Study Guide

Antony and Cleopatra

by William Shakespeare

Antony and Cleopatra Essay - The Luck of Caesar: Winning and Losing in Antony and Cleopatra

The Luck of Caesar: Winning and Losing in Antony and Cleopatra

"The Luck of Caesar": Winning and Losing in Antony and Cleopatra

Rick Bowers, University of Alberta

Those critics of Antony and Cleopatra who touch on the subject of Caesar's involvement are usually brief and disparaging before moving on to consider the principal love interest or to draw cultural comparisons between Egypt and Rome. Janet Adelman calls Caesar 'the exemplar of measure' in the play, while Dipak Nandy characterizes him as 'the epitome of the Renaissance "politique" '.1 J. Leeds Barroll's lengthy characterization of Octavius reinforced the efficient but enigmatic nature of the character, while Lord David Cecil expressed guarded admiration in his study, describing Caesar as 'far-sighted, cool, self-controlled, and so single-mindedly intent on the achievement of his ambition, that nothing, neither the happiness of his sister nor a genuine feeling of pity for Antony in his fall, can turn him from it'.2 More recently David Bevington, in his introduction to the New Cambridge Shakespeare, seems to have registered the last word on Caesar, calling him 'the voice inside the play for those male readers who cannot entertain the wholeness of Cleopatra and are threatened by the challenge she represents to a male desire for control'.3

Perhaps so. Those male readers thus described would benefit greatly from a quick perusal of an article by L.T. Fitz (better known as Linda Woodbridge), an article which Bevington cites, entitled 'Egyptian Queens and Male Reviewers: Sexist Attitudes in Antony and Cleopatra Criticism'.4 Caesar is clearly an unsympathetic, rank misogynist. Indeed, 'Tis paltry to be Caesar' (5.2.2) as Cleopatra claims.5 But such rejection out of hand nullifies learning anything about Caesar and his characteristic procedures, strategic procedures which, however detestable, are nonetheless effective within the play. These procedures mask personal power through civic piety, collapse military and political jurisdictions in populist fascism, subdue sensual representation, and proscriptively manipulate all opposition. Dispassionate information, plotting, and surveillance continually undermine romantic idealizations. In this essay I plan to argue that the play exploits romantic identification by inviting rejection of Caesar's attitude; and yet, at the same time, the play suggests that materialist survival is the most important single value.

Marilynn Williamson observes: 'We may never warm to Caesar (we seldom warm to effective rulers in Shakespeare), but we should not miss the fact that Shakespeare seems to have had some interest in stressing Octavius's control and responsibility'.6 Such stress reinforces sympathy with Antony and Cleopatra at the same time as it intensifies the nature of Caesar's effect: win at all costs; losers die. The play generates crucial contradictory responses wherein identification with the romance of the title couple is also slanted towards uncomfortable complicity with the mandate of Caesar. Consequently, audience response is richer and more complex than the trimly paradoxical one suggested in Bevington's introduction to the play: 'Better to be Antony and lose than to be Caesar and win'.7 Like Caesar, one might laugh at this sentimental rationalization about a story concerning power politics and personal notoriety.

Romantic critical associations, however, continue to thrive, as in the rhapsodic notions of Hélène Cixous: 'They have—from the moment Antony saw Cleopatra coming to him—abandoned the minuscule old world, the planet—the shell with its thrones and rattles, its intrigues, its wars, its rivalries, its tournaments of the phallus, so grotesquely represented by the game of penis-check played by the imperialist superpowers of the triumvirate, with the mean solemnity that makes history'.8 This, as if history is made only retrospectively by such 'tournaments' and 'superpowers' and not lived in a moment-by-moment construction of meaning. Cultural historians and materialist critics alike posit constructions of love and emotional meaning that are inseparable from the specific material, historical, and political conditions which they constitute and which constitute them.9 Thus, the love of Antony and Cleopatra does not transcend the politics of the play. As Linda Charnes puts it, their love does not represent an 'authoritative and sacralizing epistemology'.10 Doubtless, Antony and Cleopatra are in love, but love for a Roman triumvir and an Egyptian queen can be neither transcendent nor private. Indeed Cleopatra's first question about love is as publicly bruited as it is quantitative: 'If it be love indeed, tell me how much' (1.1.14). Their love is as public as their every gesture, and hence political. Caesar's more solitary 'love' is the same.

