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

— 3.3 —

In a room in Cleopatra’s palace in Alexandria, Egypt, Cleopatra, Charmian, Iras, and Alexas were speaking.

“Where is the fellow — the messenger I beat?” Cleopatra asked.

“Half afraid to come,” Alexas replied.

“Nonsense,” Cleopatra said. “Nonsense.”

The messenger whom Cleopatra had previously beaten entered the room.

“Come here, sir,” she said to him.

Alexas said, “Good majesty, King Herod of Judea dare not look upon you except when you are well pleased.”

“I’ll have that Herod’s head, but how can I get it, when Antony is gone? If Antony were here, I could have him get me Herod’s head,” Cleopatra said.

She ordered the messenger, “Come near me.”

“Most gracious majesty —” the messenger began.

“Did you see Octavia?” Cleopatra asked.

“Yes, dread Queen.”

“Where?”

“Madam, in Rome. I looked her in the face, and saw her led between her brother and Mark Antony.”

“Is she as tall as me?”

“She is not, madam.”

“Did you hear her speak? Is she shrill-tongued or low-voiced?”

“Madam, I heard her speak; she is low-voiced.”

“That’s not so good for her; Mark Antony cannot like her long.”

“Like her!” Charmian, who was loyal to Cleopatra, said. “Oh, Isis! That is impossible.”

“I think so, too, Charmian,” Cleopatra said. “Octavia is dull of tongue, and dwarfish!”

She asked the messenger, “What majesty is in her gait? Remember, if ever you looked on majesty. You know what a majestic walk is!”

“She creeps,” the messenger said. “Her motion and her standing still are similar. She shows a body rather than a life; she seems to be more dead than alive; she seems to be a statue more than a living, breathing person.”

“Is this true?”

“If it isn’t, then I have no powers of observation.”

Charmian said, “Not three people in Egypt have better powers of observation than this messenger.”

Cleopatra said, “He’s very knowledgeable; I do perceive it. There’s nothing for me to be worried about in Octavia yet. The fellow has good judgment.”

“He has excellent judgment,” Charmian said.

“Guess how old she is, please,” Cleopatra said to the messenger.

“Madam, she was a widow —”

“Widow! Charmian, do you hear that!”

“And I do think she’s thirty,” the messenger said.

Antony married Octavia in 40 B.C.E., when Cleopatra was twenty-nine years old. The pact of Misenum between Sextus Pompey and the three triumvirs occurred in 39 B.C.E., when Cleopatra was thirty years old. Both Octavia and Cleopatra were born in the same year: 69 B.C.E.

“Do you remember her face? Is it long or round?” Cleopatra asked.

“Round even to faultiness.”

“For the most part, too, people who have round faces are foolish,” Cleopatra said. “Her hair, what is its color?”

“Brown, madam: and her forehead is as low as she would wish it.”

This was a way of saying that she had a low forehead and would not wish it to be lower. In this society, high foreheads were valued.

“There’s gold for you,” Cleopatra said, giving the messenger money. “You must not take my former sharpness with you ill. I will employ you to go back to Antony again. I find you very suitable for that business. Go and prepare to travel; our letters are prepared for you to deliver them.”

The messenger exited.

“He is a proper and excellent man,” Charmian said.

“Indeed, he is,” Cleopatra said. “I much repent that I so harried him. Why, I think, based on what he said, this creature Octavia is nothing for me to worry about.”

“She is nothing, madam,” Charmian said.

“The man has seen some majesty, and he should know.”

“Has he seen majesty?” Charmian said. “Isis forbid that he should say otherwise! He has served you so long!”

“I have one thing more to ask him yet, good Charmian,” Cleopatra said, “but it is not important. You shall bring him to me where I will write. All may be well enough.”

“I assure you that all will be well, madam,” Charmian said.

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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