By Charles Matthews

Sunday, February 6, 2011

4. Antony and Cleopatra, by William Shakespeare, pp. 124-171

Antony and Cleopatra (Arden Shakespeare, 3rd Series)[2.1 -- Location: Sicily]

"Enter POMPEY, MENECRATES and MENAS in warlike manner." I love stage directions like that, since I'm not exactly sure what a "warlike manner" would be, but I imagine it involves a lot of bluster. And certainly Pompey is blustery enough when he proclaims that "The people love me, and the sea is mine." He goes on about how Antony "sits at dinner" in Egypt, and Caesar is mainly content with getting money, and Lepidus -- well, nobody takes Lepidus seriously. But now Menas tells Pompey that he's heard Caesar and Lepidus are mobilizing their forces. He's not inclined to believe it, but in any case he feels sure that Antony is still hanging out with Cleopatra. He trusts her to 
Tie up the libertine in a field of feasts; 
Keep his brain fuming. Epicurean cooks 
Sharpen with cloyless sauce his appetite 
That sleep and feeding may prorogue his honour 
Even till a Lethe'd dullness -- 
But no, Varrius enters to tell him that "Mark Antony is every hour in Rome / Expected." That's not good, Pompey figures: "His soldiership / Is twice that the other twain" -- meaning Caesar and Lepidus." Menas opines that Caesar and Antony won't get along well since Fulvia and Antony's brother Lucius turned against Caesar. But Pompey worries that "lesser enmities may give way to greater" -- Pompey being the greater enmity. So they go off to plan how to meet this combined threat.

[2.2 Location: Rome] 

Lepidus, always trying to play the peacemaker, begs Enobarbus to persuade Antony to use "soft and gentle speech" in dealing with Caesar. Enobarbus is having none of it: "I shall entreat him / To answer like himself" -- that is, to deal with Caesar however he sees fit. Lepidus replies that it's not a good time to let personal matters interfere with state business, but Enobarbus remains the pragmatist: "Every time / Serves for the matter that is then born in't." Lepidus gives up trying to persuade Enobarbus, and through him, Antony, to be diplomatic, observing, "Here comes / The noble Antony." To which Enobarbus responds, "And yonder Caesar" -- not modifying Caesar's name with "noble" or any other such epithet. 

So Lepidus steps forth as Antony and Caesar meet, urging them to get along. But immediately Antony and Caesar go into an Alphonse and Gaston routine about which one should sit down first: 
CAESAR     Welcome to Rome. 
ANTONY     Thank you. 
CAESAR     Sit. 
ANTONY     Sit, sir. 
CAESAR     Nay then.      [Caesar sits, then Antony]
Round one goes to Antony. But then Caesar brings up the rebellion of Fulvia and Lucius and they quarrel about how much Antony supported them. And Caesar is still pissed off about the way Antony treated his messengers: "You / Did pocket up my letters, and with taunts / Did gibe my missive out of audience." Antony claims he was tired and irritable because he had been entertaining three kings that day, and that he more or less apologized to the messenger the next day. But Caesar persists with his anger that Antony didn't come to his support when his wife and brother attacked him -- he broke his oath of allegiance to Caesar by not taking his side. This impugns Antony's honor, so Lepidus tries to calm Caesar, but Antony brushes it off. Fulvia was acting up to get Antony to come home from Egypt, he says. He was the "ignorant motive" for her rebellion, and therefore he does "So far ask pardon as befits mine honour / To stoop in such a case." 

Lepidus thinks this is "noble spoken," but Maecenas reminds them that they have more important business at hand than rehearsing old grievances, or as Enobarbus more bluntly puts it: "You shall have time to wrangle in when you have nothing else to do." Antony tells him to shut up, and Enobarbus replies, "That truth should be silent, I had almost forgot." Antony repeats his order but Enobarbus gets in a last word, calling himself "Your considerate stone" -- as Wilders observes in his note, "Enobarbus means that though he will be silent he won't stop thinking." Bits like this remind us of how brilliantly Shakespeare crafts his dramas, creating a character like Enobarbus who sees keenly through all the pomp and bluster of his supposed superiors, and speaks not only his mind but also that of the audience. 