I will analyze Antony and Cleopatra from the dual perspective of game/strategy theory and audience response, foregrounding Caesar as amoral exemplar, to explore the realist material nature of Shakespeare's play. Postwar materialist critics have usually seen Antony and Cleopatra in political terms, but not usually in terms of strategic analysis. The play, however, is rife with notions of positional strategy and tactical movement suggestive of an amoral godgame. Triumphant power is the object, and this power is inflected among the lines observed by Foucault in Discipline and Punish: 'Power is exercised rather than possessed; it is not the "privilege", acquired or preserved, of the dominant class, but the overall effect of its strategic positions—an effect that is manifested and sometimes extended by the position of those who are dominated'.11 Power thus circulates in complex ways between and among characters in the play and within the shifting allegiances of audience response.

Novelist John Fowles originated the term; theorist R. Rawdon Wilson expands on its implications: `Godgame is John Fowles's term for the literary situation in which one character of superior intelligence and cunning creates a context of contrived bamboozlement that forces another character to struggle, as within a complex cognitive trap, to discover the godlike gamewright's hidden rules'.12 At first glance, the Roman rules of engagement might seem clear and apparent to a successful military leader such as Antony. Antony's 'bamboozlement' is carried on within the wiles of Cleopatra's administration. But Cleopatra craves personal allegiance which she interprets as political, and her strategy of emotive reversal is simplistic: 'If you find him sad, / Say I am dancing; if in mirth, report / That I am sudden sick' (1.3.3-5). One can credit the power of her sexuality and her politics as 'infinite variety' (2.2.241) in Enobarbus's uncritical terms, and yet still question the place of love and political commitment in an individual's scale of values. Caesar certainly does. He demands more of Antony through Roman political catechism than Cleopatra can elicit through romantic exploration. After all, Caesar compels Antony's Roman obedience through deception, surprise, manipulation, sexual appeal, reverse psychology, false feeling, misinformation, sectarian prejudice, and personal plea—tactics contrived to gain total political dominance at the same time as they expose Antony's personal fears and inadequacies.

Again Foucault on the diversified nature of power relations: 'They define innumerable points of confrontation, focuses of instability, each of which has its own risks of conflict, of struggles, and of an at least temporary inversion of the power relations'.13 In a sense, Caesar 'holds all the cards', forces the play, and manipulates the action. But Antony's allegiances and choices as well as Cleopatra's actions and understandings complicate audience commitments. Antony accepts the governing rule of Roman political preeminence, and engages with Caesar hoping to gain and consolidate power within the triumvirate through a separate peace in Egypt. But he is naive to the exclusive interconnections that Caesar both fosters and compels. Antony considers himself to be in a 'fight', the single object of which is to destroy the opponent. He thus leaves Cleopatra to 'engage' his competitor only to be cleverly aligned, engaged, and married to his competitor—a situation personally and politically intolerable to Cleopatra. Caesar, however, understands that he, Antony, Lepidus, Pompey, Cleopatra, and all other foreign potentates are involved in a dangerous 'game', a movable situation concerned with rules and involved with tactics that eventuate in testing, harming, and finally overcoming all opposition. 'Separate' peaces are disallowed. Antony and Cleopatra will learn this later, separately and to their individual chagrin. The emergent victor dictates the terms for all. And everything—military, political, personal, and symbolic—is implicated. 'All's fair in love and war', the cliché holds, and Cleopatra knows it just as Caesar does, even if Antony would rather not think about it. The simple fight of the soldier in Antony is buried by the complex game of the tactician in Caesar.

The main thrust of the play has to do with complexities of power at the end of an epoch, complexities more variable and historically consequential than Margot Heinemann suggests: 'Win or lose, the struggle between the triumvirs marks the end of the republic, so admired and idealised in the European Renaissance for its stern Roman virtues and the anti-absolutist principles of its aristocracy'.14 In fact the play generates contradictory responses on emotional and political levels where romantic identification with Antony and Cleopatra (and in a pathetic lower key with Octavia), is slanted toward uncomfortable agreement with Caesar's sense of historical necessity. At one point, Caesar even ruminates with obvious self-satisfaction, 'The time of universal peace is near' (4.6.5), and although some like to consider this as an apprehension of the birth of Christ, it might better be conceived as an historicized, partisan statement of the `Pax Romana'. Under Caesar's new world order, dissent will dissolve as all opposition is eradicated. 'Universal peace' really means world peace as conceived, enforced, and policed by Caesar.

