By Charles Matthews

Monday, February 7, 2011

5. Antony and Cleopatra, by William Shakespeare, pp. 171-225

Antony and Cleopatra (Arden Shakespeare, 3rd Series)[3.1 -- Location: Syria]

In a scene frequently omitted, Ventidius boasts of his victory over the Parthians. Silius urges him to pursue the Parthians who have fled, but Ventidius is afraid that overreaching might offend Antony if it looks like he's becoming a more potent warrior than his general: "I could do more to do Antonius good, / But 'twould offend him, and in his offence / Should my performance perish." Antony, he notes, is on his way to Athens. 

[3.2 -- Location: Rome] 

Agrippa and Enobarbus talk jokingly about how the hung-over Lepidus sang the praises of  Antony and Caesar after the party on Pompey's ship. The triumvirate now enters, accompanied by Octavia, who is taking her leave from Caesar to go with Antony. It's clear that nobody is really happy with the political marriage of Antony and Octavia, but they're trying to put on a good show. 

[3.3 -- Location: Alexandria] 

Cleopatra makes amends with the messenger she abused for bringing the news of Antony's marriage. He assures her that Octavia isn't as tall as she is, and that she is "low-voiced," which Cleopatra is pleased to translate as "Dull of tongue and dwarfish." As for whether Octavia has "majesty in her gait," he opines that "She shows a body rather than a life, / A statue than a breather." Cleopatra observes, "The fellow has good judgement." He mentions that she's a widow and that he thinks she's thirty -- Cleopatra, Wilders notes, was "twenty-nine at this time, but Shakespeare seems to visualize her as older" -- and that her face is "Round, even to faultiness." Cleopatra gives him gold and sends him on his way with letters, assured that Octavia is "no such thing."  After all, she says, "The man hath seen some majesty, and should know." 

[3.4 -- Location: Athens] 

Antony is pissed off that Caesar has begun to "Wage new wars 'gainst Pompey," breaking the terms of the treaty as well as beginning to gain the upper hand in the triumvirate. Octavia tells him how upset it makes her to be torn in loyalty between her husband and her brother. He tells her, "If I lose mine honour, / I lose myself," but encourages her to try to mediate between him and Caesar, even though Antony is preparing to fight against him. 

[3.5 --Location: Alexandria] 

Eros tells Antony that not only has Caesar broken the truce with Pompey, who has been murdered, but he has also stripped Lepidus of his authority, reducing the rule of the empire from a triumvirate to a duo, Caesar and Antony, who are now battling each other for supreme power. The navy has been readied to sail against Caesar. 

[3.6 -- Location: Rome] 

Caesar reports to Maecenas and Agrippa that Antony has staged a great show of authority in Alexandria, appearing with Cleopatra and Caesarion, her son by Julius Caesar, and his own offspring with her. He has made  Cleopatra queen not only of Egypt but also of "lower Syria, Cyprus, Lydia" and put other lands in the charge of his sons. Cleopatra was dressed as Isis in this public spectacle. Maecenas and Agrippa suggest that the Roman people should be informed of Antony's arrogance. Caesar says that they already know it, but that Antony has spread accusations against Caesar for breaking the treaty with Pompey and depriving Lepidus of power. 

Octavia enters, and her brother chides her for not making a production of her return to Rome. She tells him that she asked Antony to let her come to Rome to try to make peace between them. He informs her that in the meantime, Antony has reunited with Cleopatra and are marshaling forces against him. She's not happy to hear that. 

[3.7 -- Location: Actium, on the northwest coast of Greece] 

Cleopatra has decided to join her forces with Antony's, and Enobarbus is trying to dissuade her. She'll be a distraction as well as a public-relations disaster: 
Your presence needs must puzzle Antony, 
Take from his heart, take from his brain, from's time 
What should not then be spared. He is already 
Traduced for levity, and 'tis said in Rome 
That Photinius, an eunuch and your maids 
Manage this war. 
Public opinion doesn't matter to her, of course. Antony enters with Canidius, discussing the news that Caesar has made a swift journey to Actium. Caesar is proposing a battle at sea instead of the hand-to-hand combat between him and Antony that Antony proposed. Antony accepts this challenge despite the warnings of Canidius and Enobarbus. The latter says that Antony's sailors are poorly prepared "muleteers, reapers, people / Engrossed by swift impress," whereas Caesar's are more skilled, having fought against Pompey. "No disgrace / Shall fall you for refusing him at sea, / Being prepared for land." Antony stubbornly insists, "By sea, by sea." Cleopatra interjects, "I have sixty sails, Caesar none better." 

A messenger arrives with news that Caesar has taken the town of Toryne, and a soldier enters to try once again to persuade Antony not to fight at sea. Antony ignores him and leaves with Cleopatra and Enobarbus. Canidius tells the soldier that he's right: fighting at sea when the land troops are better prepared is a bad idea. 

[3.8 Location: Actium] 

Caesar orders his lieutenant, Taurus, not to enter into a battle on land until the sea battle is done. 

[3.9 Location: Actium] 

Antony and Enobarbus establish their positions for observing the sea battle. 

