Domitius Enobarbus is a significant character throughout the play and his presence serves many functions. Unlike Charmian and Iras, he doesn’t merely play a supportive role and he could be considered one of the main characters in the play. Shakespeare has developed the character of Enobarbus quite extensively and in doing so is able to use him to reveal more about the other characters. Enobarbus is ‘the moral heart’ of ‘Antony and Cleopatra’, being the truth teller, the cynical observer and the audience’s guide.
He dies of a broken heart after being torn between the two sides of his character, self preservation and his loyalty to Antony. Shakespeare uses Enobarbus on many occasions to shape the audiences reaction to a character or event they have just seen. Along with his ability to ignore political untruths and see things exactly how they are, Enobarbus becomes a pivotal character in the play and it is these attributes that create the impression of a cynical, forthright soldier. Enobarbus often functions as a commentator on events and on other characters.
His judgments are generally detached and objective. Frequently, however, they are ironic or cynical as well. He scoffs at the great ones of the world and makes fun of the poses they assume. He comments on the political posturing between Caesar and Antony, ‘Let Antony look over Caesar’s head and speak as loud as Mars. ‘ It is his refusal to participate in political posturing that leads to his comments about the union to defeat Pompey. ‘If you borrow one others love for the instant, you may, when you hear no more words of Pompey, return it again.
You shall have time to wrangle in when you have nothing else to do. ‘ There is a cynical change in Enobarbus’ tone of voice, which shows his contempt of the situation that he is in. His understands the political posturing of the two leaders and tries to explain that it will only prevent their split for a short while. He is very strong of mind and is not afraid to speak it even in the most powerful company. Antony tries to quieten Enobarbus who calls himself the ‘truth’ when responding to Antony. ‘Antony – thou art a soldier only. Speak no more.
Enobarbus – That truth should be silent I had almost forgot. Antony – You wrong this presence, therefore speak no more. Enobarbus – Go to, then; your considerate stone. ‘ Twice he ignored a direct order given by his superior, in his sarcastic tone; this shows his refusal to participate in the act of deceitful political sham. It is this blunt attitude that allows him to realise that Antony and Octavia’s marriage will ‘Strangle’ the alliance between Antony and Caesar, whilst others believe not, he shares the audience’s thoughts with Maecenas.
Maecenas – Now Antony must leave her utterly. Enobarbus – Never; he will not:’ There is a sense of finality in Enobarbus’ voice when he says ‘never’ he understands the connection between Antony and Cleopatra, something I will build upon further later on. He is a very sardonic commentator on Lepidus and Caesar, for example he asks Agrippa ‘Will Caesar weep? ‘ pretending to be surprised that such a great man would show a human weakness.
He also describes the masters of the world, saying ‘they are his shards, and he their beetle’; although this can be construed in two ways the most probable was of the dung beetle and pats of dung. Even using the insect imagery it is a very derogatory way of talking about superiors. It belittles Caesars power. Enobarbus reacts quickly when hearing the news of Lepidus’ impending execution by saying, ‘World, thou hast a pair of chaps, no more’ this image of destruction, dissolution and annihilation portrays Enobarbus forcast of war between the two most powerful people in the world.
When Antony first hears of Fulvia’s death we are offered an example of Enobarbus’ freedom to speak his mind, in that he tells Antony to ‘give the gods a thankful sacrifice’, essentially saying that Fulvia’s death is a good thing also claiming that ‘this grief is crowned with consolation;/ your old smock brings forth a new petticoat,’ With Fulvia’s death, Antony gains Cleopatra and looses his attachment to Rome. Enobarbus’ role in Act 1 and the very start of Act 2, the cynical and ironic commentator is very different from his role after his lavish speech to Maecenas at the end of Act 2 scene 2.
By this time in the play his character has already evolved into the truth teller, therefore, it being him whom speaks of Cleopatra creates a much more believable image for the audience to interpret. During this speech he changes the way in which the audience perceives Cleopatra, from the cunning and manipulative ‘Gipsy’ queen of Egypt into the goddess-like, magnificent queen. Enobarbus’ usual cynical temperament evolves into one of great poetic scope and imagination, something that we rarely are allowed to see.
It is through exploring his language that the depths of his emotions can be truly seen. Starting his speech with the words ‘I will tell you… ‘ creates the aura of significance and importance, focusing the attention of others towards himself. The first image of ‘… A burnished throne Burned on the water… ‘ is very powerful creating the idea of a majestic character. It is also a powerful paradox, using the contrasting images of burning on water, a physical impossibility, levitates Cleopatra to almost mythical proportions; her presence can disobey the laws of nature.
