Shakespeare’s Depiction of True Loyalty in Antony and Cleopatra: [Essay Example], 2271 words GradesFixer

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Shakespeare’s Depiction of True Loyalty in Antony and Cleopatra

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The value of loyalty is that it allows its recipient to feel secure in a world where almost nothing is absolute. Under this circumstance, loyalty has become a highly valued quality in today’s society. Unfortunately true loyalty is a difficult quality to achieve, since it requires the servant to have an intense love for their master. Other loyalty is not as effective as there are frequently temptations that can sway it. In Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra the importance of loyalty is most clearly seen through the relationship between Marc Antony and Enobarbus, Antony’s most loyal servant. Although Enobarbus has true loyalty for Antony, his human knowledge forces him to reconsider his loyalty. Enobarbus views Antony as becoming a fool. Antony’s foolishness stems from his relationship with Cleopatra. Enobarbus tries to convince Antony to follow the correct course of action, but Antony consistently does the opposite by heeding Cleopatra. This forces Enobarbus to choose between his loyal duty to Antony and what he views as the correct path. Meanwhile, temptations from Caesar give Enobarbus another master to serve under. The play sees a systematic deterioration of Enobarbus’ ability to remain loyal and in the end, he chooses to leave Antony. Enobarbus’ betrayal hurts Antony dearly, but more importantly it destroys Enobarbus. He does not realize that his loyalty, in being true loyalty, binds him to Antony eternally. Ultimately, his loyalty proves to be absolute, but this is only seen through tragic consequence.

In the beginning of the play, Enobarbus is quickly identifiable as Antony’s closest confidant. Enobarbus comforts Antony in conversation. Antony discusses at great length, the most private and important of matters. Enobarbus fits comfortably into the role of best friend since he is Antony’s most loyal servent. At the end of the conversation Antony makes a request and Enobarbus responds with “I shall do’t” (I, ii, 193). The straightforward nature of this phrase shows Enobarbus’ unquestionable loyalty to Antony. This serves to give the highest starting point from which Enobarbus’ loyalty can only fall.

The first time that a conflict between Enobarbus and Antony occurs is during the first political meeting with Octavius Caesar. Antony reprimands Enobarbus by saying “Thou art a soldier only, speak no more” (II, ii, 108). Enobarbus, who feels that he was justified in what he had said, responds with “That truth should be silent I almost forgot” (II, ii, 109). This sarcasm does not sit well with Antony since he regards it as a questioning of his authority in front of his greatest rival. Antony more sternly reprimands Enobarbus who then reluctantly concedes. The forced resolution to this conflict leaves Enobarbus slightly bitter and lays the seeds for his loss of loyalty.

The catharsis that causes Enobarbus to question his loyalty is fear. Enobarbus becomes afraid of the relationship between Antony and Cleopatra. To him it is clear that Cleopatra is detrimental to Antony, especially because Antony is unable to control his desire for her. In a conversation with Maecenas, Maecenas says, “Now Antony must leave her utterly” to which Enobarbus responds “Never; he will not” (II, ii, 234-235). The realization that Enobarbus obtains from his own words causes him fear since he no longer knows if he can trust the judgment of his master. The logical dilemma that this presents is that Enobarbus must question whether he wants to remain loyal to this master or potentially switch masters.

Enobarbus’ encounter with Pompey is the first time that Enobarbus shows respect for another potential master. He responds to Pompey’s praise with “I never loved you much; but I ha’ praised ye when you well deserved ten times as much as I have said you did” (II, vi, 77-79). Enobarbus slips up by giving more respect than formality requires. This admittance of respect for Pompey shows that Enobarbus could have respect for another master. The only saving grace of his statement is that he included never having loved Pompey. An important part of the true loyalty relationship between master and servant is that the servant must love his master.

