By Charles Matthews

Saturday, February 5, 2011

3. Antony and Cleopatra, by William Shakespeare, pp. 85-124

Antony and Cleopatra (Arden Shakespeare, 3rd Series)[1.1 -- Location: Alexandria] 

Demetrius and Philo, two of Antony's followers, are complaining about how he has been ensnared by Cleopatra. She has turned him, Philo says, "Into a strumpet's fool." And as soon as he says this, they enter, followed by her ladies, Charmian and Iras. A messenger arrives with news for Rome, which irritates Antony, though Cleopatra urges him to hear what the man has to say: "Fulvia perchance is angry, or who knows / If the scarce-bearded Caesar" has sent some orders for Antony to take care of. Fulvia is, of course, Antony's wife, and Octavius Caesar is twenty-three years old. Antony is forty-two. 

Cleopatra fears the worst, or pretends to, taunting him with the possibility that he will have to leave her because "shrill-tongued Fulvia scolds." This naturally causes Antony to reassure here that he doesn't care if Rome falls: "Here is my space! / Kingdoms are clay!" But she persists in claiming that Antony really loves Fulvia -- he married her, didn't he? Which only makes Antony more determined to please her: Even though she says he should hear what the messengers have to say, he proposes that they concentrate on pleasing themselves: "There's not a minute of our lives should stretch / Without some pleasure now." They should dress up as common folk tonight and "wander through the streets and note / The qualities of people." He dismisses the messenger: "Speak not to us."

They leave, but Demetrius and Philo remain behind to comment that Antony's behavior only confirms what people are saying about him in Rome. They exit.

[1.2 -- Location: Alexandria.]

Enobarbus and some Roman officers enter, and Charmian and Iras return, along with Alexas, another of Cleopatra's attendants, and the eunuch Mardian. Charmian begs Alexas to bring in the soothsayer that he had earlier told Cleopatra about. Enobarbus orders the servants to bring some more wine. The soothsayer makes some ambiguous prophecies about Charmian's future. She wants him to prophesy that he will "be married to three kings in a forenoon and widow them all. Let me have a child at fifty to whom Herod of Jewry may do homage." She also wants him to predict that she'll marry Octavius Caesar, which would make her the equal of Cleopatra. But the soothsayer ventures only, "You shall outlive the lady whom you serve." This delights her: "I love long life better than figs." In fact, Charmian survives Cleopatra only by minutes, and the reference to figs foreshadows the basket in which the asps are concealed -- as well as being a bawdy pun: figs were commonly likened to male genitalia. 

Iras steps up to have her palm read, claiming it will predict only chastity, which Charmian scoffs at: It will predict chastity just as the flooding of the Nile predicts the famine of a bad harvest, i.e., not at all. The soothsayer says only that Iras's and Charmian's fortunes are the same. They chatter on about this and urge the soothsayer to predict that Alexas will have a series of wives, all of whom will cuckold him. They even pray to Isis that this will happen. Alexas says they're so eager to make him a cuckold that they'd prostitute themselves to bring it about. 

Enobarbus interrupts to say that Antony is coming, though in fact it's Cleopatra. It's up to the director to figure out what this mistake means: either that there's a lot of attendant noise before her arrival which Enobarbus misinterprets, or that he's alluding to the fact that Antony and Cleopatra have grown so close that the presence of one implies the presence of the other. In any case, Cleopatra is looking for Antony, who "was disposed to mirth, but on the sudden / A Roman thought hath struck him." She sends Enobarbus to look for him, but Antony enters right after Enobarbus's departure, accompanied by a messenger. Cleopatra, apparently ticked off because Antony is talking to the messenger after all, leaves with her retinue. 

The messenger tells Antony that Fulvia's troops had done battle with those of Antony's brother Lucius, but they had reconciled afterward and fought against Caesar, who won, and banished them from Italy. But the worse news is that Quintus Labienus, who was fighting against both Antony and Octavius, has conquered Asia Minor. What the messenger is reluctant to say is that Antony is being blamed for the loss because of his dalliance with Cleopatra. More messengers arrive, and one brings the news that Fulvia has died in the city of Sicyon in Greece. He gives Antony a letter with the details. 

Antony realizes that he has to leave Egypt: 
I must from this enchanting queen break off. 
Ten thousand harms, more than the ills I know, 
My idleness doth hatch.
Enobarbus enters, and observes, "Why then we kill all our women" when they get the news that he and Antony are leaving. "Cleopatra, catching but the least noise of this, dies instantly. I have seen her die twenty times upon far poorer moment." Antony, after agreeing that "She is cunning past men's thought," wishes he had never seen her, and tells Enobarbus that Fulvia is dead. It takes Enobarbus a moment to realize that Antony is not joking, and then he tries to make light of it. But Antony is serious, resolved to take care of the problems back in Rome, which the messengers have persuaded him need his attention. Pompey, he tells Enobarbus, is also threatening Caesar, and the people are beginning to take Pompey's side. 

