In Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, what are Antony's qualities as a general? How sound are his strategies?

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Antony is portrayed as a distracted and rash general whose strategies are unsound. At the beginning of the play, Philo describes Antony's eyes as those "that o’er the files and musters of the war / Have glowed like plated Mars" (I.1.3-4). In other words, Antony used to be like Mars, the god of war, looking over his troops. Now, however, he only pays attention to Cleopatra and neglects his duties as a general. 

Later, Antony shows himself to be arrogant and rash when he decides to attack Octavius by sea, though Octavius has the greater advantage at sea. When Canidius asks Anthony why he has decided to attack by sea, Antony responds, "For that he dares us to ’t" (III.7-29). In other words, Antony insists on attacking by sea, even though he is at a great disadvantage, because Octavius has dared him to do so. Enobarbus warns him, "Your mariners are muleteers, reapers, people / Engrossed by swift impress" (III.7.35-36). This means that the sailors in Antony's forces are mule drivers or farmers by trade, and they were quickly drafted into Antony's forces and are not well trained.

Even though he is far more prepared to fight on land and Enobarbus begs him to do so, Antony refuses and sticks to his idea of fighting by sea. During the sea battle, at the point at which the victory could go to either side, Cleopatra decides to flee with her 60 ships. Antony follows suit, and Scarus says of his actions, "I never saw an action of such shame. / Experience, manhood, honor, ne’er before / Did violate so itself" (III.10.22-24). His men feel that Antony has brought shame upon them and violated their ideas of what it means to act honorably because he has quickly deserted the battle.

However, in the end, Antony, fighting a losing battle, shows himself to be generous when he gives Enobarbus, who has deserted him, back his treasure. He says, "Oh, my fortunes have / Corrupted honest men!" (IV.5.16-17). He blames his own poor performance in battle for convincing his men to become traitors, and, in the end, he shoulders the responsibility for his losses. 

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Antony and Cleopatra

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