Octavius Caesar is the chief adversary that Antony faces in the play. Octavius is, alongside Antony and Lepidus, one of the three triumvirs who collectively rule the Roman Empire. As the nephew and adopted son of the recently assassinated Julius Caesar, Octavius belongs to a different generation than Antony, who had served and fought for the previous Caesar. Octavius greatly admires the stories of Antony’s past heroism, but he also laments what he perceives to be Cleopatra’s emasculating effect on the older general. This disappointment, paired with the personal and political weakness of their co-ruler Lepidus, provides Octavius with an opportunity to pursue his youthful ambition to take the empire for himself. Octavius is the play’s supreme embodiment of Roman militancy, with its associated desire for consolidation and control. We see his drive for power in his sudden conquest of Pompey as well as his fierce battles with Antony’s forces. We also see his desire for control in the play’s final act, where he tries to prevent Cleopatra’s suicide so he can take her back to Rome and display her like a trophy. Just as his predecessor, Julius, once possessed Cleopatra sexually, Octavius evidently longs to do the same.

Though Octavius offers a rigid representation of Roman law and order, he is not a two-dimensional villain. For one thing, his frustration with the ever-neglectful Antony seems justified. When he complains to Lepidus that he resents having to “bear / So great weight in [Antony’s] lightness” (1.4.28–29), we certainly understand his concern. He does not emerge as a particularly likable character—his treatment of Lepidus, for instance, betrays the cruel underside of Octavius’s aggressive ambitions—but he is a complicated one. He is, in other words, convincingly human. There is, perhaps, no better example of Octavius’s humanity than his conflicted feelings about Antony. For a good deal of the play, Octavius seems bent, rather ruthlessly, on destroying Antony. Yet when he achieves this desired end, he doesn’t relish the moment as we might expect. Instead, he mourns the loss of a great soldier and musters enough compassion to be not only fair-minded but also fair-hearted, commanding that the lovers be buried beside one another.