David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 3, Scenes 4-6

— 3.4 —

In a room in Mark Antony’s house in Athens, Greece, Antony and Octavia were speaking.

Mark Antony complained, “No, no, Octavia, not only that — that is excusable, that, and thousands more of similar importance — but Octavius Caesar has waged new wars against Sextus Pompey. Caesar also made his will, and read it aloud to the public, no doubt to gain the public’s favor by leaving the citizens good things. He has spoken only scantly of me. When he could not avoid praising me, he spoke his praise coldly and sickly. He has given me very little praise and credit. When he had the opportunity to praise me publicly, he spoke that praise only grudgingly.”

Octavia replied, “Oh, my good lord, don’t believe all you hear, or if you must believe it, don’t resent all you hear. If you and my brother should quarrel, an unhappier lady has never stood between two parties, praying for both. The good gods will mock and laugh at me when I pray, ‘Oh, bless my lord and husband!’ and undo that prayer by crying out as loudly, ‘Oh, bless my brother!’ When I pray that my husband wins, and I pray that my brother wins, I destroy my prayers because my prayers are contradictory. There is no middle ground at all between these opposing prayers.”

“Gentle Octavia, let your best love support the side that seeks best to preserve your love and support you,” Mark Antony said. “If I lose my honor, I lose myself. It would be better if I were not yours than to be yours so branchless — so pruned of honor. But, as you requested, you shall go and try to make peace between your brother and me. In the meantime, lady, I’ll raise the preparation of an army that shall eclipse that of your brother. Make your soonest haste; this is something you want to do.”

“Thank you, my lord,” Octavia said. “May the Jove of power make me, who am most weak, the reconciler of my brother and you! A war between you two would be as if the world should be split in two and slain men thrown into the rift to fill it up.”

“When you learn who is responsible for this rift, turn your displeasure that way — be angry at that person,” Mark Antony said. “My faults and your brother’s faults can never be so equal that your love can equally move with them. You must be angry at one of us. Provide for your journey. Choose your own company, and spend whatever amount of money you want to.”

— 3.5 —

In a room of Mark Antony’s house in Athens, Greece, Enobarbus and Eros, one of Mark Antony’s friends, spoke.

“How are you, friend Eros?”

“There’s strange news come, sir.”

“What news, man?”

“Octavius Caesar and Lepidus have made war upon Sextus Pompey.”

“That is old news. What is the outcome? Who won?”

“Octavius Caesar, having made use of Lepidus in the war against Sextus Pompey, immediately denied him partnership and equality; Caesar would not let Lepidus partake in the glory of the action. Not satisfied with that insult, Caesar accused Lepidus of treachery in letters that Lepidus had formerly written to Sextus Pompey. Upon Caesar’s own charge and with no other evidence, Caesar arrested Lepidus. The weakest triumvir is shut up in prison until death frees him.”

Enobarbus replied, “Then, world, you have a pair of jaws, and no more. And if you throw between them all the food you have, they’ll grind the one against the other. Caesar and Antony will come to blows; they will make war against each other. Where’s Antony?”

“He’s walking in the garden, and he kicks the rushes that lie before him, like this” — Eros imitated an angry Antony. “He cries, ‘Lepidus, you are a fool!’ — and he threatens to cut the throat of his officer who murdered Sextus Pompey.”

“Our great navy’s rigged and ready to sail,” Domitius Enobarbus said.

“To Italy and Caesar,” Eros said. “I have more to say, Domitius, but Antony, my lord, wants to see you immediately. I should have told you my news later.”

“My being a minute late won’t matter. So be it. Take me to Antony.”

“Come, sir.”

— 3.6 —

In a room in Octavius Caesar’s house in Rome, Caesar, Agrippa, and Maecenas were speaking.

“Contemptuous of Rome, Mark Antony has done all this, and more, in Alexandria, Egypt. Here’s what he did. In the marketplace, on a silvered platform, Cleopatra and Antony were publicly enthroned in chairs of gold. At their feet sat Caesarion, whom they call my father’s son.”

Octavius Caesar was the great-nephew of Julius Caesar, but Julius had adopted Octavius as his son. Caesarion was reputed to be Julius Caesar’s son by Cleopatra.

Octavius added, “Also sitting at their feet were all the illegitimate children that the lust of Antony and Cleopatra has made between them. To her he gave the confirmed possession of Egypt; he also made her absolute Queen of lower Syria, Cyprus, and Lydia.”

“He did all this in the public eye?” Maecenas asked.

