David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 2, Scene 7

— 2.7 —

Music was playing on Sextus Pompey’s vessel. Two servants whose job was to serve food talked to each other. They had brought into the room wine, fruit, and desserts. Music was playing.

The first servant said, “Here they’ll be, man — on the floor. Some of their plants — the soles of their feet — are ill rooted already: The least wind in the world will blow them down. They are drunk, and they are staggering.”

“Lepidus is high-colored,” the second servant said. “His face is flushed from drinking too much alcohol.”

“They have made him drink alms-drink.”

“Whenever their differing dispositions irritate each other, Lepidus cries out, ‘No more arguing.’ He reconciles them to his entreaty, and then he reconciles himself to drinking all the toasts they propose.”

“But it raises the greater war between him and his sobriety.”

“Why, this is what it means to have a name in great men’s fellowship. Lepidus is by far the weakest of the three triumvirs. I prefer to have a reed that will do me no service as a weapon than to have a two-edged spear I cannot throw.”

“To be called into a huge sphere of influence, and not to be seen to have influence in it is similar to a blind man’s eye sockets that are empty where the eyes should be. This pitifully ruins the cheeks.”

Octavius Caesar, Mark Antony, Lepidus, Sextus Pompey, Agrippa, Maecenas, Enobarbus, Menas, and others entered the room.

In a middle of a conversation, Mark Antony said to Octavius Caesar, “Thus do they, sir: they measure the flow of the Nile River by certain markings on an obelisk; they know, by the height, the lowness, or the mean, if dearth or foison — famine or feast — follow. The higher the Nile swells and floods, the better it is for agriculture. As the flood ebbs, the farmer scatters his grain upon the slime and ooze, and shortly afterward reaps the harvest.”

“You’ve strange serpents there,” Lepidus said.

“Yes, Lepidus,” Mark Antony replied.

“Your serpent of Egypt is bred now of your mud by the operation of your Sun,” Lepidus said. “So is your crocodile.”

Lepidus was referring to an outdated and unscientific belief that the Sun’s shining on the mud causes the creation of living snakes. He extended this belief to also apply to crocodiles.

“That is true,” Mark Antony replied.

“Sit — and drink some wine!” Sextus Pompey said. “Drink a toast to Lepidus!”

“I am not as well as I should be, but I’ll never drop out of drinking a toast,” Lepidus said.

“Not until you go to sleep,” Enobarbus said. “I am afraid that you’ll be deep in drink until then.”

“Certainly, I have heard the Ptolemies’ pyramises are very goodly things,” Lepidus said, trying to pronounce the word “pyramids.” He added, “Without contradiction, I have heard that.”

Menas said quietly to Sextus Pompey, “May I have a word with you?”

Sextus Pompey replied, “Whisper in my ear and tell me.”

Menas said quietly, “Leave your seat and let’s talk alone, please.”

“Not now,” Sextus Pompey replied. “Leave me alone for a while.”

He said loudly, “Drink this wine in honor of Lepidus!”

Lepidus asked, “What manner of thing is your crocodile?”

Making fun of Lepidus, Mark Antony replied, “It is shaped, sir, like itself; and it is as broad as it has breadth. It is just as high as it is, and it moves with its own organs. It lives by eating that which nourishes it, and once the elements of life are out of it, its soul transmigrates into another animal.”

“What color is it?” Lepidus asked.

“It is of its own color, too.”

“It is a strange serpent.”

“True, it is. And its tears are wet.”

Octavius Caesar asked, “Will this description satisfy Lepidus?”

Mark Antony replied, “It will, because of all of the alcohol that Sextus Pompey gave him. If this description does not satisfy Lepidus, he is a complete epicure.”

The word “epicure” had two meanings. An epicure is a person who takes pleasure in eating and drinking. Applied to Lepidus in this situation, it meant “glutton for drinking.”

Also, the word “epicure” was a play on “Epicurean.” The philosopher Epicurus and his followers did not believe in an afterlife and so would not believe in the transmigration of souls.

Menas whispered to Sextus Pompey, who responded, “Damn, sir! Damn! You want to talk to me now! Go away! Do as I order you!”

Sextus Pompey said out loud, “Where’s the cup of wine I called for?”

Menas said quietly to Sextus Pompey, “If for the sake of my merit you will listen to me, rise from your stool.”

“I think you are mad,” Sextus Pompey replied. “What is the matter?”

Sextus Pompey stood up, and he and Menas walked to a place where they could talk privately.

“I have always been a good follower of yours,” Menas said. “I have always held my cap off to your fortunes.”

In this society, servants and attendants were bareheaded when in the company of those they served.

“You have served me with much faith,” Sextus Pompey acknowledged. “What else do you have to say?”

Sextus Pompey said out loud, “Be jolly, lords.”

Mark Antony said to Lepidus, who was staggering, “Watch out for the quicksands, Lepidus. Keep off them, for you are sinking.”

Menas said to Sextus Pompey, “Would you like to be lord of all the world?”

“What are you saying?”

“Would you like to be lord of all the world? That’s the second time I said it.”

“How can that ever happen?”

“Entertain the thought in your mind,” Menas said, “and although you think that I am poor, I am the man who will give you all the world.”

