David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 2, Scene 2

— 2.2 —

Enobarbus talked with Lepidus in a room of Lepidus’ house in Rome.

Lepidus, who wanted peace between Octavius Caesar and Mark Antony, said, “Good Enobarbus, it will be a worthy deed and shall become you well if you entreat your captain, Mark Antony, to use soft and gentle speech when he meets with Octavius Caesar.”

“I shall entreat him to answer like himself,” Enobarbus replied. “If Octavius Caesar angers him, let Antony, the taller man, look over Caesar’s head and speak as loudly as Mars, god of war. By Jupiter, were I the wearer of Mark Antony’s beard, I would not shave it today. I would have it available to be pulled as an act of insult by Octavius Caesar so that I could fight him.”

“This is not a time for private and personal quarrels.”

“Every time serves for the matter that is then born in it,” Enobarbus said. “Every time is suitable for whatever matters arise during that time.”

Lepidus said, “Small matters must be set aside for big matters.”

“Not if the small come first,” Enobarbus replied.

“Your speech is passionate, but please stir no embers up. Here comes the noble Antony.”

Mark Antony and Ventidius, engaged in conversation, entered the room.

Enobarbus said, “And over there is Octavius Caesar.”

Caesar and his colleagues Maecenas and Agrippa entered the room.

Mark Antony said, “If we settle our disagreements and come to suitable arrangements here, then we can campaign in Parthia. Look, Ventidius.”

Octavius Caesar was engaged in conversation: “I do not know, Maecenas; ask Agrippa.”

Lepidus, the peacemaker, said, “Noble friends, that which combined us and made us allies was most great and important, and let not a less important action rend us. What’s amiss, let’s hope that it can be gently heard. When we debate our trivial differences loudly, we commit murder in trying to heal wounds. So then, noble partners, I am asking you earnestly to talk about the sourest points while using the sweetest terms, and I am asking you not to allow bad temper to add to the problems you will talk about.”

“You have spoken well,” Mark Antony said to Lepidus. “If we were in front of our armies, and ready to fight, I would seek to be reconciled with Octavius Caesar.”

Caesar greeted Antony: “Welcome to Rome.”

“Thank you.”

“Sit,” Octavius Caesar said.

“Sit, sir.”

“Well, then.”

They sat.

“I have learned,” Mark Antony said, “that you are taking things ill that are not ill, or if they are, they do not concern you.”

“I must be laughed at,” Caesar replied, “if, either for nothing or for something unimportant, I should say that I am most offended by you out of everyone in the world. I would be even more of a fool if I should disparage you when I have no reason even to speak about you.”

“My being in Egypt, Octavius Caesar, what was that to you?” Mark Antony asked.

“No more than my residing here at Rome might be to you in Egypt; yet, if while you were there, you plotted against my state, your being in Egypt might be my concern.”

“What do you mean by plotted against your state?”

“You will understand what I mean when I tell you what befell me here. Your wife and brother made wars against me, and their wars were on your account; you were the reason for the wars.”

“You are mistaken,” Mark Antony said. “My brother never used my name to justify his war against you. I made inquiries into this, and I have acquired knowledge from some trustworthy sources who drew their swords with you and fought for you. Did my brother not rather flout my authority along with yours, and fight the wars against my wishes? After all, you and I have the same goals and wishes. I have written letters about this to you; previously, my letters satisfied you. If you want to create a quarrel out of bits and pieces, instead of addressing a more serious concern, you must not create a quarrel out of this.”

“You praise yourself by laying defects of judgment on me, but you are making your excuses out of bits and pieces.”

“That is not so,” Mark Antony said. “I know you could not fail to understand — I am certain of it — this necessary thought: I, your partner in the cause against which my brother fought, could not with grateful eyes look favorably upon those wars that threatened my own peace. As for my wife, I wish you had her spirit in a wife of your own. You rule a third of the world, and you control it easily with a light hand, but you could not control such a wife.”