The play makes it clear that such a position is harrowing. And yet the drama takes its audience inside Caesar's complex youthful paternalism, a paternalism that integrates personality and power within a gamesphere where Caesar makes the rules and the only thing disallowed is losing. Indeed Caesar's 'powerful mandate' is present from the very first as performed in Cleopatra's insouciant mimicry: ' "Do this, or this; / Take in that kingdom, and enfranchise that. / Perform't, or else we damn thee" ' (1.1.22-4). The terms are unmistakable and exclusive. And yet Caesar enters scene 4, indulgent, but not 'too indulgent' (1.4.16) of his senior 'great competitor' (3) about whom he appears completely informed. Ironically, the youthful Caesar infantilizes Antony's conduct, 'As we rate boys who, being mature in knowledge, / Pawn their experience to their present pleasure' (1.4.31-2). Caesar, by contrast, takes no present pleasure in the military and political controversies of the day, foreign and domestic controversies about which his senior triumvirs are either ignorant or uninterested. And it is only when driven to the breaking point of administrative frustration that Caesar calls out Antony's name in a mixture of retrospective admiration and present disgust, narrating Antony's past accomplishments as Roman patriot, victor, and survivor in opposition to his present dissolute behavior in Egypt. As complex as he is resolved, Caesar patronizes Lepidus at the same time as he mobilizes action against Antony.

The dramatic action of the play, however, constantly registers a discrepancy between Antony's power (oddly passive, retrospective, and subject to idealization) and the fact that (as the Soothsayer says and the play by Shakespeare dramatizes) Caesar always prevails. Much of the dramatic texture of the play derives from this sense of doubleness, suggesting that tactical plot dominates romantic hope. Caesar offers invitations; Antony rationalizes and accepts. Caesar suggests tactical scenarios; Antony defies but complies. Caesar directly challenges; Antony, to his own disadvantage, responds. In response to Antony's question concerning outcomes—'whose fortunes shall rise higher, / Caesar's, or mine?'—the Soothsayer is unequivocal:

Therefore, O Antony, stay not by his side.
Thy daemon—that thy spirit which keeps thee—is
Noble, courageous, high, unmatchable,
Where Caesar's is not. But near him thy angel
Becomes afeard, as being o'erpowered. Therefore
Make space enough between you.


But Antony has spent nearly the whole of the preceding scene at Caesar's very side, the space between them metaphorically filled and conjugated through Caesar's sister in proposed marriage. And the Soothsayer's advice, 'Make space enough between you', (2.3.24) hearkens back to one of Antony's first assertions in the play: 'Here is my space' (1.1.34). Here, for Antony, denoted Egypt generally and Cleopatra's embrace specifically. He currently finds himself displaced when in place in his office as Roman triumvir.

It is significant that Antony has to hear these hard truths from the Egyptian soothsayer who has been mocked and patronised by Cleopatra's attendants. Consistently dignified and truthful, this third-world seer responds to Antony with a candor that no first-world Roman politico would dare to venture. He grasps the life-and-death nature of the stakes at play as he urges Antony, 'hie you to Egypt again' (2.3.15). And his final warning about Caesar is painfully direct: 'If thou dost play with him at any game / Thou art sure to lose' (2.3.26-7). But Antony, cynically manoeuvered into position as Caesar's brother-in-law, finds himself at play in the cutthroat world of Roman politics where he can neither dictate terms nor stop play. Antony is caught within a manipulative godgame, a contrived power-play wherein he is under observation and his usual tactics of direct confrontation are ineffective. The inextricable nature of his predicament is literalized jokingly in his absence by Cleopatra as she ponders catching fish:

And as I draw them up,
I'll think them every one an Antony,
And say 'Ah, ha! Y'are caught!'


Her fantasy is literalized in Rome. Antony is indeed 'caught', metaphorically reeled in and netted during his meeting with Caesar. But he thinks he is gaining politically. Caesar offers a sealing handshake to Antony, saying 'There's my hand' (2.2.155). But his offer is really an imperative, an order for Antony to shake hands at the same time as it represents a literalized, iron handclasp: 'Y'are caught'. Antony is indeed caught within Caesar's gamesphere, a gamesphere involving militarism, deceit, communication, and power politics.

At the same time, and with similar irony, Octavia is declared 'A blessed lottery to him' (2.2.248). But Antony has won nothing in his new Roman wife. The Penguin edition glosses 'prize' for 'lottery', but is thereby inadequate to the sense of chance signaled by the term. Indeed, the OED even uses the line from Antony and Cleopatra as an example of 'something which comes to a person by lot or fortune'. And yet even the OED is wrong in this instance. Octavia was deliberately thrust upon Antony in a manipulative move by Caesar. Nothing much was left to chance. Caesar mused aloud with a mixture of unctuousness and false rhetoric—

It cannot be
We shall remain in friendship, our conditions
So diff'ring in their acts. Yet if I knew
What hoop should hold us staunch, from edge to edge
O'th'world I would pursue it.


