“Antony and Cleopatra”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 3, Scenes 8-11

— 3.8 —

On a plain near Actium on 2 September 31 B.C.E., Octavius Caesar talked with Taurus, his Lieutenant General.


“My lord?”

“Strike not by land; keep the land forces whole and undivided. Do not provoke a land battle until the sea battle is completed.”

He gave Taurus a scroll and said, “Do not exceed the orders given to you in this scroll. Our fortune lies upon this gamble.”

— 3.9 —

On another part of the plain, Mark Antony was talking to Enobarbus.

Antony said, “We are setting our squadrons on the other side of the hill, in sight of Caesar’s battle line of ships; from which place we can count the number of his ships, and proceed accordingly.”

— 3.10 —

Later, after the sea battle was nearly over and Octavius Caesar had triumphed over Mark Antony and Cleopatra, Enobarbus mourned.

“Ruined,” Enobarbus mourned. “All is ruined — ruined! I can’t bear to look any longer! The Antoniad, the Egyptian flagship, with all of Egypt’s sixty ships, fled and turned the rudder. Seeing it has blighted my eyes.”

A soldier named Scarus walked over to Enobarbus and cursed, “Gods and goddesses, the whole assembly of them!”

“What’s the matter with you?”

“The greater part of the world has been lost through utter stupidity,” Scarus said. “We have kissed away Kingdoms and provinces.”

“How does the battle look like now?”

“On our side it looks like the signs of a plague where death is sure to follow. Yonder ribald and debauched nag of Egypt — I hope the much-ridden Cleopatra catches leprosy! — in the midst of the fight at sea, when the two sides appeared equally matched like twins, with no advantage on either side, or perhaps we appeared to be the elder twin and so had a slight advantage, she hoisted her sails and fled as if she were a cow in June that had been bitten by a gadfly.”

“I witnessed that,” Enobarbus said. “My eyes sickened at the sight, and they could not endure a further view.”

“Cleopatra once being sailed into the wind and having put distance between herself and Caesar’s ships, the noble ruin of her magic, Mark Antony, clapped on his sea-wings — his sails — and, like a doting duck, leaving the fight at its height, fled after her. I never saw such a shameful action; experience, manhood, and honor have never before so violated themselves.”

“Damn! Damn!” Enobarbus said.

Canidius walked over to the two men.

“Our fortune on the sea is out of breath, and sinks most lamentably,” Canidius said. “Had our general been what he knew himself to be, the battle would have gone well, but he has given us an example for our own flight, most grossly and blatantly, by his own flight!”

“Are you thinking about fleeing and deserting?” Enobarbus asked. “Why, then, good night to our hopes indeed.”

“Mark Antony and Cleopatra have fled toward the Peloponnesus in Greece,” Canidius said.

“It is easy to get to,” Scarus said, “and there I will await what happens next.”

“To Caesar will I surrender my legions and my cavalry,” Canidius said. “Six Kings already have surrendered and through their example show me how to yield to Octavius Caesar.”

Enobarbus said, “I’ll continue to follow the wounded fortunes of Antony, although my reason tells me not to. My reason sits in the wind against me. My scent blows toward it, and it tracks and hunts me. I should go in the opposite direction — away from Mark Antony.”

— 3.11 —

In a room of Cleopatra’s palace in Alexandria, Mark Antony, accompanied by some attendants, was mourning the lost sea battle at Actium.

“Listen!” he said. “The land orders me to tread no more upon it — it is ashamed to bear me! Friends, come here. I am so belated in the world — I am like a traveler who has failed to reach shelter before dark — that I have lost my way forever: I have a ship that is laden with gold; take that, divide it; flee, and make your peace with Octavius Caesar.”

His attendants replied, “Flee? We won’t flee!”

“I myself have fled,” Antony said, “and I have instructed cowards to run and show to the enemy the backs of their shoulders. Friends, leave me. I have myself resolved upon a course of action that has no need of you, so be gone.”

Was Antony contemplating committing suicide?

