In the opening of Act 4 Scene 1 of Julius Caesar, what are Antony, Octavius and Lepidus doing?
In Act IV, Scene 1, Antony plots with his counterparts, Octavius and Lepidus, to eliminate anyone who can interfere with their rise to power. Unfortunately for him, Lepidus does not realize that he is one of the men that Marc Antony wants to eliminate. This scene exposes the moral flaws of Marc Antony.
After the assassination of Julius Caesar and Marc Antony's incendiary speech, there is a riot that breaks out in Act III, Scene 3. Then, in Act IV, Scene 1, what is known as the Liberators' civil war (44–42 B.C.) between the Second Triumvirate (Octavius, Marc Antony, and Lepidus) and the Liberators (Brutus and Cassius) has begun. In the opening scene of Act IV, Antony plots with his counterparts to eliminate anyone who can interfere with their rise to power.
The Second Triumvirate's plan is diabolical. With remarkable callousness, Octavius tells Lepidus that his brother must die, and Lepidus consents to this execution provided that Antony's nephew Publius also be put to death. Agreeing to this arrangement, Antony says, "He shall not live; look, with a spot I damn him." (4.1.7) Soon after Lepidus departs, Marc Antony suggests to Octavius that they rid themselves of Lepidus as well, because he is an insignificant man without merit. His insensitive comments suggest that Antony has used Lepidus only as a means to an end, just as Cassius has exploited Brutus's love of Rome to bring about the assassination of Caesar.
In reply to Antony, Octavius says,
You may do your will;
But he's a tried and valiant soldier. (4.1.29-30)
Antony coldly replies, "So is my horse, Octavius...." (4.1.31) He explains that Lepidus has merely been a tool for them, and there is no reason to keep him because he is an empty man. That is, Antony says he is a "barren-spirited fellow" and only a "property" (4.1.37-41) who has served his purpose. Now, Antony urges, they should unburden themselves of Lepidus.
At the beginning of Act IV scene 1 we see further evidence of political intrigue and cloak-and-dagger Machiavellian approaches to power. Now that Julius Caesar has been assassinated and Brutus and Cassius have left, the Republic is in turmoil and Antony, Octavius and Lepidus are in power. Trying to secure their own leadership, as the scene opens, they are drawing up a list of political enemies to be slaughtered. By "pricking" the names of these people they mark them to die, even those who are closest to them or relatives:
Upon condition Publius shall not live,
Who is your sister's son, Mark Antony.
We see these three characters willing to sacrifice family members as part of a measure to secure their power. In response to this condition from Lepidus, Antony replies that "with a spot I damn him." In the murky world of politics and power we are presented with yet more characters who are willing to do anything to maintain their position--even if it means killing others.