—and Agrippa interceded with his rehearsed suggestion that Antony be wed to Caesar's sister. Antony then takes Caesar's hand in a grotesque literalization of the real marriage to take place, a political marriage of convenience fraught with mutual animosity and competition. Even the contiguity of their proper names—Octavia/Octavius—suggests confusion in the identity of Antony's spouse. And Caesar's concluding phrase—'from edge to edge / O'th'world'—chillingly suggests the wide-ranging extent to which he will pursue Antony's matrimonial obedience, a pursuit literalized in the remainder of the play.

Antony, even at this point, is as aware of Caesar's superior gamesmanship as he is himself uncertain of his own moves. Having heard and dismissed the Soothsayer, Antony ruminates as follows:

Be it art or hap,
He hath spoken true. The very dice obey him,
And in our sports my better cunning faints
Under his chance. If we draw lots, he speeds;
His cocks do win the battle still of mine
When it is all to nought, and his quails ever
Beat mine, inhooped, at odds. I will to Egypt;
And though I make this marriage for my peace,
I'th'East my pleasure lies.


He knows that Caesar is a winner, and he knows also that Caesar will play the game out to its final, painful, inevitable move. But Antony also harbors the romantic notion that he can acquiesce in Caesar's game, comply with Caesar's rules while retaining his own mental reservations concerning personal commitment in Egypt. Such reservations are deluded. The audience experiences the same compliant, romantic moves. And such compliance accentuates the painful irony of commitment and participation played out in the entire drama.

Antony withdraws even as he attempts to assert his position. Ruminating significantly, 'If we draw lots, he speeds' (2.3.36), Antony seems to be subconsciously aware that Caesar has already won the 'blessed lottery' (2.2.248) of Octavia's marriage which Maecenas attributed to Antony. Antony even picks up on and echoes Caesar's diction, his image of quails 'inhooped, at odds' (2.3.39) recalling Caesar's hypothetical 'What hoop should hold us staunch' (2.2.120). Later, as he departs with his new wife, Antony applies a staunch brotherly wrestling hold on Caesar, declaring,

Come, sir, come,
I'll wrestle with you in my strength of love.
Look, here I have you; thus I let you go,
And give you to the gods.


But his bluff confidence is as superficial as it is misplaced. Antony is the one who has been 'caught'. Indeed, Caesar sees to it that the 'old ruffian' (4.1.4) never lays his hands on him again. The marriage ensures either Antony's fraternal obedience or, failing that, his correction and punishment. Caesar's admiration for Antony is decidedly in the past, rendering Barroll's postulation of Octavius's 'serious attempt at rapprochement with an esteemed but puzzling colleague'15 a partial interpretation at best. The two triumvirs nervously calculate each other. Brotherly tussles escalate quickly into mistrust and full-scale war. And the gods, mentioned so often in this play, gravitate toward Caesar in support of his tactical, political, and military assertions, assertions which take on the form of a deeply strategic godgame.

Antony's ill-fitting yoke of marriage to Octaviais signaled in the imagery with which it is reported. The message to Cleopatra is as clipped as it is concise:

MESSENGER He's bound unto Octavia.
CLEOPATRA For what good turn?
MESSENGER For the best turn i'th'bed.


Politics, as the saying goes, makes strange bedfellows, and Antony is bound to Caesar's sister's bed where he will receive a violent political pounding. The incestuousness of the imagery is as inescapable as is its violence and its sense of incapacity. Hence, Antony's early observation is rendered doubly ironic: he mused to himself, 'These strong Egyptian fetters I must break, / Or lose myself in dotage' (1.2.117-18), only to learn immediately that his first wife was conveniently dead and that leaving Egypt for Rome was relatively easy. The return trip will be infinitely more difficult, as understood by Menas who comments on Antony's marriage with politic discernment: 'Then is Caesar and he for ever knit together' (2.6.113). Inextricably so. Enobarbus, so often hailed for his bluff clarity, gets it all wrong, stating of Antony, 'He married but his occasion here' (2.6.129). Antony did nothing of the sort. He married Caesar's occasion in a tactical error which facilitates Caesar's strategy and governs the rest of the play.

