Study Guide

Lepidus in The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra

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Lepidus is a member of the second Roman triumvirate, along with Octavius Caesar and Antony. He is arguably the weakest of the trio, mostly because he has a conciliatory nature and always tries to make everyone friends. In actuality, he is blind to everyone’s passion and treachery. Lepidus has an earnest innocence, and does not play much of a role in the affairs of the other triumvirs, who have bigger stakes in winning battles than avoiding them.

Lepidus is most notable for his absences—he has a mere two lines in the negotiations with Pompey, and on Pompey's barge he inquires with childlike wonder about the animals of Egypt, rather than getting caught up in the political discourse of the other men. Lepidus disappears during the more serious conversations and actually gets so drunk that he has to be carried off to bed. Lepidus is something of a laughingstock—even his inferiors Enobarbus and Agrippa make a mockery of him. The men criticize Lepidus’s fawning over Antony and Caesar and agree that he’s like the beetle caught between two wings. This jibe fittingly describes Lepidus’s fate. Though we do not see him again, we know he is torn between the two men he thinks are his friends and ends up losing his position, and freedom, because of his naïveté.

Lepidus, like Pompey, seems to be a generally good guy who suffers at the hands of the passionate and treacherous men who surround him. However, unlike Pompey (who is restrained by his honor), Lepidus suffers from being naïve and innocent—a little lamb in a pack of political wolves. He earnestly believes the others have the common good in mind, whereas they’re really thinking of their own personal good. Thus, Lepidus’s own personal goodness becomes lethal when combined with his inability to see the true natures of those around him.

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