“In the public ground for shows,” Octavius Caesar replied. “His sons he there proclaimed the Kings of Kings. He gave to Alexander great Media, Parthia, and Armenia. To Ptolemy he assigned Syria, Cilicia, and Phoenicia. Cleopatra that day appeared wearing the attire of the goddess Isis. She has often appeared dressed that way when she gives audience — so it is reported.”

“Let Rome be thus informed,” Maecenas said. “The Romans should know about this.”

“The Roman people, who are already sick of Antony’s insolence, will cease to think well of him,” Agrippa said.

“The Roman people already know about his actions; and they have now received Antony’s accusations.”

“Whom does he accuse?”

“Me, Caesar. He charges that, once we defeated Sextus Pompey and took Sicily as our spoils, we did not give him his part of the island of Sicily. He also says that he lent me some ships that I did not return to him. Lastly, he frets that Lepidus has been deposed from the triumvirate and that we keep all of Lepidus’ revenue.”

“Sir, these charges should be answered,” Agrippa advised.

“My reply has already been written,” Octavius Caesar said, “and the messenger has gone to deliver it to Mark Antony. I have told him that Lepidus had grown too cruel and had abused his high authority, and therefore he deserved his change of fortune from triumvir to prisoner. As for what I have conquered, I am willing to grant him part, but in turn I demand part of Armenia and the other Kingdoms he has conquered.”

“He’ll never agree to that,” Maecenas said.

“Then we will not agree to give him part of Sicily,” Caesar replied.

Octavia and a train of attendants entered the room.

She said to her brother, “Hail, Caesar, and my lord! Hail, most dear Caesar!”

“It’s a pity that I should ever call you cast away — rejected and discarded!” Octavius Caesar said.

“You have never called me that before, nor do you have cause to call me that now.”

“Why have you stolen upon us like this!” Octavius Caesar said. “We did not expect you! You came here not like Caesar’s sister should. The wife of Mark Antony should have an army for an escort, and the neighs of horses should give notice of her approach long before she appears. The trees by the road should have been full of men waiting to see you. People should grow faint as they wait and long to see you. Indeed, the dust raised by the many troops escorting you should have ascended to the roof of Heaven, but instead you have come to Rome like a maiden going to the marketplace. You have forestalled us from showing you our love for you with a great public display. Without such a public display, people may think that I do not love you. If we had known you were coming, we would have met you by sea and by land. At each stage of your journey to Rome, we would have given you a greater greeting.”

“My good lord,” Octavia said. “I was not forced to come to Rome so quietly. I did it of my own free will. My lord, Mark Antony, hearing that you were preparing for war, acquainted my grieving ear with the news. Whereupon, I begged his permission for me to return to Rome to try to make peace between you two.”

“A return that he quickly granted because you are an obstacle between his lust and him,” Octavius Caesar said.

“Do not say that, my lord.”

“I have eyes spying on him, and news of his affairs come to me on the wind,” Caesar said. “Where do you think he is now?”

“My lord, he is in Athens, Greece.”

“No, my most wronged sister,” Octavius Caesar said. “Cleopatra nodded at him, and he went to her. He has given his empire up to a whore; and they are now levying the Kings of the earth for war. Antony has assembled to fight for them Bocchus, King of Libya; Archelaus, King of Cappadocia; Philadelphos, King of Paphlagonia; the Thracian King, Adallas; King Malchus of Arabia; the King of Pont; Herod of Judea; Mithridates, King of Comagene; Polemon and Amyntas, the Kings of Mede and Lycaonia, with a longer list of those who wield scepters.”

“I am very wretched,” Octavia said. “I have divided my heart between two friends who afflict each other!”

“You are welcome here,” her brother said. Using the royal plural, he said, “Your letters delayed the break between Antony and me until we perceived both how you were wrongly led and how we were in danger through neglecting to prepare for war. Cheer your heart. Do not be troubled by the times, which drive these strong necessities over your happiness. Instead, let things that are fated to happen occur without crying over them. Welcome to Rome; nothing is dearer to me than you are. Antony has abused you beyond what can be thought, and the high gods, to give you justice, make us who love you their agents. Be comforted as best you can; we always welcome you.”

“Welcome, lady,” Agrippa said.

“Welcome, dear madam,” Maecenas said. “Each heart in Rome loves and pities you. Only the adulterous Antony, most unrestrained in his abominations, turns you away and gives his mighty authority to a whore who clamors against us and turns Antony’s mighty authority against us.”

“Is this true, sir?” Octavia asked her brother.

“It is most certainly true,” Octavius Caesar replied. “Sister, welcome. Please, be patient and calm. You are my dear sister!”

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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