Barroll thinks otherwise, de-emphasizing the politics of Antony's marriage to Octavia in an attempt to further characterize Caesar:

This whole marriage-situation served Shakespeare not as a means of forwarding the political interaction between the two antagonists, but as a way of further characterizing Caesar himself. For what emerges here is the Roman leader's ability to subordinate what he calls his closest personal relationship to his acquisitive desires.16

Such subordination, however, is political. Octavia is subordinated to positional, political play. She represents a materialist literalization of her brother's position, a competitive position announced self-reflexively upon his first entrance: 'It is not Caesar's natural vice to hate / Our great competitor' (1.4.2-3). But a serious competition is underway even as he speaks. And strong feelings are involved. Consequently, Octavia's choric wishful thinking places her in an impossible neutral position as she declares,

Husband win, win brother,
Prays, and destroys the prayer; no midway
'Twixt these extremes at all.


Her image of prayer is unavailing within the realpolitik of her situation. But Octavia realizes the instability of her middle ground at the same time as she unconsciously explicates the nature of the zero-sum game into which her husband and brother manoeuver themselves.

In Fights, Games, and Debates, conflict theorist Anatol Rapoport defines the situation succinctly: 'A zero-sum game is one in which A's gain is B's loss, and vice versa'.17 Cleopatra recognizes these terms with the instinct of a hardened politico when she declares, 'In praising Antony I have dispraised Caesar' (2.5.107). But Antony still thinks he can have Rome and Egypt too, musing 'And though I make this marriage for my peace, / I'th'East my pleasure lies' (2.3.40-1). A couple of tactical assassinations begin to disabuse him of the notion, as Caesar has Lepidus rubbed out at the same time as Antony's subordinate liquidates Pompey. Antony has lost valuable potential allies as a result. But even Pompey subscribed to the old order of honor and decorum as he backhandedly reprimanded Menas for suggesting that the three triumvirs be assassinated in one stroke: 'Being done unknown, / I should have found it afterwards well done, / But must condemn it now' (2.7.78-80). Not so Caesar. He is already planning the demise of Lepidus, and would quietly endorse such a ruthless terrorist manoeuver. Then Menas would be conveniently disposed of, perhaps executed as a murderous madman or exposed as a traitor. Antony finds himself in a fight for his life, in a zero-sum game of political ascendancy. Herein audience sympathy and identification is also implicated. Like Antony, the audience must now face Caesar with romantic rules of honor suspended, with the ruthlessness of total war imposed.

Intelligence and delegation define the new terms for engagement. These are power terms which Antony never fully understands or utilizes. But Caesar has understood from the very first, as a messenger assures him,

Thy biddings have been done; and every hour,
Most noble Caesar, shalt thou have report
How 'tis abroad.


As imperialist outsider, Caesar requires constant information. Such knowledge implies power in Foucault's terms. According to Edward Said, knowledge directly reinforces power gains: 'Knowledge gives power, more power requires more knowledge, and so on in an increasingly profitable dialectic of information and control'.18 Presumably this explains Caesar's complete information in Act 3, scene 6, as he informs Octavia of her husband's whereabouts with Cleopatra and includes a lengthy roll-call of Antony's foreign allies. But Antony can never fully 'know' Bocchus or Archelaus or any of the other disparate foreign kings with whom he is allied. His new allegiances are inconsistent, treasonous, un-Roman. That Antony has committed adultery against Octavia is maddening; that he has committed adultery against Caesar, against Rome, is unforgivable. Hence the scolding tone and barely concealed contempt of Caesar's final domestic word: 'Be ever known to patience. My dear'st sister!' (3.6.98). This, in the same lugubriously sarcastic tone as Caesar's later authoritative comment, 'Poor Antony!' (4.1.16). As he advances and consolidates his international power, Caesar both uss his siblings and, at the same time, loses personal respect for them.

Her tactical usefulness expired, Octavia is neither seen nor heard again in the play. But Caesar continues to delegate authority and move into striking position at the same time as he speeds up the action of his deadly game. Antony reacts with confusion and disbelief concerning Caesar's swift positional movements:

Is it not strange, Canidius,
That from Tarentum and Brundisium
He could so quickly cut the Ionian sea
And take in Toryne?


And Cleopatra answers him in a tone of voice that combines bitchy remonstrance with the self-assurance of a political officer: 'Celerity is never more admired / Than by the negligent' (24-5). Earlier in the scene, Enobarbus warned the Queen of Egypt that 'Your presence needs must puzzle Antony' (10), but Caesar's presence puzzles and distracts him even more. Having learned that Caesar himself is with his troops in Toryne, Antony stammers, 'Can he be there in person? 'Tis impossible; / Strange that his power should be' (3.7.56-7). To Antony, Caesar's power is indeed strange, a power based on the indirection of tactics, movements, intelligence, strategy, and delegation. Indeed the many short and swift scene changes of Acts 3 and 4, take on the nature of positional play on a giant chess board. They suggest the provisional, mobile, and variable points of contact that are touched upon and explored in the exercise of power relations.