Caesar wishes for something that would reinforce their unity, and Agrippa comes up with a bright idea: Antony should marry Caesar's sister, Octavia. This is the point at which one wishes Enobarbus would speak up and say what a colossally stupid idea it is, but we know what he's thinking about it: that there will be holy hell to pay when Cleopatra hears about it, and moreover that Antony isn't likely to be bound by any sentiment about family loyalty. He couldn't even keep his late wife and his brother in line. What makes anyone think that a marriage to Caesar's sister is going to make everything fine? But Agrippa insists that he's considered all the angles -- "'tis a studied, not a present thought." 

And then Antony and Caesar go into another "you first, no you first" routine. Antony asks for Caesar's thoughts on the matter, and Caesar wants to hear Antony's first. And Antony decides it's a good idea: "Let me have thy hand," he says to Caesar, and when they shake on it, Caesar says, "A sister I bequeath you." As Wilders points out in his note, Antony uses the familiar "thy," but Caesar sticks to the formal "you." Caesar wins this round. 

That settled -- "Happily," as Lepidus burbles -- they turn their attention to Pompey, going off to plan the campaign and leaving behind Enobarbus, Agrippa and Maecenas. The latter two are eager to confirm all the gossip they've heard about Egypt, including the assertion that eight wild boars were once roasted to feed twelve people at breakfast. That's nothing, Enobarbus assures them. Of course, what they really want to know about is Cleopatra, and Enobarbus obliges them with the great description of her barge on the river Cydnus. Agrippa, who has just engineered the marriage of Antony and Octavia, is all agog: "Rare Egyptian!" he exclaims, and "Royal wench!" Maecenas, however, thinks that the royal marriage will put an end to the dalliance with Cleopatra, but Enobarbus knows otherwise: 
Never! He will not. 
Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale 
Her infinite variety. Other women cloy 
The appetites they feed, but she makes hungry 
Where most she satisfies; for vilest things 
Become themselves in her, that the holy priests 
Bless her when she is riggish. 
Still, Maecenas is certain that Octavia's "beauty, wisdom, modesty" will win out.

[2.3 -- Location: Rome] 

The lady herself then appears, with her brother and Antony, who is already warning her that "The world and my great office will sometimes / Divide me from your bosom." She assures him that she'll pray for him when he's away, and he tells her that he intends to change his ways: "I have not kept my square, but that to come / Shall all be done by th' rule." This is a good time for the soothsayer to show up and tell him not to be so sure about that, which he does as soon as Octavia and Caesar have left. He warns Antony that his association with Caesar is risky. Antony's daemon -- his guardian angel, if you will -- "is / Noble, courageous, high unmatchable," but is afraid of Caesar's, so it's best to keep his distance from him. "If thou dost play with him at any game, / Thou art sure to lose." Antony sends him away, but admits that it's true: Caesar always wins any game they play. 

[2.4 -- Location: Rome] 

In a scene that's usually omitted in performance, Lepidus, Maecenas and Agrippa prepare to leave for Mount Misena and the encounter with Pompey. 

[2.5 -- Location: Alexandria] 

Cleopatra is restless: She calls for music, but when Mardian enters to perform, she decides she wants to play billiards, and then decides she'd rather go fishing. Every time she hooks a fish, she'll think of Antony, she says. She remembers when they went fishing and she had a swimmer put a salted fish on his line. They laughed and got drunk, and she dressed him in her clothes and she wore the sword he wielded at the battle of Philippi when he and Octavius defeated Cassius and Brutus. 

Then a messenger arrives, and she goes into a panic that he'll tell her Antony's dead. She alternates between promises to reward him for good news and threats of abuse if the news is bad, but the poor man persists, even though her constant interruptions delay his real news: that he has married Octavia. She beats him and threatens to whip him with wire and stew him in brine, and when she draws a knife he makes his escape. Charmian scolds her into calling him back. He returns and confirms what he has reported, gets more verbal abuse, and leaves. Then she sends Alexas to ask the messenger to "Report the feature of Octavia, her years, / Her inclination; let him not leave out / The colour of her hair." After Alexas leaves, she sends Iras to tell Alexas to ask how tall Octavia is, then goes to her chamber. 