Enobarbus said, “I wish that we all had such wives, so that the men might go to wars with the women!”

“My wife was very uncontrollable,” Mark Antony said. “The disturbances were caused by her own impatience, but they did not lack some political shrewdness. Grieving, I grant that she caused you too much disquiet. But you must admit I could not stop her.”

Octavius Caesar said, “I wrote to you while you were riotously living in Alexandria; you put my letters in your pocket without reading them, and with taunts you forced my messenger to leave your presence.”

“Sir, your messenger came into my presence before I gave orders to have him admitted. At that time, I had newly feasted three Kings, and I was not the man that I was in the morning. After the feasting I was drunk, while that morning I was sober. The next day I told him why I had done what I had done, which was as much as to have asked him to pardon me. Let your messenger not be a reason for us to quarrel; if we must quarrel, let’s leave him out of it.”

Octavius Caesar now began to bring up his most important reason to be angry with Mark Antony: “You have broken the article of your oath; that is something you shall never have tongue to charge me with. When I make an oath, I keep it.”

“Go easy, Caesar!” Lepidus said.

“No, Lepidus, let him speak,” Mark Antony said. “The honor is sacred that he talks about now — he supposes that I lack honor. But, go on, Caesar; explain the article of my oath.”

“To lend me soldiers and aid when I required them, both of which you denied me.”

“I neglected to send them to you, rather than denied them to you,” Mark Antony said. “That happened when poisoned hours had so incapacitated me that I did not even know who I was or what I was doing.”

Caesar thought, I can guess that the poisoned hours were blind-drunk hours that led to blackouts and incapacitating hangovers.

Mark Antony continued, “As much as I can, I’ll play the penitent to you, but my honesty in playing the penitent shall not make poor my greatness, and my authority shall not be used without honesty.”

Caesar thought, This is an half-assed apology, but it is an admission that he did not send the soldiers and aid that he had sworn to send to me.

Mark Antony continued, “The truth is that Fulvia, to get me out of Egypt, made wars here. I am indirectly the cause of those wars, and for that I so far ask your pardon as befits my honor to stoop in such a case.”

Caesar thought, This is an half-assed apology, but it is an apology.

Lepidus said, “Mark Antony has spoken nobly.”

Maecenas said, “If it might please both of you to press no further the grievances between you, then you might remember that this present crisis requires that you two work together.”

“Worthily spoken, Maecenas,” Lepidus said.

Enobarbus said, “Or, if you borrow one another’s friendship for the present but not for the future, you may, when you hear no more words about Sextus Pompey, return it again. You shall have time to wrangle with each other when you have nothing else to do. Pretend to be friends until Pompey is defeated, and then return to hating each other.”

“You are only a soldier and not a statesman: Speak no more,” Mark Antony ordered.

“I had almost forgotten that truth should be silent,” Enobarbus replied.

“You wrong this assembly of distinguished people; therefore, speak no more,” Mark Antony said.

“So be it,” Enobarbus said. “I will be a stone that can think but will not speak.”

“I do not much dislike the content, but I do dislike the manner of Enobarbus’ speech,” Octavius Caesar said, “for it cannot be Mark Antony and I shall remain friends — our characters differ as much as do our actions. Yet if I knew what barrel-hoop should hold us staunchly together, I would pursue it from one edge to the other edge of the world.”

Agrippa, one of Octavius Caesar’s closest associates, said, “Give me permission to speak, Caesar —”

“Speak, Agrippa.”

“You have a sister whom your mother gave birth to. She is the much-admired Octavia,” Agrippa said. “And great Mark Antony is a widower now that his wife, Fulvia, is dead.”

“Don’t say that Mark Antony is a widower,” Octavius Caesar said. “If Cleopatra — who most likely considers Antony to be her husband — heard you, she would deservedly reprove your rashness in speaking.”

“I am not married, Caesar,” Mark Antony said, denying that he was married to Cleopatra. “Let me hear what Agrippa has to say.”