Antony would rather meet his competitor head-on. But his retrograde personal challenge is as desperate as it is ill-conceived. After his defeat in the first sea battle, Antony nostalgically compares procedures at the Battle of Philippi, declaring of Octavius,

He at Philippi kept
His sword e'en like a dancer, while I struck
The lean and wrinkled Cassius; and 'twas I
That the mad Brutus ended. He alone
Dealt on lieutenantry, and no practice had
In the brave squares of war.


However, Antony's lieutenant Ventidius knows well that 'Caesar and Antony have ever won / More in their officer than person' (3.1.16-17). And the 'brave squares' of squadron-like military formation are currently being revised in Caesar's more innovative tactical approach. Thus Antony's desperate speculation rings hollow:

His coin, ships, legions,
May be a coward's, whose ministers would prevail
Under the service of a child as soon
As i'th'command of Caesar.


Caesar will prevail through organization and delegation. And he responds to Antony's challenge of personal combat with undisguised levity: 'Let the old ruffian know / I have many other ways to die; meantime / Laugh at his challenge' (4.1.4-6). Antony has become an anachronistic joke. Caesar holds the main power position in their contest for ascendancy. Cleopatra even uses the approved political (and game theory) term in describing Caesar: 'He is a god, and knows / What is most right' (3.13.60-1).

Caesar's godgame has victimized Antony within deromanticized rules of engagement. Additionally, Caesar has brought formal strategy to bear upon his tactics. In standard game theory, such strategizing suggests a complete program governing what any opposing player will do in every conceivable situation within a game. Attack by sea and Antony will respond, although compromised, by sea. Laugh at his personal challenge and Antony will only be further enraged. Caesar confronts Antony with himself by ordering Antony's deserters to the front in order to emphasize the futility of his opposition:

Plant those that have revolted in the vant,
That Antony may seem to spend his fury
Upon himself.


Caesar's infiltration is extensive, operating at the power center of his opponent as he offers clemency to Cleopatra in return for her termination of Antony, seeks to destabilize her through Thidias's extravagant promises, and zeros in on Antony's reactions:

Observe how Antony becomes his flaw,
And what thou think'st his very action speaks
In every power that moves.


Caesar gains tactically from confirmation of Antony's reaction. Confused, Antony is both subject and object of his own destruction, as signalled earlier in Enobarbus's comment concerning Antony's rash personal challenge: 'Caesar, thou hast subdued / His judgement too' (3.13.36-7).

For Antony, opposition to Rome is opposition to oneself, is desertion and deposition. In her previously quoted article, 'The Political Context in Antony and Cleopatra', Marilynn Williamson notes the many desertions and depositions of the play as a distinct pattern of action leading to political tragedy: Menas deserts Pompey, Enobarbus deserts Antony, Antony deserts Octavia (having previously deserted Cleopatra), Octavius deposes Lepidus, Antony's officer deposes Pompey, Hercules deserts Antony, Cleopatra deserts Antony in battle, and Antony finally deserts himself for Cleopatra who eventually does the same for him. The series reads like a schematic, like a tactical endgame. Any audience is subject to and vicariously implicated in these many vacillations of commitment and loyalty. But while characters and audience alike constantly reassess political positions and degrees of support, Caesar, as the informed 'god' of the game strategizes and benefits from confused opposition.

True, Antony wins a further land skirmish, but this minor victory only delays and intensifies the nature of his ultimate loss. Moreover, Cleopatra's greeting to Antony after his land victory over Caesar is decidedly ironic:

Lord of lords!
O infinite virtue, com'st thou smiling from
The world's great snare uncaught?


Antony smiles in ignorant, intermediate satisfaction. He is caught within the exchanges of an all-out zero-sum game where only Caesar knows the cumulative score. Antony knows the extent of his disadvantage from the first, knows that his time of expert competition is over. Yet, throughout the play, he buries his sense of puniness and incapacity within retrospective grandeur:

Now I must
To the young man send humble treaties, dodge
And palter in the shifts of lowness, who
With half the bulk o'th'world played as I pleased.


But he no longer dictates terms. Finally defeated outright, Antony lays blame elsewhere, refers to Caesar disparagingly as 'this novice' (4.12.14), 'the young Roman boy' (4.12.48), and 'boy Caesar' (3.13.17). His stunned exhortations of grandeur border on the delusional:

Of late, when I cried 'Ho!',
Like boys unto a muss, kings would start forth
And cry 'Your will?'


Such retrospective language is common among veteran players defeated at last by younger, sharply-skilled competitors.

