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In Act IV, scene 1 of Julius Caesar, Antony, Lepidus and Octavius Caesar are shown in conference, deciding which of their enemies shall live and which shall die, by ticking off names on a list. Following the assassination of Julius Caesar in the previous Act, Rome is about to plunged into a bloody civil war. Octavius and Lepidus are marshalling forces against Brutus and Cassius and the other conspirators who killed Caesar.
However, when Lepidus leaves the room, Antony paints an unflattering picture of him, saying that he is weak and easily led. Antony suggests to Octavius that they can make good use of Lepidus and then get rid of him, like an animal being put out to grass:
And though we lay these honours on this man,
To ease ourselves of divers slanderous loads,
He shall but bear them as the ass bears gold,
To groan and sweat under the business,
Either led or driven, as we point the way;
And having brought our treasure where we will,
Then take we down his load, and turn him off,
Like to the empty ass, to shake his ears,
And graze in commons. (IV, i, 19-27)
Antony's estimation of Lepidus illlustrates the brutal and cynical nature of the power struggle, as does the entire scene. Lepidus, being a less forceful character than either Antony or Octavius, will be ousted; they do not want to share power with him.
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