David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 3, Scene 7

— 3.7 —

Near Mark Antony’s camp in Actium, Cleopatra and Enobarbus were speaking.

“I will talk straight with you — don’t doubt it,” Cleopatra said.

“But why, why, why?”

“You have spoken against my being in these wars, and say it is not fitting.”

“Well, is it? Is it?”

Using the royal plural, Cleopatra replied, “The war has been declared against us, so why shouldn’t we be there in person?”

“Well, I could reply with this: If we should serve with stallions and mares together, the stallions would be utterly lost; the mares would bear a soldier and a stallion. Both a soldier and a stallion would ride the mare.”

“What do you mean?”

“Your presence in the battle necessarily must confuse and distract Antony; your presence would take from his heart, take from his brain, and take from his time what should not then be spared. You will fluster his heart and his head, and he will have to devote time to you. He is already criticized for levity; and it is said in Rome that Photinus, the eunuch Mardian, and your maidens are in charge of managing this war.”

“May Rome sink and may the Romans’ tongues that speak against us rot!” Cleopatra said, using the royal plural. “We bear the expense of the war, and, as the ruler of my Kingdom, we will appear there just like a man. Don’t speak against it. I will not stay behind.”

“I won’t bring this up again,” Enobarbus said. “I have finished. Here comes the Emperor.”

Mark Antony and Canidius, a Lieutenant General, entered the room.

Antony said, “Isn’t it strange, Canidius, that Octavius Caesar could cross so quickly the Ionian Sea from Tarentum and Brundusium and capture the city of Toryne in Greece?”

He then asked Cleopatra, “Have you heard this news, sweet?”

“Celerity is never more wondered at than by the negligent,” she replied.

“This is a good rebuke, and it can remind even the best of men to taunt slackness,” Antony said, adding, “Canidius, we will fight Caesar by sea.”

“By sea,” Cleopatra said. “Of course!”

“Why will my lord do that?” Canidius asked.

“Because Octavius Caesar dares us to do it.”

“But my lord has dared Caesar to fight him in single combat,” Enobarbus said.

“True, and to wage this battle at Pharsalia, where Julius Caesar fought Pompey the Great,” Canidius said, “but these challenges, which do not give Caesar the advantage, he shakes off and ignores. Like Caesar, you should ignore challenges that do not give you an advantage.”

Enobarbus said, “Your ships are not well manned; your mariners are mule drivers, reapers of harvests, people who have been quickly gotten together through being drafted. In Caesar’s fleet are those who have often fought against Sextus Pompey. Their ships are nimble; yours are heavy. You will suffer no disgrace for refusing to fight Octavius Caesar at sea because you are prepared to fight him on land.”

“I will fight him by sea — by sea,” Mark Antony replied.

“Most worthy sir,” Enobarbus said, “you thereby throw away the excellent military force you have on land. You split up your army, which mostly consists of war-scarred infantry. You leave unused your own renowned military knowledge. You quite forego the way that promises assurance of victory, and from firm security you give yourself over entirely to chance and hazard.”

“I’ll fight at sea,” Antony said.

“I have sixty ships,” Cleopatra said. “Caesar has none better.”

“Our surplus of ships we will burn,” Antony said, “and, with the rest fully manned, from the head of Actium we will beat the approaching Caesar. But if we fail, we then can beat him back by land.”

A messenger entered the room.

Mark Antony asked him, “What is your business here?”

The messenger said, “The news is true, my lord; Octavius Caesar has been sighted. Caesar has conquered Toryne.”

“Can Caesar be there in person?” Mark Antony asked. “It is impossible; it is strange that his army should be there.”

He then said, “Canidius, our nineteen legions you shall hold by land, and our twelve thousand cavalry. We will go to our ship.”

To Cleopatra, he said, “Let’s leave, my Thetis!”

Thetis was a sea-goddess and the mother of the Greek hero Achilles, who fought and died in the Trojan War.

A soldier entered the room.

Mark Antony asked him, “How are you, worthy soldier?”

“Oh, noble Emperor, do not fight by sea,” the soldier said. “Trust not to rotten planks. Do you mistrust this sword and these my wounds? Let the Egyptians and the Phoenicians go swimming in the sea; we are used to conquer while standing on the earth, and fighting foot to foot.”

Mark Antony said merely, “Well, well,” and then he said, “Let’s go!”

Antony, Cleopatra, and Enobarbus departed.

“By Hercules, I think I am in the right,” the soldier said.

“Soldier, you are in the right,” Canidius said, “but Antony’s whole plan of military action is not based on his strengths. Our leader is led by a woman, and we are the servingmen of women.”

“You keep by land the legions and the cavalry undivided, don’t you?” the soldier asked.

“Marcus Octavius, Marcus Justeius, Publicola, and Caelius will fight at sea, but we keep ourselves whole and undivided by land,” Canidius replied.

He added, “This speed of Caesar’s shoots him forward beyond belief.”

“While he was still in Rome, his military forces went out in such bits and pieces that all spies were fooled.”

“Do you know who is Caesar’s Lieutenant General?”

“They say, one Taurus.”

“I know the man well,” Canidius said.

A messenger entered the room and said, “The Emperor is calling for Canidius to come to him.”

“The times are pregnant with news and give birth, each minute, to something new.”

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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