Antony's self-confidence, however, continues toward desperation and exposes the extent of his uncertainty. He has already brutalized Caesar's envoy Thidias, has already inappropriately dispatched a schoolmaster to negotiate terms of withdrawal. Despite Antony's localized and romanticized overstatements to himself and his lover, Paul Yachnin hears the relative voices of command accurately: 'Antony's language of command grows weaker as Caesar's grows stronger'.19 Such an observation relates directly to the zero-sum game in which the two have been involved. And Caesar sums up the situation accurately at news of Antony's death when he publicly addresses his vanquished rival:

I must perforce
Have shown to thee such a declining day
Or look on thine. We could not stall together
In the whole world.


Throughout, Caesar has played for keeps. His technique involved calculated risk and dispassionate decision in line with a strategy. Antony, by contrast, made decisions passionately out of personal bias and then tried to rationalize his decisions. The superior gameplayer prevailed.

It is true that Cleopatra is a gameplayer too. But her games throughout are various and insouciant: billiards, angling, cross-dressing, dance, moral support, military gestures, the 'sport indeed!' (4.15.32) of physically power-lifting Antony toward her. Enraged in his defeat, Antony immediately suspects that she has 'packed cards with Caesar' (4.14.19). Cleopatra does indeed play for political advantage as seriously as Caesar does, but her methods are as passé as Antony's, involving romantic trust—'He's speaking now, / Or murmuring "Where's my serpent of old Nile?" ' (1.5.24-5)—simple reversals—'If you find him sad, / Say I am dancing; if in mirth, report / That I am sudden sick' (1.3.3-5)—and wish-fulfilment: `I dreamt there was an emperor Antony' (5.2.76). Her ruse with her treasurer Seleucus is easily seen through. Even if exposure of her deceit is calculated to dupe Caesar into believing that she wishes to live, she merely buys time to die. She contains the fabulous wealth of an ancient hereditary regime, and her proudest associations are, like Antony's, in the deific past tense, involving Isis and Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great. Her famous suicide rescues her from the shame of a new and unfeeling administration. Sadly, she plans afterward to 'play till doomsday' (5.2.232). It's all a lark. Within Antony and Cleopatra, Caesar's game is more logistical, more task-and-goal oriented in terms of consolidated ascendant power.

Moreover, Caesar plays for advantage in an eternal present tense wherein necessary conclusions are drawn 'on the move', are built upon in terms of complex and dispassionate strategy. His expertise suggests the advantage of gamewright. He alone knows the new rules fully, rules which subordinate military honor and magnanimous romance in the interests of political manoeuvering and imperialist domination. Romantic loyalty gives way to partisan support. Rationalizations are disallowed. Antony, by contrast, mourns the past, fixating on his own past glories and achievements while discrediting Caesar's newer and more tactical politico-military assertions. But Antony never fully understands that a new game is afoot. He competes, but competes at a terrible disadvantage within Caesar's strategizing gamesphere. Antony may indeed 'mock / The luck of Caesar' (5.2.284-5), as Cleopatra imagines, but Caesar's 'luck' might better be considered as a critical narrowing of possibility, a thoroughgoing sense of tactical advantage, a complete subordination of personal desire to political success. 'Luck' is the loser's word for it.

Antony and Cleopatra depended on luck. Caesar depended on strategy wherein Antony's behavior was observed, judged, and manipulated. Antony blustered impotently and desperately within a gamesphere where the rules were unfamiliar and his competitor stolidly unsentimental. Antony's consequent feelings of inadequacy and scorn for Caesar's youth are endemic to the nature of godgames, as explained by Wilson: 'Behind every godgame, there lies a situation that recalls, with full power to evoke the appropriate feelings, the common human intuition of being made a victim, a scapegoat, or a sacrifice and of being made puny or deluded by someone superior, a they set over and against oneself.20 Antony, with his Herculean associations and all-too-human weaknesses, experiences every situational possibility. Throughout, Caesar manipulates Antony with all the callousness of the gods in ancient myth.

