David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 3, Scene 2

— 3.2 —

Agrippa, who served Octavius Caesar, and Enobarbus, who served Mark Antony, talked together in an antechamber in the house where Octavius Caesar was staying.

Agrippa asked, “What, are the brothers parted?”

He was referring to Sextus Pompey and the three triumvirs — Caesar, Antony, and Lepidus — who had been celebrating the peace treaty with feasts and drunkenness.

Enobarbus replied, “They have finished their business with Sextus Pompey. He has gone; the other three are sealing their copies of the peace treaty. Octavia weeps because she must leave Rome. Caesar is sad and serious; and Lepidus, since Sextus Pompey’s feast, as Menas says, is troubled with the greensickness.”

The greensickness was an anemic condition suffered by young teenaged girls, and people thought that lovesickness caused it. Enobarbus was calling Lepidus’ hangover the greensickness because Lepidus was known for very highly praising his fellow triumvirs.

“It is a noble Lepidus,” Agrippa said.

“A very fine and elegant one,” Enobarbus said.

He was engaging in wordplay. In Latin, lepidus meant fine and elegant.

He added, “Oh, how he loves Caesar!”

“How dearly he adores Mark Antony!” Agrippa said.

“Caesar? Why, he’s the Jupiter of men!”

“What’s Antony? The god of Jupiter!”

“Did you speak of Caesar? Wow! The nonpareil! He has no equal!” Enobarbus said.

“Oh, Antony! Oh, you Arabian bird!”

The Arabian bird was the mythological Phoenix. Only one existed at a time, and when it grew old, it burned and then a young bird arose out of the ashes.

“If you want to praise Caesar, say ‘Caesar,’” Enobarbus said. “You need say nothing more. No praise is higher than that!”

“Indeed, Lepidus plied them both with excellent praises,” Agrippa said.

“But he loves Caesar best; yet he loves Antony,” Enobarbus said. “Hearts cannot think, tongues cannot speak, numbers cannot calculate, scribes cannot write, bards cannot sing, poets cannot make verses that will adequately describe Lepidus’ love for Antony. But as for Lepidus’ love for Caesar, kneel down, kneel down, and wonder.”

“Lepidus loves Caesar and Antony.”

“They are his wings, and he is their beetle,” Enobarbus said.

Trumpets sounded, and he added, “This is the sign that soon we must mount our horses and leave. Adieu, noble Agrippa.”

“May you have good fortune, worthy soldier; and farewell.”

Octavius Caesar, Mark Antony, Lepidus, and Octavia entered the room.

“You need make that point no further, sir,” Mark Antony said to Octavius Caesar.

“You take from me a great part of myself,” Caesar replied, referring to Octavia, his sister, whom Antony had married. “Treat me well by treating my sister well.”

He added, “Sister, prove to be such a wife as I think you are — I would give my utmost bond that you will be a good and honorable wife.”

He then said, “Most noble Antony, let not this masterpiece of virtue, who is set between us as the cement of our friendship to keep it strong, be the ram to batter at its fortress, for we might better have been friendly without this means of forming an alliance, if on both parts Octavia is not cherished.”

“Don’t offend me by your mistrust,” Mark Antony replied.

“I mean what I said,” Octavius Caesar said.

“You shall not find, even if you search for it, the least cause for what you seem to fear, so may the gods keep you safe, and make the hearts of Romans serve your ends! We will here part.”

“Farewell, my dearest sister; may you fare well,” Caesar said to Octavia. “May the elements be kind to you, and your spirits be all of comfort! Fare you well.”

“My noble brother!” Octavia said.

She wept.

“The April is in her eyes: It is love’s spring, and these showers of tears bring it on,” Mark Antony said. “Be cheerful.”

Octavia said to her brother, “Sir, look well after my husband’s house; and …”

She hesitated.

“What, Octavia?” Caesar asked.

“I’ll whisper it to you.”

Octavia had been previously married, but she had been widowed, and she wanted her brother to look after the house of her first husband.

Antony said to himself, “Her tongue will not obey her heart, nor can her heart inform her tongue. Her tongue is like a feather of a swan’s down that stands still upon the swell at full tide. The tide neither ebbs nor flows, and so the feather stands still. Octavia’s loyalties are divided between her brother and her husband, and neither is stronger than the other.”

Enobarbus and Agrippa spoke together quietly.

Enobarbus said, “Is Caesar going to cry?”

“It looks like it. He has a cloud in his face.”

“He would be the worse for that, if he were a horse: A dark spot on the face of a horse lowers the value of the horse. Caesar being a man, the cloud lowers his value: Men ought not to cry.”

Agrippa replied, “Why, Enobarbus, when Antony found Julius Caesar dead, he cried almost to roaring; and he wept when at Philippi he found Brutus slain.”

“That year, indeed, he was troubled with a rheum that made his eyes water. What he killed willingly in wartime, he wailed — believe it — until I wept, too.”

Caesar said, “No, sweet Octavia. You shall hear from me continually. The time shall not outrace my thinking about you — I will always be thinking about you.”

“Come, sir, come; I’ll wrestle with you in my strength of friendship for you,” Antony said.

He embraced Caesar and said, “Look, here I have you; now I let you go, and I give you to the gods.”

Caesar said, “Adieu; be happy!”

Lepidus said, “Let all the numerous stars light your fair way!”

“Farewell, farewell!” Caesar said.

He kissed his sister.

“Farewell!” Mark Antony said.

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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