How would you describe Octavius Caesar in Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare?

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Octavius Caesar is self-assured and cunning, so he is able to take advantage of the weaknesses of others.

Octavius Caesar lived up to his name.  As the promising young heir to Julius Caesar, Octavius was involved in politics and military life at a high level from a teenager.  Caesar’s untimely death catapulted him to power, because he was able to take advantage of his position and his intelligence.

In the beginning, Octavius needed Mark Antony.  He formed a triumvirate with Antony and Lepidus, a man both considered irrelevant.  It did not take Octavius long to eliminate Lepidus.  That left Antony as his only barrier to power.

One of Octavius’s greatest strengths is that he understood people.  He realized that Antony was ruthless and ambitious, but not nearly as intelligent or capable.  It was relatively easy for Octavius to outmaneuver him.  He used Antony’s weaknesses, such as his pride and his lust, against him.

A good example of Octavius’s manipulation of Antony is Octavia’s marriage.  Octavius arranged a political marriage between his sister and Mark Antony, even though he knew that Antony had a thing going with Cleopatra.  Octavius figured that Antony would either be loyal to him because of his sister, or he would have a strong reason to move against Antony if he stayed with Cleopatra.  The people of Rome were intolerant of Antony’s affair with a foreigner and didn't want him to take the relationship too seriously.

When Antony had a public ceremony with Cleopatra and their children, Octavius used it against him.  He also read his own will and Antony’s will to the people of Rome.  Antony’s will, which Octavius stole from the Vestal Virgins, was very embarrassing for him.  It gave Roman territory to Cleopatra’s children.  The Roman people considered this an outrage.

In military campaigns, Octavius was successful because he had good leaders.  Agrippa was a genius at naval battles, an area where Antony had little experience.  Antony’s men also deserted him in droves, not anxious to get into a civil war between Octavius and Antony.

As Antony is falling apart, Octavius remains collected.  Antony tries to irritate him and send a message by whipping his messenger, but Octavius sees it as a sign of weakness.  Antony offers to fight him, and Octavius laughs it off.


He calls me boy; and chides, as he had power
To beat me out of Egypt; my messenger
He hath whipp'd with rods; dares me to personal combat,
Caesar to Antony: let the old ruffian know
I have many other ways to die; meantime
Laugh at his challenge. (Act 5, Scene 1)

Octavius realizes that he has nothing to prove to Antony.  Antony is on the way down, and all he has to do is stay the course and then move in and pick up the pieces.  He gains strength as Antony loses it.

Octavius’s ruthless and cunning nature is demonstrated by Cleopatra’s reaction to seeing him.  Octavius successfully defeated Antony, who killed himself rather than be captured.  Cleopatra saw in Octavius an enemy.  She could not seduce him as she had done Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. 


He words me, girls, he words me, that I should not
Be noble to myself: but, hark thee, Charmian. (Act 5, Scene 2) 

She killed herself.  She knew that she had no other options, because Octavius would march her in triumph through Rome.  In the end, he did still have her three children with Antony, although he killed her son with Caesar.  With Antony out of the way, he was free to become Augustus, the first emperor of Rome.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
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