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Free Study Guide-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare-Free Booknotes
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CHARACTER ANALYSIS

Octavius

Shakespeare intentionally does not reveal an excess of information about Octavius, for he wants to paint him in a positive light so he can emerge as an acceptable victor at the end of the play. Octavius does not even appear on stage until the fourth act and during the entire play, he is only seen three times and speaks only about thirty lines. When he does appear on stage, Octavius is portrayed as a total politician, a fine general and a trustworthy friend. He appears to always be in control of his emotions, never showing any warmth or weakness. Even when he is enraged, he manages to express his anger in a controlled and formal manner. As a result, he is a perfect contrast to the confused Brutus and the misguided Cassius. It is not surprising that he emerges as the winner at the end of the tragedy. In history, he becomes Emperor Augustus, a leader of much greater power than Julius Caesar.

The first glimpse that the reader has of Octavius is with Antony and Lepidus in Act IV, when the Triumvirs are deciding on the names of their potential enemies who are to be eliminated. Octavius does not hesitate to name around 100 Senators who should die in order to strengthen the Triumvirate's control. He also accuses wealthy Romans of being traitors who must be put to death, so that their properties may be used to finance the campaign against Brutus and Cassius. When Antony criticizes Lepidus, saying he is unfit to rule a third of the world, Octavius is not afraid to contradict him. He maintains that Lepidus is a "tried and valiant soldier", but he allows Antony to "do your will." He is wise enough to realize that Antony will always wield more power than Lepidus, and he wants to be on the winning side. Octavius also possesses a keen insight into human nature and politics, as seen when he observes that enemies surround them and even those who appear friendly are hiding "millions of mischiefs" in their hearts.


By the time of his next appearance, Octavius has grown more confident and assertive. On the plains of Philippi, he calmly points out that Brutus and Cassius have come down to Philippi contrary to Antony's expectations. He has become aware of his strong position in the political situation and does not hesitate to state his wishes. He calmly insists on fighting from the right side of the battlefield instead of the left, as proposed by Antony. When Antony asks him in amazement the reason for his needless opposition, Octavius coolly states, "I do not cross you; but I will do so." When Antony, Cassius, and Brutus engage in a bitter war of words before the actual battle, Octavius stands aside--aloof and unruffled. A practical man by nature, he does not see any profit in squabbling about what has already been done. Octavius' calmness upsets Cassius, who denounces his silent enemy as "a peevish schoolboy...joined with a masker and a reveler." In truth, Octavius is much more mature than Cassius or Brutus or Antony.

It is Octavius who issues the challenge of the battle, putting an end to the senseless arguments that he has watched from the sideline. From this point onward, until his appearance at the end of the play, Octavius steadily increases in confidence and consolidates his position as Caesar's heir and successor. At the end of the play, Octavius has proven himself a stronger leader than Antony. He seizes control of things and significantly announces that he, (not he and Antony) will employ all those who served Brutus. Octavius is clearly the strongest of the three Triumvirs.

Mark Antony

Although Antony's presence dominates the middle of the play's action, he appears briefly at the beginning in order for his relationship to Caesar to be established. He is present at the feast of Lupercal, where he reveals that he is loyal to Caesar, as both a friend and a patron. He appears once again in the early scenes to escort Caesar from his house to the Senate. Despite his brevity of his early appearances, it is very obvious that Antony accepts Caesar as his master, for he remarks that when Caesar gives an order, "it is performed." Cassius, more than anyone else in the play, recognizes Antony's importance and calls him a "shrewd contriver," who cannot be trusted. Cassius wisely arranges to have Trebonius lure Antony out of the way during the assassination.

After Caesar's murder, Antony's importance in Rome quickly escalates. At first devastated by his friend's death, he weeps over Caesar's body. He then controls his emotions, quickly sums up the situation, and begins his strategy for seeking power for himself. He outmaneuvers Brutus by pretending to reconcile with the conspirators and shaking their bloody hands. He succeeds in gaining permission to make a speech at Caesar's funeral. He quickly joins with Octavius and Lepidus to form a new Triumvirate.

Antony's wisdom and shrewdness is clearly seen during the funeral speech, when he manipulates the crowd to turn against the conspirators and follow him. Shortly after his funeral oration, he coldly calculates with Octavius as to which of their potential enemies must be eliminated. It is shocking that the man who so passionately wept at Caesar's' death now casually agrees to the death of his own nephew. Antony's newly found ambition makes him seem ruthless. He openly acknowledges to Octavius that Lepidus is unfit to share in the threefold division of the world and indicates his elimination from the scheme of things after he has served his purpose. Antony's ego clashes with that of Octavius, but Antony is able to hold his emotions in check in order to address the prime concern of defeating Brutus and Cassius.

Antony is one of the victors at the end of the play. With the suicides of Brutus and Cassius, he and the other two Triumvirs are free to enforce their reign of terror upon Rome. Antony, however, has revealed that he is not as strong a politician as Octavius, who will soon be able to seize total control for himself.

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