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
When she first met Mark Antony, she
pursed up his heart, upon the river of Cydnus.
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
And, for his ordinary, pays his heart
For what his eyes eat only.
Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale
Her infinite variety....
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 a good time. Evidence of this comes in Enobarbus’
affinity for drunkenness. In both Act I and Act II
Enobarbus purports the joys of drink:
Bring in the banquet quickly: wine enough
Cleopatra’s health to drink.
Mine, and most of our fortunes,
tonight, shall be -- drunk to bed.
He even caps off Act II with a song for Bacchus and a
request for drunken celebration.
In short, Enobarbus is used as any good