After meeting with Pompey, Enobarbus has a discussion with Menas. In this discussion, Enobarbus reveals that he already knows what the outcome of Antony’s marriage to Octavia will be. He knows that Antony will return to Cleopatra and Caesar will use that as a justification for war. Enobarbus believes that Antony is being foolish in his lustful pursuit of Cleopatra since he is not considering the long-term consequences of it. These consequences include the death of thousands and the loss of an empire. Antony is willing to risk these in order to obtain short term physical gratification. Antony’s selfishness disgusts Enobarbus more and more as they move closer to war.

When Antony is finally on the brink of war with Caesar, true to Enobarbus’ premonitions, it is his foolishness, a result of his relationship with Cleopatra that causes his downfall. Cleopatra encourages Antony to engage in a sea battle with Caesar. This is a poor decision because Antony is a great land general and not as good at sea. Even though he knows he should meet Caesar at land, Antony’s ego gives him a desire to impress Cleopatra, and thus he agrees to meet Caesar at sea. The other danger with the plan for war is that Cleopatra intends to go into the battle with Antony. Enobarbus knows that this is extremely dangerous, since Cleopatra is so capable of affecting Antony. Enobarbus must now reconcile that he may be on the losing side. Nevertheless, he retains his loyalty. His tries to deal with this situation by trying to dissuade Cleopatra from partaking in the battle. Cleopatra refuses to listen to him. When this does not work Enobarbus desperately tries to dissuade Antony from partaking in a sea battle by explaining to him the military folly of it. To Enobarbus’ elegant argument Antony responds “I’ll fight at sea” (III, vii, 49). Cleopatra is happy with this and promises her help in what becomes the Battle of Actium.

During the battle, just as Antony is on the verge of victory, Cleopatra, regarding the war as merely a game, turns her ships and sails away. Antony, helplessly following Cleopatra, turns around and sails after her, causing him to lose the battle. This causes deep humiliation for Antony and degrades his status as a master. After being told about the battle Enobarbus states “I’ll yet follow the wounded chance of Antony, though my reason sits in the wind against me” (III, x, 35-37). Enobarbus is at a point where he can no longer justify his loyalty. In fact, his human ability to reason tells him that he should no longer be loyal, yet he still feels an inexplicable loyal attachment to Antony. This attachment is the effect of an inseverable loyalty, but Enobarbus does not realize this.

When Antony begins to make light of his loss in the Battle of Actium, Enobarbus is livid. He cannot understand how his master can just laugh off such a great loss in respect and pride. He also knows that Antony would not be behaving this way if it were not for Cleopatra. Enobarbus is so disappointed that he places forth a dilemma; “The loyalty well held to fools does make our mere faith folly: yet he that can endure to follow with allegiance a fall’n lord does conquer him that did his master conquer and earns a place i’ th’ story” (III, xiii, 42-46). On the one hand, Enobarbus sees that he is following a fool for a master and that it takes an even bigger fool to follow a fool. On the other hand, he recognizes that if he remains loyal he has a chance for greater recognition. This choice places a fork in Enobarbus’ path. It is significant that at this point, even his choice to remain loyal is to fulfill his desires. This is the first time that Enobarbus outright puts his desires ahead of the needs of Antony.

Soon after, a messenger from Caesar comes to Cleopatra tempting her to join him. Cleopatra’s incomprehensible response of “O” (III, xiii, 59) causes Enobarbus to fear that she is ready to betray Antony. His inexplicable loyalty kicks in and he goes straight to tell Anotony this. Antony has the messenger whipped and he scolds Cleopatra. Cleopatra passionately explains that she would never betray him. Antony believes her and places faith in her loyalty, the same loyalty that failed him in the Battle of Actium. Antony is only so easily convinced because of his lustful desire for Cleopatra: “let us have one other gaudy night” (III, xiii, 183). Enobarbus is incredulous in having witnessed this. He finally decides that what is in his best interest is to leave Antony; :”I will seek some way to leave him” (III, xiii, 200-201). Enobarbus chooses the fork in the path that leads away from loyalty. This mistake is made since Enobarbus does not understand the full worth of his loyalty and that he cannot truly leave it. Enobarbus hides his emotions and favors common sense.

