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Betrayal in Antony and Cleopatra Essay

Betrayal in the play ultimately leads to the downfall of many main characters; weather it be betrayal of companions or of their original ideals and morals. If we take the example of Enobarbus’ case, his decline from the strict Roman ethics into the looser morals that symbolise more Egyptian ideals, leads him to betray his general and friend, Antony. Enobarbus then goes onto to die of the guilt and broken heartedness he experiences as a result of his treachery towards Antony and his own moral compass. It is however arguable that Enobarbus traitorous nature is only an outcome and reflection of Antony’s own crumbling roman beliefs. If we take the exchange between Cleopatra and Enobarbus in Act 3, scene 12 lines 2- 12 we can see that Enobarbus lays absolutely none of the blame on Cleopatra’s shoulders but instead tears the Antony to shreds, at one point saying “ The itch of his affection should not then have nicked his captainship, at such a point when half to half the world opposed, he being the mered question”.

In these lines Enobarbus says that Antony should not have let his lust (an Egyptian quality) destroy his ability as a general and his duty to his men, at such an incredibly crucial juncture in the battle, especially when the stakes were so high and he was such a key component in the outcome. Shakespeare uses the word affection, which can be read to mean lust. Lust is a trait that Shakespeare lists as an Egyptian quality, and it is vital to note his choice in diction; to stress that the action was not disciplined and Roman but a betrayal of Antony’s Roman nature. There is no mention of the love Antony has for Cleopatra. He also allows us to see Enobarbus’s view that nothing about this was justifiable or right, and that there were no higher motives moving Antony, rather he was pushed into actions by his baser and more primitive emotions such as cowardice and lust saying Antony’s reasons, whatever they may have been, were trivial and unacceptable.

The hyperbole in line 9 ‘…when half to half the world opposed…’ also stresses this point because it creates a sense of how indubitably important this battle was. This fight was a touchstone of legend; one obviously still remembered in Shakespeare’s time, and still in ours; a war between two of the greatest empires the world has seen to date, the stakes of which were incredible amounts of power, influence, land, and money – more than enough motive to kill for. And yet the ‘…mered question…’ the person who this whole war was based on; who these men were fighting this battle for – men without experience or training, against the greatest militant empire of the ancient world – this man they were fighting for ran away. Enobarbus’ dialogue describes how utterly base and treacherous Antony’s actions have been in terms of the values of the Roman Empire.

This supports the argument that Antony’s betrayal of his Roman ideals lead to Enobarbus also betraying his Roman nature by defecting to Caesar. These betrayals lead to both their deaths, though if they had stuck to the Roman tenets of societal structure they would not have gone against their own nature; actions such as retreating from the sea battle (Antony) or defecting (Enobarbus), and the play could have had a very different ending. It is these faults of betrayal that set the characters up for their downfalls, echoing Antony’s belief in the doctrine of Ate, which he expresses by saying, ‘when we in our viciousness grow hard… the wise gods seel our eyes’ (Act 3, Scene 13, 114-18).


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