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Barron's Booknotes-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
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ANTONY

There are many "Antonys." One of them is passionate and impulsive; the other is in complete control of his emotions. One can cry over the death of his dear friend Caesar; the other condemns his associates to death without batting an eyelash. One makes a powerful political speech with perfect understanding of human nature; the other can be so mistaken about human nature that he calls Cassius "not dangerous."

Can such opposites exist within the same man? It's possible that Shakespeare couldn't make up his mind about Antony, and painted an unfinished portrait of him. It's also possible that Shakespeare was trying to portray the many sides of an opportunist. An opportunist is a person who adjusts his values to suit his purposes; who uses people and events to get what he wants, regardless of principles or consequences. If Antony is such a man, it is understandable that, like a chameleon, he would change colors from one moment to the next.

How different Antony is from Brutus! Brutus stands behind his principles, refusing to be swayed by circumstance; Antony never lets principles stand in the way of success. Brutus' conscience keeps him up at night; tactics, manoeuvres, schemes-these are what concern Antony.

A modern man, Antony takes the world as he finds it and uses whatever means are necessary to get what he wants. Life for him is a game-serious, but a game nonetheless-and he is a skillful player who knows how to win.

Antony is an opportunist, yes, but is he evil? Look closely at his words and actions, and you can find evidence to support that point of view. In his famous funeral oration, for instance, nothing could be more offensive than the way he fires up the masses by appealing to their basest emotions. And nothing could be more irresponsible than the way he unleases the "dogs of war"- bringing death and destruction to innocent and guilty alike.



Antony is cynical, callous and unprincipled, yet he is motivated not by personal ambition but by the desire to revenge the death of a friend. His almost dog-like devotion to Caesar reveals a deep capacity for loyalty and affection. He is cunning, but, unlike Brutus, completely honest with himself. He may manipulate people, but he speaks with conviction, and what he says is deeply felt. His funeral oration is more effective than Brutus' because he speaks from the heart.

In the end, Antony (with Octavius' help), triumphs. Is Shakespeare suggesting that realists like Antony are the hope of the future? Perhaps Shakespeare is merely pointing out that Antony and his kind are more likely to succeed in a world as imperfect as the one we live in.

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Barron's Booknotes-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
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