In Antony and Cleopatra, the game of love has been à game of politics, has been a game of power. Within such a game, rules and objectives change with bewildering verve. Caesar alone anticipates, dictates, and stays informed of every instance. Steadfast consistency is a fiction of romantic love; tactical flexibility determines the politicized love of Shakespeare's play. The audience experiences uncomfortable material vacillations, vacillations such as those in the play, wherein romantic identification with Antony and Cleopatra is slanted toward political survival with Caesar. Necessary, even painful, choices must be made. Antony will never be a political winner. Neither will Cleopatra. True, Cleopatra cheats Caesar of her humiliation in Roman triumph, but such a victory is only victory by default. Besides, it too was anticipated. Caesar no doubt regrets the loss of public ostentation, but he wastes no time in bemoaning it. Instead, his last lines are conveyed, as Paul Yachnin puts it, 'in the form of a command so confident of obedience that it can slide casually toward a tone of solicitation'.21 Just so. Such is power as underwritten by an expert whose very name is synonymous with ruthless imperialist domination. Admittedly, there are more things in life than politics.. But one must survive in order to enjoy them. And in this play, it is Caesar who survives. Deromanticized performances of Antony and Cleopatra necessarily accentuate power politics along with the amoral basics of serious tactical gameplay. Caesar's godgame of political consolidation ensures Roman cultural survival and expansion.


1 Janet Adelman, The Common Liar: An Essay on 'Antony and Cleopatra ' (New Haven, 1973), p. 125. Dipak Nandy, 'The Realism of Antony and Cleopatra ', in Shakespeare in a Changing World, ed. Arnold Kettle (London, 1964), p. 176.

2 David Cecil, Poets and Story-Tellers (London, 1949), p. 14. See also J. Leeds Barroll, 'The Characterization of Octavius', Shakespeare Studies 6 (1970), 231-88.

3 David Bevington, ed. Antony and Cleopatra (Cambridge, 1990), p. 22.

4 See L.T. Fitz, 'Egyptian Queens and Male Reviewers: Sexist Attitudes in Antony and Cleopatra Criticism', Shakespeare Quarterly 28 (1977), 297-316.

5 Throughout, I quote Shakespeare from the New Penguin Antony and Cleopatra edited by Emrys Jones (Harmondsworth, 1977).

6 Marilynn Williamson, 'The Political Context in Antony and Cleopatra', Shakespeare Quarterly 21 (1970), 244.

7 Bevington, ed. Antony and Cleopatra, p. 27.

8 Hélène Cixous, 'Sorties: Out and Out: Attacks/Ways Out/Forays', in The Newly Born Woman, trans. Betsy Wing (Minneapolis, 1986), p. 128.

9 For such positions see Catherine Belsey, The Subject of Tragedy (London, 1988); Jonathan Dollimore, Radical Tragedy (Chicago, 1984); Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Vol 1 trans., Robert Hurley (New York, 1978); and Lawrence Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800 (New York, 1977).

10 Linda Chames, 'What's love got to do with it? Reading the Liberal Humanist Romance in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra ', Textual Practice 6 (1992), 1. I depart, however, from Charnes's more dismissive readings of liberal humanist romance in Antony and Cleopatra. For example, I doubt that the standards of formulaic romance novels are uppermost in the minds of liberal humanist critics of the play.

11 Foucault, Discipline, pp. 26-7.

12 R. Rawdon Wilson, In Palamedes' Shadow: Explorations in Play, Game, and Narrative Theory (Boston, 1990), p. 251, η 6. In a Foreword to his revised edition of The Magus (London, 1977), Fowles mentions The Godgame as suggestive alternative title for the book, a title, he says, 'whose rejection I still sometimes regret' (p. 10).

13 Foucault, Discipline, p. 27.

14 Margot Heinemann, ' "Let Rome in Tiber melt!" Chaos and order in Antony and Cleopatra', Shakespeare Jahrbuch 128 (1992), 40.

15 Barroll, 235.

16 Ibid., 263.

17 Anatol Rapoport, Fights, Games, and Debates (Ann Arbor, 1960), p. 133.

18 Edward Said, Orientalism (New York, 1978), p. 36. Said focuses especially on Western colonial expansion and presumption in the last two centuries. But he is always historically suggestive, and one might easily substitute 'Rome' and 'Caesar' in the following assertion about British policy: '[Roman] knowledge of Egypt is Egypt for [Caesar]' (32).

19 Paul Yachnin, 'Shakespeare's Politics of Loyalty: Sovereignty and Subjectivity in Antony and Cleopatra', Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 33 (1993): 348.

20 Wilson, p. 142.

21 Yachnin, 350. I see little significance, however, in Dollabella's putative 'secret loyalty' to Cleopatra as stressed by Yachnin. Such 'emotional defection' would be difficult to portray on stage and might better be considered as subversion contained within the authority of Caesar. That is, any scruples are permitted so long as Dollabella does as he is told.

Source: " 'The Luck of Caesar': Winning and Losing in Antony and Cleopatra," in English Studies: A Journal of English Language and Literature, Vol. 79, No. 6, November, 1998, pp. 522-35.