Even though Enobarbus believes that Antony has lost all sense, Antony somewhat proves him wrong while giving the morale speech to his men. Antony commends all his men for their loyalty. This causes his men to weep. Enobarbus weeps as well, but his tears sting since he has already made the decision to defect. Unfortunately this speech is not enough to have Enobarbus come back since he has already walked down the wrong path.

Antony’s decision to fight at sea again finally moves Enobarbus into Caesar’s camp. When Antony finds out that Enobarbus has betrayed him he is heartbroken. He tells Eros, another loyal soldier, to send Enobarbus all his rightful treasure. He regards Enobarbus betrayal as his own failure: “Say that I wish he never find more cause to change a master. O my fortunes have corrupted honest men” (IV, v, 15-17). Even before receiving his treasure, Enobarbus realizes that he has made a mistake, “I have done ill, of which I do accuse myself so sorely that I will joy no more” (IV, vi, 18-20). Enobarbus becomes depressed as he realizes his mistake as well as understanding that he can no longer return to Antony. Once Enobarbus receives his treasure, this seals his fate. Enobarbus regards himself as “the villain of the earth” (IV, vi, 30). Enobarbus realizes that true loyalty, one based on love, is eternal, and cannot be betrayed. He finds that his loyalty for Antony is true loyalty. Yet, he, Enobarbus, did betray his master. The only possible repercussion of defiance of true loyalty is death.

Enobarbus wanders in melancholy madness consistently denigrating himself until he dies of grief. In his last moments Enobarbus caries on a fantasy conversation with Antony where he tries to apologize. He does not, however, seek absolution. He completely understands the severity of his actions and he is waiting to die. His last request is “let the world rank me in register a master leaver and a fugitive” (IV, ix, 21-22). Enobarbus hates himself. He feels as if he has committed the most despicable crime known to man. He finds himself to be a detestable individual. Enobarbus is destroyed. He cries out to Antony twice before dying of grief.

The term loyalty as a standalone does not allow for the important distinction between regular loyalty and true loyalty. Regular loyalty is not reliable. Under regular loyalty, the servant will only be loyal if the benefits exceed the cost of such loyalty. This makes it very possible for temptations to sway such loyalty, as is exhibited by Cleopatra. True loyalty, on the other hand, is absolute. It is a loyalty grounded in love and thus cannot be diminished. Although Enobarbus has true loyalty for Antony, his human rationality tries to convince him to treat it as regular loyalty. The tradeoff between loyalty and correct action creates such a problem for Enobarbus that it ultimately results in his demise. His human logic does not allow him to continue being loyal to a definite loser. Unfortunately, Enobarbus finds out the hard way that sometimes there are more important things than human logic. Human emotion, for example, is much more powerful in governing the way we live our lives. The most powerful of these emotions is love. The love he had for Antony was incomparable; no amount of logic could counteract the strength of that emotion. Enobarbus attempted to ignore this super powerful emotion and follow what he felt was right. Only after his defection does he find out that his human logic, and not his emotion, was wrong. This realization is accompanied by the revelation that he would live the rest of his life devoid of joy. Antony’s gift of treasure showed Enobarbus that Antony still loved him. Through this act, Enobarbus’ love, which he had desperately tried to hide, was magnified intensely. This magnification of love would only be harmful, for he understood that this love would be a lost love. It was too late for him to return, so the former joy of love was replaced by anguish. In a tragic end Enobarbus dies of grief. No wound damages him, there is no physical suicide; he simply dies of grief. This is an appropriate end for Enobarbus. His betrayal of true loyalty was an attempt to undermine the value of love. When his loyalty proves to be interminable, Enobarbus is left without his master. The lack of master causes Enobarbus to be lost to the world. The only remaining solution to his conflict is death.

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GradesFixer, 2018. Shakespeare’s Depiction of True Loyalty in Antony and Cleopatra. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 23 September 2020].
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