He said, “My treasure is in the harbor, take it. Oh, I followed that woman whom I blush to look upon. My very hairs mutiny: My white hairs reprove my brown hairs for rashness, and my brown hairs reprove my white hairs for fear and doting. Friends, be gone. You shall receive letters from me to some friends who will sweep your way for you so that you can make peace with Caesar. Please, do not look sad, nor make replies of reluctance. Take the opportunity that my despair provides for you. Let that be left that leaves itself — abandon me who has already abandoned himself. Go to the seaside immediately. I will give you possession of that ship and treasure. Leave me, please, for a little while, I ask you now. Leave. I, indeed, have lost the right to command you to leave; therefore, I ask you to leave. I’ll see you soon.”

The attendants left him, and he sat down.

Cleopatra entered the room. With her were her attendants Charmian and Iras, and Mark Antony’s friend Eros.

Eros said, “Gentle madam, go to him, comfort him.”

“Do, most dear Queen,” Iras said.

“Do!” Charmian said. “Why, what else should you do?”

“Let me sit down,” Cleopatra said. “Oh, Juno, Queen of the Roman gods!”

She sat down.

“No, no, no, no, no,” Mark Antony mourned to himself.

“Do you see Cleopatra here, sir?” Eros asked.

“Oh, damn, damn, damn!” Antony said, ignoring Eros.

“Madam!” Charmian said.

“Madam!” Iras said. “Oh, good Empress!”

“Sir, sir —” Eros said.

“Yes, my lord, yes,” Antony said.

Normally, Mark Antony would not call Eros ‘my lord.” He was so discouraged that he was not even looking at Eros and therefore did not know to whom he was speaking.

Talking to himself, Mark Antony said, “Octavius Caesar at the Battle of Philippi kept his sword in his sheath as if he were a dancer and his sword was only an ornament, while I struck the lean and wrinkled Cassius; and it was I who defeated the mad Brutus. Caesar alone relied on his lieutenants to do the fighting for him, and he acquired no experience in the brave and splendid battalions of soldiers. But now — it does not matter.”

Cleopatra said to Charmian and Iras, “Stand by me. I feel faint.”

“The Queen, my lord, the Queen,” Eros said to Antony.

“Go to him, madam, speak to him,” Iras said to Cleopatra. “He is unqualitied with very shame. He has lost the qualities that made him Antony.”

“Well then, sustain me,” Cleopatra said. “Help me stand up.”

She stood up.

“Most noble sir, arise,” Eros said. “The Queen approaches. Her head is bowed, and death will seize her, unless you comfort her and by so doing save her life.”

“I have offended reputation and honor,” Mark Antony said. “I have committed a very ignoble swerving away from nobility and honor.”

Eros said, “Sir, the Queen.”

Mark Antony stood up and said to Cleopatra, “Oh, where have you led me, Queen of Egypt? See how I convey my shame out of your eyes and into my eyes? Men ought not to cry, but tears are trickling down my cheeks. I cry when I look back on what I have left behind and destroyed with my dishonor.”

“Oh, my lord, my lord, forgive my fearful sails and my fearful flight!” Cleopatra said. “I little thought that you would have followed me.”

“Queen of Egypt, you knew too well that my heart was tied by the strings to your rudder, and you should tow me after you wherever you might go,” Antony said. “You knew that you had full supremacy over my spirit, and that your beck would turn me away from doing even the bidding of the gods.”

“Oh, give me pardon!” Cleopatra said.

“Now I must send my humble entreaties to the young man — Octavius Caesar,” Mark Antony said. “I must engage in low dodges and shifty dealings of the kind lowly people must employ. I must do this — I who once played as I pleased with half the bulk of the world, making and marring fortunes. You knew how much you were my conqueror; and you knew that my sword, made weak by my infatuation for you, would always obey my infatuation for you.”

“Give me pardon, pardon!” Cleopatra said.

“Let fall not a single tear, I say,” Antony replied. “One of your tears is worth all that is won and lost. Give me a kiss; a single kiss repays me for what I have lost. We sent Euphronius, our schoolmaster, to Octavius Caesar. Has he come back? Love, I am full of lead — sorrow is heavy on my heart. Bring some wine, within there, and bring some food! Fortune knows that we scorn her most when most she offers us blows.”

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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