[3.10 Location: Actium] 

The opposing armies cross the stage while the noise of the battle at sea is heard. Then Enobarbus enters in distress at seeing the Egyptian fleet leave the battle following the desertion of Cleopatra's ship, the Antoniad. Scarus enters to report, "We have kissed away / Kingdoms and provinces." The battle appeared equal until Cleopatra withdrew: "The breeze upon her, like a cow in June, / Hoists sails and flies." And when he saw this, Antony, "Leaving the fight in height, flies after her. / I never saw an action of such shame." Canidius enters to join in their lament, and to say that he is going to surrender his troops to Caesar: "Six kings already / Show me the way of yielding." Enobarbus tells him, "I'll yet follow / The wounded chance of Antony, though my reason / Sits in the wind against me." 

[3.11 Location: unspecific] 

The defeated Antony tells his followers to divide up the gold in his ship and to "make your peace with Caesar." He sits down alone. Cleopatra enters with Charmian, Iras and Eros, who urges her to go comfort Antony, who is recalling how at the battle of Philippi Caesar "kept / His sword e'en like a dancer" while he, Antony, was slaying Cassius and Brutus -- which is not quite how it happened, since Cassius and Brutus committed suicide. 

Cleopatra hesitates to approach him, and he rebukes her when he finally speaks to her. She claims that she was frightened by the battle, and didn't really think he would follow her. He replies, "Egypt, thou knewest too well / My heart was to thy rudder tied by th' strings / And thou shouldst tow me after." But after her pleas for pardon, he kisses her. 

[3.12 Location: Caesar's camp outside Alexandria] 

Because they have no one of distinction to send to talk to Caesar, Cleopatra and Antony have sent the schoolmaster for their children as their ambassador. He tells Caesar that Antony would like to remain in Egypt, but will accept being allowed to live as "A private man in Athens," and that Cleopatra would like for her children to rule over Egypt. Caesar denies Antony's request, and says he'll consider granting Cleopatra's if she will either banish Antony or kill him. After the schoolmaster-ambassador leaves, Caesar sends Thidias to try to turn Cleopatra against Antony. 

[3.13 Location: Alexandria] 

      What shall we do, Enobarbus? 
ENOBARBUS                                                   Think, and die. 
As beautifully sad a bit of dialogue as Shakespeare ever wrote, as the two people closest to Antony contemplate the future. 

She asks who is to blame for what happened, and Enobarbus, perhaps rather surprisingly, blames Antony. He was a skilled soldier, who shouldn't have let his passion overwhelm his reason when she fled the battle. 
                               Why should he follow? 
The itch of his affection should not then 
Have nicked his captainship, at such a point, 
When half to half the world opposed....
                                 'Twas a shame no less 
Than was his loss, to course your flying flags 
And leave his navy gazing. 
The remarkable thing here is that Cleopatra trusts Enobarbus, recognizes his friendship to Antony and his honesty, and that she for once seems serious and thoughtful. 

Antony enters with the schoolmaster-ambassador and tells Cleopatra of Caesar's demand that she should "To the boy Caesar send this grizzled head, / And he will fill thy wishes to the brim / With principalities." He angrily challenges Caesar to hand-to-hand combat and exits with the ambassador to write a letter to that effect. In an aside, Enobarbus comments on the absurdity of Antony's challenge. And he begins to debate whether he should turn against Antony -- "The loyalty well held to fools does make / Our faith mere folly" -- or remain loyal -- "Yet he that can endure / To follow with allegiance a fallen lord / Does conquer him that did his master conquer, / And earns a place i'th' story." In some ways, Enobarbus is the real tragic figure in the play, because he is endowed with the most self-knowledge and awareness of the consequence of his actions. 

Thidias arrives to persuade Cleopatra to side with Caesar. He says that Caesar knows she didn't really love Antony, but just pretended to because she was afraid of him, and that he doesn't regard her as dishonored since she was compelled to take Antony's side. She plays along with this: "He is a god and knows / What is most right. Mine honour was not yielded / But conquered merely." Enobarbus, shocked by this apparent treachery on Cleopatra's part, leaves to find Antony, who is, he remarks, "so leaky / That we must leave thee to thy sinking, for / Thy dearest quit thee." 

Thidias continues, saying that "it would warm [Caesar's] spirits / To hear from me you had left Antony / And put yourself under his shroud, / The universal landlord." As Wilders notes, the word "shroud" here has "sinister overtones." Cleopatra sends her thanks to Caesar and offers Thidias her hand, just as Antony returns with Enobarbus. Outraged, Antony calls for servants and orders Thidias whipped "Till like a boy you see him cringe his face / And whine aloud for mercy." He then turns his anger on Cleopatra for her submissiveness to Caesar's envoy. The servants return with the whipped Thidias and Antony sends him off to Caesar. 

This done, Antony's anger begins to cool, and Cleopatra chides him for not really knowing her. They reconcile, and, as usual, decide to celebrate their reconciliation. Antony says, 
Let's have one other gaudy night. Call to me 
All my sad captains. Fill our bowls once more. 
Let's mock the midnight bell.
Everyone leaves except Enobarbus, who sees Antony falling into his old pattern: 
                                                 I see still 
A diminution in our captain's brain 
Restores his heart. When valour preys on reason, 
It eats the sword it fights with. I will seek 
Some way to leave him.
The 1974 Trevor Nunn production:

Thidias is played by the young Ben Kingsley:

The 1981 Jonathan Miller production:

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