The Role of Enobarbus in Acts I and II of Antony and Cleopatra


In Shakespeare’s tragedy/history/Roman play Antony and Cleopatra, we are told the story of two passionate and power-hungry lovers. In the first two Acts of the play we are introduced to some of the problems and dilemmas facing the couple (such as the fact that they are entwined in an adulterous relationship, and that both of them are forced to show their devotion to Caesar). Along with being introduced to Antony and Cleopatra’s strange love affair, we are introduced to some interesting secondary characters.

One of these characters is Enobarbus. Enobarbus is a high-ranking soldier in Antony’s army who it seems is very close to his commander. We know this by the way Enobarbus is permitted to speak freely (at least in private) with Antony, and often is used as a person to whom Antony confides in. We see Antony confiding in Enobarbus in Act I, Scene ii, as Antony explains how Cleopatra is “cunning past man’s thought” (I.ii.146). In reply to this Enobarbus speaks very freely of his view of Cleopatra, even if what he says is very positive:

…her passions are made of
nothing but the finest part of pure love. We cannot
call her winds and waters sighs and tears; they are
greater storms and tempests than almanacs can report.
This cannot be cunning in her; if it be she makes a
shower of rain as well as Jove.
(I, ii, 147-152)
After Antony reveals that he has just heard news of his wife’s death, we are once again offered an example of Enobarbus’ freedom to speak his mind, in that he tells Antony to “give the gods a thankful sacrifice” (I.ii.162), essentially saying that Fulvia’s death is a good thing. Obviously, someone would never say something like this unless they were in very close company.

While acting as a friend and promoter of Antony, Enobarbus lets the audience in on some of the myth and legend surrounding Cleopatra. Probably his biggest role in the play is to exaggerate Anthony and Cleopatra’s relationship. Which he does so well in the following statements:

When she first met Mark Antony, she
pursed up his heart, upon the river of Cydnus.
(II.ii.188-189)
The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne,
Burned on the water: the poop was beaten gold;
Purple the sails, and so perfumed that
The winds were lovesick with them; the oars were
silver,
(II.ii.193-197)
And, for his ordinary, pays his heart
For what his eyes eat only.
(II.ii.227-228)
Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale
Her infinite variety….
(II.ii.237-238)
In these passages, Enobarbus turns Antony’s and Cleopatra’s meeting into a fairy tale and leads the audience into believing the two are inseparable. His speeches in Act II are absolutely vital to the play in that this is what Shakespeare wants the audience to view Antony and Cleopatra. Also, in these passages, Cleopatra is described as irresistible and beautiful beyond belief — another view that is necessary for us to believe in order to buy the fact that a man with so much to lose would be willing to risk it all in order to win her love.

Quite possibly, these passages may hint that Enobarbus is himself in love with Cleopatra. After all, it would be hard to come up with such flowery language if a person were not inspired. Enobarbus may be lamenting his own passions vicariously through the eyes of Antony. This would be convenient in questioning Enobarbus’ loyalty, which becomes very important later on in the play (considering he kills himself over grief from fearing he betrayed his leader). The loyalty of Enobarbus is indeed questionable. Even though we never hear him utter a single disparaging remark against Antony, he does admit to Menas that he “will praise any man that will praise me” (II.iii.88), suggesting that his honor and loyalty may just be simple brown-nosing.

Shakespeare probably fashioned Enobarbus as a means of relaying information to the audience that would otherwise be difficult or awkward to bring forth from other characters (such as Cleopatra’s beauty and the story of her betrayal of Caesar), but he also uses him as way to inject some levity and humor in the play, showing the characters eagerness to have