[My horse] is a creature that I teach to fight,
To wind, to stop, to run directly on,
His corporal motion governed by my spirit;
And in some taste is Lepidus but so.
He must be taught, and trained, and bid go forth—
A barren-spirited fellow, one that feeds
On objects, arts, and imitations,
Which, out of use and staled by other men,
Begin his fashion. Do not talk of him
But as a property. (IV.i.31–40)
In this passage from Act IV, scene i, in which Antony and Octavius (with Lepidus, who has just left the room) are making plans to retake Rome, the audience gains insight into Antony’s cynicism regarding human nature: while he respects certain men, he considers Lepidus a mere tool, or “property,” whose value lies in what other men may do with him and not in his individual human dignity. Comparing Lepidus to his horse, Antony says that the general can be trained to fight, turn, stop, or run straight—he is a mere body subject to the will of another.
The quote raises questions about what qualities make for an effective or valuable military man, politician, and ally. Antony remarks that Lepidus “feeds / On objects, arts, and imitations, / Which, out of use and staled by other men, / Begin his fashion.” By this criticism he means that Lepidus centers his life on insubstantial things, prizing what other men have long since discarded as “stale” or devoid of flavor and interest; that is, Lepidus lacks his own will and convictions.
While Lepidus’s weak sense of selfhood means that he can easily be used as a tool by other men, it also means that he can be counted on to be obedient and loyal. Lepidus is thus absorbed into the threesome (with Antony and Octavius) that rules Rome after Caesar’s death, ultimately coming into power and political prestige with little effort or sacrifice. In Julius Caesar, men such as Brutus and Caesar are punished in the mortal realm for their inflexible commitment to specific ideals. Though Antony criticizes Lepidus, perhaps Shakespeare is subtly suggesting that a man such as Lepidus, “barren-spirited” and seemingly lacking in ambition, will be as satisfied in the political realm as his more directed counterparts.