The images of burning also encapsulate her fiery temperament and her paradoxical nature. The use of alliteration on the B’s of ‘Burnished’ and ‘Burned’ also created power and movement from the very first line, pushing the speech along. Enobarbus uses all of our senses to further his description of Cleopatra, creating a more vivid and vibrant image of her. Using sight he describes the colours that replicate her character, ‘Purple the sails’, ‘Beaten gold’ and the ‘Oars were silver’,he uses the colours of royalty and grandeur, furthering her intensity and monarchical qualities.
Enobarbus uses the sense of touch to incorporate sexual imagery and sensuality, ‘The silken tackle swell with touches of those flower-soft hands,’ creating her sexual attraction and charisma that is so appealing. The alliteration of the s’ ‘swell’, ‘silken’ and ‘soft’ are very soft and sensual which creates the sexuality and sensuality of the image. It is the mythical status that Enobarbus creates in a variety of ways that gives her an immense sense of superiority and power, ‘burned on the water… It is also his constant description of her using luxurious and vivid colours, ‘gold’, ‘silver’ and ‘purple’ that create her sensuality and royalty. When he says the ‘winds were lovesick’ it gives a strong feeling of control, it is this power over nature that really pushes Cleopatra’s mythical status.
The comparison of a mermaid, a lustful and lascivious image whom can lure any men, to Cleopatra illustrates Cleopatra’s supernatural power over men, however Enobarbus comments that it is not only men who are attracted to her but all things, Because Antony ‘Did sit alone’ as she arrived long with hordes of people drawn to her. This imagery shows her magical powers over everything, even over a man who had huge respect and status from his strength as a soldier. Using the image of ‘Smiling Cupids’, characters associated with love are introduced, creating a new dimension to her beauty, which runs deeper than just a lustful want. The famous portrait of Venus, which showed a vision more powerful and beautiful than anything imaginable, in Enobarbus’ opinion cannot compare to Cleopatra, her beauty ‘Beggared all description’.
His speech shows the Egyptian side of his character, which can fully understand and comprehend Cleopatra’s beauty, whereas Maecenas even after everything that Enobarbus had to say cannot seem to fathom the presence of Cleopatra. Although he (Maecenas) can see her physical attraction and beauty he struggles to look deeper into her soul, showing his Roman lack of imagination and emotion. However Enobarbus is able to fully describe Cleopatra, discarding his Roman persona, with some of the most powerful imaginative and emotive language Shakespeare ever wrote.
He changes the audience’s perceptions of Cleopatra away from Antony’s description of her being ‘cunning past men’s thought,’ and He claims ‘age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety,’ although accepting her volatility and anger, portrays them as more positive aspect of her character than they were depicted earlier in the play. He understands that it is these aspects of her persona that create the charisma and outstanding presence that she has. When comparing Enobarbus’ treatment of Octavia his language is flat, unattractive and unimaginative, ‘she is of cold, holy and still conversation.
It is the contrast between these two, and his depth of character that accentuate Cleopatra’s beauty and magnitude. When comparing his language with other Romans, he has very Egyptian qualities about him. It is these qualities, such as his like for drink ‘Bring the banquet quickly; wine enough Cleopatra’s health to drink’, that prove he is a character stuck in the middle of the two world of Egypt and Rome, or rather extravagance and discipline. Shakespeare gave Enobarbus a sympathetic attitude; he is especially sympathetic to his closest companion, Antony.
He understands the inner turmoil that Antony faces and when Antony expresses that he is needed in Rome, Enobarbus reminds him, ‘The business you have broached here cannot be Without you, especially that of Cleopatra’s. ‘ It is important that there is a character that is sensitive to Antony and can sympathise with his situation, otherwise the audience may not fully comprehend Antony’s actions. It is the description of Cleopatra being beautiful beyond belief that is necessary for us to believe that a man with so much to lose would be willing to risk all in order to win her heart.
However Enobarbus is not blind to Antony’s faults on many occasions he comments upon them. As Antony’s fortunes are falling he tries desperately to achieve a face off with Caesar, Enobarbus remarks that ‘I see men’s judgements are the parcel of their fortunes,’ his wisdom was connected to his power and now as one fails so does the other. His ability to see Antony for what he is, human, is something that creates the feeling of true friendship. Enobarbus is often critical of Antony and is not afraid to speak his thoughts.
He claims that ‘Antony only’ was to blame for their defeat at Actium as he allowed his ‘will’ (passion) and ‘Affection’ (sexual desire) to ‘nick’ his reason and military judgement. Cleopatra’s reaction to Enobarbus’ truths is far different to her hyperbolic reactions of earlier scenes. Enobarbus’ words do not provoke a reaction such as the messengers in Act 2 scene 5, because she understands that Enobarbus’ comments are not out of spite but out of a true realisation.