“Here is a way for you two triumvirs to be in perpetual amity, to be brothers, and to join your hearts together with an unslipping knot. Let Antony take Octavia to be his wife. Her beauty claims no worse a husband than the best of men; her virtue and general graces reveal qualities that no other woman possesses. With this marriage, all small suspicions, which now seem great, and all great fears, which now carry with them dangers, would then be nothing. Truths would be then regarded as tales, whereas now half-tales are regarded as truths: Unpleasant facts would then be regarded as tall tales, whereas now malicious gossip is regarded as truths. She would love both of you, and this love would make each of you love the other as well as love her. Please pardon what I have said because it is an idea that I have thought seriously about and is not a sudden and impulsive idea. My duty has caused me to think about a solution to your enmity.”

Mark Antony asked, “What do you say about this, Caesar?”

Octavius Caesar replied, “Caesar will not speak until he hears what Antony thinks about what has already been spoken.”

Mark Antony asked him, “If I would say, ‘Agrippa, I agree to marry Octavia,’ would Agrippa have the power to bring about the marriage?”

Octavius Caesar replied, “He would have the power of Caesar, and of Caesar’s power and influence over Octavia.”

Mark Antony said, “The purpose of the marriage is good and fair, and I hope that I may never dream of putting an impediment in the marriage’s path.”

He said to Octavius Caesar, “Let me have thy hand. Promote this marriage — this act of grace — and from this hour may the hearts of brothers govern our friendship for each other and positively affect our great plans!”

“There is my hand,” Octavius Caesar said.

They shook hands.

He continued, “I bequeath to you a sister whom no brother ever loved so dearly as I love her. May she live to join our Kingdoms and our hearts; and may our friendship for each other never again desert us!”

Octavius Caesar was still suspicious of Mark Antony. In this society, people used the words “thee,” “thou,” and “thy” among intimates. The words “you” and “your” were more formal. Mark Antony had used the intimate “thy” when talking to Caesar, but Caesar had used the formal “you” when talking to Mark Antony.

Lepidus said, “Good! Amen!”

Mark Antony said, “I did not think to draw my sword against Sextus Pompey because he has done unusually great favors for me recently.”

When Mark Antony’s mother had fled from Italy, Pompey had been a good and considerate host to her in Sicily.

Mark Antony said, “I must thank Sextus Pompey, lest I acquire a reputation for not acknowledging good deeds; once that is done, I can defy him.”

Lepidus pointed out that there was no time for that: “Time calls upon us. We must seek and fight Pompey immediately, or else he will seek and fight us.”

“Where is he?” Mark Antony asked.

“Near the mountain Misena in the Bay of Naples,” Octavius Caesar replied.

“What is his strength by land?”

“Great and increasing,” Caesar said, “but he is the absolute master of the sea.”

“So it is reported,” Mark Antony said. “I wish that we had spoken together earlier! We could have gotten a better start on opposing him and perhaps prevented him from gaining so much power! Now we must make haste. Still, before we put ourselves in arms, we need to dispatch the business — the marriage — we have talked about.”

“Very gladly,” Octavius Caesar said. “I invite you to visit and see my sister. Immediately, I will lead you there.”

“Let us, Lepidus, not lack your company,” Mark Antony said.

“Noble Antony, not even sickness would stop me from going with you.”

Everyone left except for Enobarbus and Caesar’s friends Maecenas and Agrippa. These men were able to speak to each other less formally than the triumvirs had.

“Welcome from Egypt, sir,” Maecenas said to Enobarbus.

“You are half the heart of Caesar, worthy Maecenas!” Enobarbus said, implying that Agrippa — the second of Caesar’s two great friends, was the other half.

He added, “My honorable friend, Agrippa!”

“Enobarbus, you are a good man!” Agrippa said.

“We have reason to be glad that the problems between Octavius Caesar and Mark Antony are so well resolved,” Maecenas said, adding, “You had a good time in Egypt.”