“Have you drunk well tonight?” Sextus Pompey asked.

“No, Sextus Pompey, I have kept myself away from the cup. You are, if you dare to be, the Earthly Jove. The god Jove is the ruler of the sky; you can be the ruler of the Earth. Whatever the ocean fences in, or the sky embraces, is yours, if you will have it.”

“Show me the way this is possible,” Sextus Pompey said.

“These three world-sharers, these competitors and associates, these triumvirs are in your vessel. Let me cut the anchor cable, and when we are away from shore, I will cut their throats. Everything then is yours.”

“All this you should have done, and not have spoken to me about it ahead of time!” Sextus Pompey said. “For me to do that would be villainous. For you to have done that would have been good service. You must know that it is not my profit that leads my honor; rather, my honor leads my profit. To me, honor is more important than profit. Repent that your tongue has so betrayed your act. If you had done this without my knowing about it, I would afterwards have thought it well done, but now I must condemn it. Think no more about doing this, and drink.”

Sextus Pompey returned to the others.

Alone, Menas said to himself, “Because of this, I’ll never follow your weakened fortunes any more. Whoever seeks something, and will not take it when once it is offered, shall never find it again.”

Sextus Pompey said loudly, “Drink to the health of Lepidus!”

“He is unconscious. Carry him ashore,” Mark Antony said. “I’ll drink it for him, Sextus Pompey.”

Whenever someone was toasted, that person was obligated to drink a full cup of wine. Because Lepidus was incapacitated, Antony drank the wine for him.

Enobarbus said, “Here’s to you, Menas!”

“Enobarbus, welcome!” Menas replied.

Sextus Pompey said, “Fill the cup until it overflows.”

Enobarbus pointed to the attendant who was carrying off Lepidus and said, “There’s a strong fellow, Menas.”

“Why do you think so?”

“He is carrying the third part of the world, man. Do you see it? He is carrying off a triumvir who rules a third of the world.”

“The third part, then, is drunk. I wish that all of the world were drunk so that it might go on wheels and spin quickly!”

“Drink up,” Enobarbus said. “By drinking, you can increase your own giddiness and spinning.”

“Come, let’s drink,” Menas said.

“This is not yet an Alexandrian feast,” Sextus Pompey said.

He was referring to Cleopatra’s feasts in Alexandria, Egypt.

“It ripens towards it,” Mark Antony said. “Clink the cups against each other. Here’s to Caesar!”

“I could well do without another toast,” Octavius Caesar said. “This is an unnatural labor. I wash my brain with alcohol, and it grows fouler.”

“Be a child of the time,” Mark Antony said. “Enjoy the party.”

“Drink your cup,” Caesar said. “I’ll answer by drinking mine. But I had rather fast from everything for four days than drink so much in one day.”

Enobarbus said to Mark Antony, “My brave Emperor, shall we dance now the Egyptian Bacchanals, and celebrate our wine?”

“Let’s do it, good soldier,” Sextus Pompey said.

“Come, let’s all take hands and dance until the conquering wine has steeped our senses in the soft and delicate Lethe, the river of forgetfulness.”

“Everybody, take hands,” Enobarbus said. “Make an assault against our ears with the loud music. I will put you where you will stand for dancing, and then the boy shall sing. The refrain every man shall sing as loud as his strong sides can volley.”

Music played, and Enobarbus made sure that everyone was in the proper position.

A boy sang this song:

Come, you monarch of the vine,

Plump Bacchus with pink, half-closed eyes!

In your vats our cares be drowned,

With your grapes our hair be crowned.”

Everybody sang the chorus:

Fill our cups, until the world spins round,

Fill our cups, until the world spins round!

“What more can anyone wish for tonight?” Octavius Caesar said. “Sextus Pompey, good night. Mark Antony, you good brother-in-law, let me request that we leave the vessel and go on shore. Our graver and more serious business frowns at this levity. Gentle lords, let’s part. You see that we have burnt our cheeks — our faces are flushed from the alcohol we have drunk. Strong Enobarbus is weaker than the wine; and my own tongue slurs what it speaks. This wild and disorderly performance has almost made fools of us all. I don’t need to say anything more. Good night. Good Antony, give me your hand.”

They shook hands.

Sextus Pompey said to Mark Antony, “We’ll have a drinking match on shore.”

“We shall, sir,” Mark Antony replied. “Give me your hand.”

“Antony, you have my father’s house, but so what? We are friends,” the drunk Sextus Pompey said, adding, “Come, everyone, I will show you the way down into the boat.”

Enobarbus advised, “Be careful that you don’t fall.”

Everyone departed except for Enobarbus and Menas.

Enobarbus said, “Menas, I won’t go on shore.”

“No,” Menas said. “Go to my cabin.”

He ordered the musicians, “These drums! These trumpets! Flutes! Let Neptune hear us bid a loud farewell to these great fellows who are leaving. Make music and be hanged — make your music loud!”

The music played loudly.

Enobarbus tossed his cap into the air and yelled, “Yahoo! There’s my cap.”

“Yahoo!” Menas yelled, and then he said, “Noble captain, come with me.”

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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