It is important for the audience to see Antony’s humanityand his dilemma otherwise our sympathies cannot be engaged Enobarbus is Antony’s ‘Hercules’, being his strength of reason and judgement. On the eve of Enobarbus’ defection to Caesar, strange music plays in the air and the soldiers’ claim that it is the God Hercules (Antony claimed to be a descendant of Hercules) leaving Antony. This ironic piece infers the great importance of Enobarbus, as there is a warning (music) sounded as he leaves. ’tis the God Hercules, whom Antony loved, now leaves him. as this happens there is a distinct change of mood.
He advises Cleopatra not to go to battle along with Antony, as he believes that the battlefield is no place for a woman, she disagrees. In his aside, Enobarbus clearly states very bluntly that to have ‘horse’ and ‘mares’ serving together in war is inviting disaster. He uses many sexual innuendoes in his remarks to Cleopatra. He talks about serving, ‘serve’ which could mean to serve in war or copulate with. To ‘Bear’ meaning bear the weight of, or be mounted by, a stallion.
He understands that Cleopatra’s presence on the battlefield will distract Antony and therefore he chides her and attempts to make her see reason. After the battle of Actium we see the two sides of Enobarbus’ character conflicting more often whilst he decides whether he will defect or remain loyal. The choice between loyalty and self-preservation is common throughout Act 3, whilst many other characters defect to Caesar, Enobarbus contemplates his decision. All the imagery surrounding Enobarbus is of cosmic scale ‘we have kissed away kingdoms and provinces. , even through all the images of dissolution and destruction, Enobarbus is prepared to remain faithful, ‘I’ll yet follow the wounded chance of Antony. ‘. He scornes the idea that Caesar, with great armies under his control ‘high-battled Caesar’, would forego his good fortune ‘unstate his happiness’ by fighting with a practiced swordsman ‘be staged to th’ show/ Against a sworder’.
Enobarbus wonders what can be in remaining loyal to a fool ‘Mine honesty and I begin to square’ However he then comments that ‘To follow with a fall’n Lord/ Does conquer him that did his master conquer/ And earns a place I’th’ story. This poignant comment about earning a place in the story and gaining a moral victory over Caesar is the only reason he can think of to stay with Antony. Enobarbus soon offers the image of rats leaving a sinking ship, however the ambiguity of the image is that he could be referring to either himself or Cleopatra. ‘Thou art so leaky, that we must leave thee to thy sinking, for thy dearest quit thee. ‘ The irony of Enobarbus’ decision to eventually leave, is not lost on us, he can see the truth in everything but himself. Which is why Enobarbus earns his place in the story.
After his desertion, Enobarbus’ comments are full of great pathos and create the aurora of finality. ‘O sovereign mistress of true melancholy’, for Shakespeare’s audiences, ‘Melancholy’ was not merely sadness, it was a deep and black despair that could ‘blow the heart. ‘ It is that Enobarbus is praying for, after his realisation that he abandoned everything that he stood for. During Act 4 scene 6 he is confronted by the reason which he stood by Antony in the first place, it is this realisation of a tragic mistake that he must die and he proclaims ‘I will go seek/ Some ditch in wherein to die’.
The following soliloquy contains yet more imagery of breaking and dissolution ‘This blows my heart. ‘, where Enobarbus reveals his true thoughts. However it is the Elizabethan belief that to ‘be full of thoughts’ was to be full of despair , grief and distress that concerns Enobarbus he feels that anymore thought will kill him he also says that he is un-loyal betrayer with a crown of gold, ‘better my service when my turpitude Thou dost so crown with gold! ‘, which is the opposite view to what we see him as.
His talks of ‘finishing all foul thoughts’, it is this dark imagery of breaking and shattering that creates the enigmatic end to his life, blessing the moon (which in Elizabethan times was thought to causes depression, illness, and even madness) and then crying out to Antony as he dies. His final act is to ask Antony for forgiveness for deserting him, ‘Forgive me in thine own particular, But let the world rank me in register A master-leaver and a fugitive. O Antony! O Antony! ‘
His almost hyperbolic reaction shows his final acknowledgement of his own truth that the Roman qualities about him were weaker than the Egyptian characteristics. Enobarbus’ tragedy is ‘the tragedy of a cynical mind coupled with a soft heart. ‘His cynical and objective views (the commentator and truth teller. ) often are undermined by his poetic, and kind side (Antony’s confindantn and his speech in Act 2 scene 2). His realisation of himself a the end definitely does earn himself a ‘place I’th’ story. ‘