[2.6 Location: Mount Misena] 

Pompey meets with the triumvirate for talks before the battle. Antony tells Pompey that despite his naval victories, they still outnumber him on land, but Pompey uses the moment to remind Antony that he now owns Pompey's father's house: "But since the cuckoo builds not for himself, / Remain in't as thou mayst." Lepidus typically tries to avoid such squabbles and asks what Pompey makes of the peace proposal they have sent him. It turns out that Pompey is prepared to accept the terms: He will have Sicily and Sardinia, provided he puts an end to the raids of his allies, the pirates, and sends wheat to Rome. He was going to tell them this before he got so provoked by Antony, whom he reminds that he treated Antony's mother well when she came to Sicily during the rebellion of Antony's wife and brother. Antony thanks him, and they shake hands. Pompey says he didn't expect to meet Antony there, implying that he was surprised that Antony was willing to leave Cleopatra. 

They agree to have a series of feasts to celebrate the truce. Pompey says he is sure that Antony's will be especially elaborate because of "your fine Egyptian cookery," and launches into a rather tactless reference to Julius Caesar's prior dalliance with Cleopatra. Enobarbus realizes how much this is likely to irritate Antony and cuts short Pompey's story about how Cleopatra was delivered to Caesar in a mattress by blurting out the punch line. Pompey recognizes Enobarbus and praises his prowess as a soldier. He then invites Caesar, Antony and Lepidus on board his ship. 

Menas, who is one of the pirates whom Pompey is expected under the terms of the agreement to control, says in an aside that Pompey's father wouldn't have made the treaty, and then engages in conversation with Enobarbus. Menas, too, is surprised that Antony joined the others, and learns from Enobarbus of Antony's marriage to Octavia. "Then is Caesar and he for ever knit together," Menas says, but Enobarbus replies, "If I were bound to divine of this unity, I would not prophesy so." So it's a political marriage, not a love match, Menas says. 
ENOBARBUS     I think so too. But you shall find the band that seems to tie their friendship together will be the very strangler of their amity. Octavia is of a holy, cold and still conversation. 
MENAS    Who would not have his wife so? 
ENOBARBUS     Not he that himself is not so; which is Mark Antony. He will to his Egyptian dish again. 
They exit to go have a drink together. 

[2.7 Location: On board Pompey's galley] 

Three servants enter to gossip about the amount Lepidus has drunk, and are followed by the drinking party itself. Antony is telling tales about Egypt, and Lepidus observes, with a pretense of knowledge, "Your serpent of Egypt is bred, now, of your mud by the operation of your sun; so is your crocodile." Antony confirms this, and Pompey calls for Lepidus's health to be drunk. Lepidus burbles, "Nay, certainly, I have heard the Ptolemies' pyramises are very goodly things. Without contradiction I have heard that." 

As the others proceed to get Lepidus even drunker, Menas tries to get Pompey, who is amused by Lepidus's state, to have a word with him aside. Finally Menas succeeds in getting Pompey to leave his sea and talk with him, and tries to persuade Pompey that since he has "These three world-sharers" on his ship he should take the opportunity to assassinate the triumvirate. Pompey says that Menas should have done it, but without telling him: "Repent that e'er thy tongue / Hath so betrayed thine act. Being done unknown, / I should have found it afterwards well done, / But must condemn it now."  When Pompey returns to the carousing, Menas says in an aside that he's through working with Pompey. 

Lepidus passes out and is carried off by an attendant. Enobarbus tells Menas that the attendant is a strong man because he "bears the third part of the world." And gradually the drunken party breaks up, with Menas and Enobarbus going off to Menas's cabin. 

Trevor Nunn's 1974 production omits Pompey entirely:

Jonathan Miller's 1981 production includes Pompey, played by Donald Sumpter:

Trevor Nunn talks to Patrick Stewart about playing Enobarbus and speaking the "purple passage":

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