“Yes, sir,” Enobarbus said. “We shamed the day by sleeping through it, and we made the night light with drinking. We lit lamps to light the night, and the alcohol we drank at night made us light-headed.”

Maecenas said, “I have heard that eight wild boars were roasted whole for just one breakfast, and only twelve persons were there. Is this true?”

“This was but as a fly in comparison with an eagle,” Enobarbus said. “We had much more monstrous feasts, which worthily deserve to be noted.”

“Cleopatra is a very remarkable lady, if the reports about her are true.”

“When she first met Mark Antony, she pursed up — pocketed — his heart, upon the river of Cydnus,” Enobarbus said.

His words could have had another meaning: When Cleopatra first met Mark Antony on the Cydnus River, she put his “heart” in her “pocket.”

“At the Cydnus River she appeared indeed,” Agrippa said, “or the person who told me that invented interesting lies about her.”

“Let me tell you about that,” Enobarbus said. “The barge that Cleopatra sat in was like a polished throne: It seemed to burn on the water because of the reflections of the barge in the water. The poop deck was decorated with sheets of beaten gold. The sails were purple, and they were so perfumed that the winds were lovesick with them. The oars were made of silver, and they stroked the water in rhythm to the tune of flutes, and they made the water that they beat follow faster, as if the water were amorous of their strokes.

“As for Cleopatra’s own person, it beggared all description. She lay in her pavilion, which was made of a rich fabric that contained threads of gold. Imagine a work of art depicting Venus, goddess of beauty. Imagine further that the artist’s depiction surpasses the real goddess of beauty. Cleopatra was more beautiful than that work of art.

“On each side of her stood pretty dimpled boys, like smiling Cupids, with different-colored fans, whose wind seemed to make glow the delicate cheeks that they cooled, and undid what they had done. The wind from the fans seemed to heat up her cheeks as they cooled her cheeks.”

“How excellent for Antony!” Agrippa said.

“Cleopatra’s gentlewomen, like the sea-nymphs called the Nereides, like so many mermaids, tended her in the bows and took care of the tackle and ropes, and the knots they made in the ropes were ornaments. At the helm a gentlewoman who resembled a mermaid steered: The silken tackle swelled with the touches of those flower-soft hands that efficiently performed their duty. From the barge a strange invisible perfume hit the senses of the adjacent riverbanks. The city cast her people out so that they could see her; and Antony, enthroned in the marketplace, sat alone, whistling to the air — air that, except that it would cause a vacuum, would have gone to gaze upon Cleopatra, too, and made a gap in nature.”

“Cleopatra is an extraordinary Egyptian!” Agrippa said.

“Upon her landing, Antony sent to her and invited her to supper,” Enobarbus continued. “She replied that it would be better if he became her guest, and she invited him to supper. Our courteous Antony, who has never said the word ‘no’ to a woman, after having his hair arranged ten times, went to the feast, and for his ‘ordinary’ meal pays his heart for what only his eyes eat.”

“She is a royal wench!” Agrippa said. “She made great Julius Caesar turn his sword into a plowshare and go to bed. He plowed her, and she bore him a crop: She gave birth to Caesarion, his son.”

Enobarbus said, “I saw her once hop forty paces through the public street; having lost her breath, she spoke, and panted. She made what should have been a defect a perfection; her lack of breath spoke for her.”

“Now Antony must leave her utterly,” Maecenas said.

“Never; he will not,” Enobarbus said. “Age cannot wither her, nor custom make stale her infinite variety: other women cloy — sicken with excessive sweetness — the appetites they feed, but she makes hungry where she most satisfies because the vilest things seem becoming in her — the holy priests bless her when she is lecherous.”

Maecenas said, “If beauty, wisdom, and modesty can settle the restless heart of Antony, Octavia will be a blessed prize to him.”

“Let us go,” Agrippa said. “Good Enobarbus, make yourself my guest while you abide here.”

“Sir, I humbly thank you,” Enobarbus replied.

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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