[1.3 -- Location: Alexandria.] 

Cleopatra is still looking for Antony, and sends Alexas off to look for him -- but not to tell him that she's asking for him. "If you find him sad, / Say I am dancing; if in mirth, report / That I am sudden sick." Charmian advises her not to cross Antony, to give in to him, which Cleopatra says is "the way to lose him." When Antony enters, she pretends to be angry with him, berating him for being false to Fulvia, for breaking his marriage vows, which are signs that he will never be true to her. She tells him to leave, though she doesn't give him a chance to get a word in edgewise: 
Nay, pray you seek no colour for your going, 
But bid farewell and go. When you sued staying, 
Then was the time for words; no going then. 
Eternity was in our lips and eyes, 
Bliss in our brows' bent; none our parts so poor 
But was a race of heaven. They are so still, 
Or thou, the greatest soldier of the world, 
Art turned the greatest liar.
Antony is baffled by this outburst, but persists in telling her that the situation in Rome demands his attention. And moreover, Fulvia is dead. And he gives her the letter to prove it. 

But for Cleopatra it's still all about her. Why, she asks, is Antony not more upset by this news? "Now I see, I see, / In Fulvia's death how mine received shall be." He assures her that whatever she wants him to do, he'll do it. She pretends for a moment that she's about to faint -- "Cut my lace, Charmian, come!" -- and then quickly recovers. She plays him for all it's worth, pretending weakness and absent-mindedness: 
Courteous lord, one word: 
Sir, you and I must part, but that's not it; 
Sir, you and I have loved, but there not it; 
That you know well. Something it is I would -- 
Oh, my oblivion is a very Antony, 
And I am all forgotten. 
He begins to see through all this, however, so she decides to be straightforward. She tells him to go, and wishes him victory. And he vows that even though he's leaving, they will not really be separated. 

[1.4 -- Location: Rome] 

Octavius and Lepidus are reading a letter from Alexandria about Antony's infatuation with Cleopatra. Caesar is more swift to judge Antony: "You shall find there / A man who is the abstract of all faults / That all men follow." Lepidus argues that Antony is basically a good man, despite his faults. A messenger enters with disturbing news about the popular enthusiasm for Pompey, who is "strong at sea." Another messenger reports that Pompey has allied himself with the pirates Menecrates and Menas, who are terrorizing the Italian coast. This only fuels Caesar's anger at Antony. He recalls what a great warrior Antony once was before he began indulging in "lascivious wassails": 
Though daintily brought up, ...
                                              Thou didst drink 
The stale of horses and the gilded puddle 
Which beasts would cough at. Thy palate then did deign 
The roughest berry on the rudest hedge. 
Yea, like the stag when snow the pasture sheets, 
The barks of trees thou browsed. On the Alps, 
It is reported, thou didst eat strange flesh 
Which some did die to look on. And all this -- 
It wounds thine honour that I speak it now -- 
Was borne so like a soldier that thy cheek 
So much as lanked not. 
So he and Lepidus get ready to take on Pompey themselves, with or without Antony's help.

[1.5 -- Location: Alexandria] 

Antony has gone, and Cleopatra asks Charmian for a sleeping potion so she can sleep through the period of his absence. She inquires of the eunuch Mardian about his desires, but she mostly thinks of what Antony is doing. "He's speaking now / Or murmuring 'Where's my serpent of old Nile?' / For so he calls me." She thinks about Julius Caesar, too, when she was "A morsel for a monarch." 

Alexas, who has been with Antony, enters, and gives her a pearl that Antony kissed and sent to her. She asks if Alexas met any of her messengers on the way, and he says he encountered twenty of them: "Why do you send so thick?" She asks for ink and paper to send more messages. She asks, "Did I, Charmian, / Ever love Caesar so?" and threatens to choke Charmian when she replies, "O that brave Caesar!" Charmian teases her with more praise of Caesar at the risk of receiving "bloody teeth / If thou with Caesar paragon again / My man of men!" She praised Caesar, she says, in "My salad days, / When I was green in judgement, cold in blood, / To say as I said then." And calls for more ink and paper, vowing to "unpeople Egypt" by sending so many messengers. 

Trevor Nunn's 1974 Royal Shakespeare Company production, with Richard Johnson as Antony and Janet Suzman as Cleopatra, Patrick Stewart as Enobarbus, Corin Redgrave as Octavius: 

Jonathan Miller's 1981 television production, with Colin Blakely as Antony and Jane Lapotaire as Cleopatra, Emrys James as Enobarbus, Ian Charleson as Octavius:

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