contribution as a catalysing agent toward Antony and Caesar's increasing hostilities. He knows Caesar's character, that the proposal of man-to-man conflict will be rejected and becomes increasingly displaced as Antony's need to demonstrate his love for Cleopatra sweeps aside all reason. The Greek-Choric function Enobarbus provides here is most important; one essayist comments,
"Shakespeare's task was to infuse the play with the sense of Antony's greatness and heroic qualities which were lacking in his source"
Domitius Enobarbus is pivotal in this respect. When the soldier's cynical opinions are put forward, Antony's capacity for trust is brought to light. Only once or twice in the play does Antony go out of his way to tell Enobarbus to 'speak no more'; an order that he does not obey at once. His comments on the marriage are therefore resigned to post-conference conversation with Maecenas and Agrippa. Antony later discovers Enobarbus' warnings to have been well founded, but only at the expense of his own experience.
Domitius the veteran is at a loss to understand how Antony can put Cleopatra before military service. The patience with Antony's inability to break from Cleopatra's enchantment comes to a head at Actium. Why does Antony fight at sea when he knows he will lose? Why does Cleopatra join them when it is quite obvious she will be a distraction? Why upon rotten planks does he follow wounded chance against high winds of unreason? The answers to these questions he cannot find; the answer is simple. Antony will love Cleopatra until the end of the world.
"Now he'll outstare the lightning. To be furious
is to be frightened out of fear, and in that mood
The dove will peck the estridge; and I see still
A diminution in our captain's brain
Restores his heart. When valour preys on
It eats the sword it fights with. I will seek
Some way to leave him. "
Upon the defection to Caesar, Antony responds with a realisation of his own folly. His noble and generous conduct, sending along of earned treasures, shows a fixed loyalty. Valiant dimensions- generosity, kindness and decency come to the fore.
Throughout the play Enobarbus serves the role of guide, with Cleopatra, we become aware of her 'infinite variety', of how shes makes 'defect perfection'. With Lepidus we become aware of his spinelessness and poor understanding of the situation and with Caesar his dishonourable treachery and concern with superiority. Throughout the course of the play, Enobarbus’ nature has an effect upon those around. A night's drinking becomes holy magic: he organises the dancers and gives way to incensing a spirit of unity, even convincing the rigid Caesar to drink. Pompey and Agrippa, the supposed enemies of the central characters are shown to us by Shakespeare's Enobarbus as much the opposite, applaudable and worthy and both good humoured. With Menas, the two talk of soldiering and women, an exchange respectful and harmonious. With Demetrius and Philo we get not just loyal soldiers, relatively happy in their jobs but rumouring gossips in the manner of Charmain and Iras.
The symbolism and juxtaposition of scenes in the play and the dialogue seem to suggest that Enobarbus is a contradiction, a man at war with himself . He is a soldier who prefers more the life of diplomacy or politics. With Plutarch, he is little more than a foornote , Shakespeare’s re-write gives to abstract motive. For the reader, hisis frank and outspoken nature welcomes, and earns him a place i’ the story.
c. Andrew Luke, 2002
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