“Antony and Cleopatra”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 4, Scenes 1-3

— 4.1 —

In Octavius Caesar’s camp before Alexandria, Egypt, Caesar was discussing with his friends Maecenas and Agrippa the message that Thidias had brought from Mark Antony.

Caesar said, “He calls me ‘boy,’ and he chides me as if he had the power to beat me out of Egypt. He has whipped my messenger with rods. He dares me to personal combat: Caesar against Antony. Let the old ruffian know I have many other ways to die; in the meantime, I laugh at his challenge.”

“Caesar must think,” Maecenas said, “that when one so great begins to rage, he’s hunted to exhaustion, even to falling. Give him no time to breathe, but now take advantage of his distracting anger. Never has anger protected angry people well.”

“Let our top commanders know that tomorrow we intend to fight the last of many battles,” Caesar said. “Within our ranks of soldiers we have enough of those who served Mark Antony just recently to capture him. See that this is done, and give the army a feast. We have enough provisions to do it, and they have earned the expense. Poor Antony!”

— 4.2 —

In a room of Cleopatra’s palace at Alexandria, Mark Antony, Cleopatra, Domitius Enobarbus, Charmian, Iras, Alexas, and others were assembled.

“Caesar will not fight with me, Domitius,” Mark Antony said.

“No, he won’t.”

“Why won’t he fight with me?”

“He thinks, since his fortunes are twenty times better than yours, his army against yours is twenty men to one,” Enobarbus replied.

“Tomorrow, soldier, by sea and land I’ll fight,” Mark Antony said. “Either I will live, or by bathing my dying honor in blood I will make my honor live again. Will you fight well?”

“I’ll strike, and cry, ‘Take all.’”

Enobarbus’ words were ambiguous. They could mean that he would strike fiercely at the enemy in battle, or that he would strike sail and surrender. The words “Take all” were those of a desperate gambler betting all he had left.

“Well said,” Mark Antony replied. “Come on. Call forth my household servants. Let’s feast tonight and be bounteous at our meal.”

A few male servants entered the room and Antony said to them, “Give me your hand. You have been truly honest … so have you … you … and you … and you … you have served me well, and Kings have also served me.”

Cleopatra asked Enobarbus quietly, “What is Antony doing?”

Enobarbus quietly replied, “He has one of those odd moods that sorrow shoots out of the mind.”

Antony continued speaking to the servants: “And you are honest, too. I wish I could be made as many men as you are, and all of you were rolled up together in one Antony, so that I could do you service as good as you have done for me.”

The servants were horrified: “The gods forbid!”

“Well, my good fellows,” Antony said, “wait on me tonight. Do not scant when filling my cup with wine, and make as much of me as when my empire was your fellow — my servant — and obeyed my commands.”

“What does he mean?” Cleopatra quietly asked Enobarbus.

“He means to make his followers weep,” he quietly replied.

“Serve me tonight,” Antony said. “Maybe it is the end of your duty to me. Perhaps you shall not see me any more; or if you do, you will see a mangled ghost. Perhaps tomorrow you’ll serve another master. I look on you as one who takes his leave of you. My honest friends, I am not firing you and turning you away, but like a master who is married to your good service, I stay with you until death. Serve me tonight for two hours — I ask no more, and may the gods reward you for it!”

“What do you mean, sir, by giving your servants this discomfort?” Enobarbus said to Antony. “Look, they are crying, and I, an ass, am onion-eyed — tears are trickling from my eyes. For shame! Do not transform us into women.”

Mark Antony said, “May a witch enchant me if I meant to turn all of you into women! May grace grow where those teardrops fall! My hearty friends, you take me in too melancholy a sense — I spoke to you to comfort you. I want you to burn this night with torches and make it brilliant. Know, my hearts, I have high hope for tomorrow; and I will lead you where I expect to find victorious life instead of an honorable death. Let’s go to supper. Come, and we will drown our serious thoughts with wine.”

— 4.3 —

In Alexandria, in front of Cleopatra’s palace, Mark Antony’s soldiers were preparing for guard duty.

Two soldiers arrived.

The first soldier said, “Brother, good night. Tomorrow is the day of the battle.”

“It will bring matters to an end, one way or the other,” the second soldier said. “Fare you well. Heard you about anything strange in the streets?”

“Nothing. What is the news?”

“Probably it is only a rumor. Good night to you.”

“Well, sir, good night,” the first soldier said.

Two more soldiers arrived.

The second soldier said to them, “Soldiers, have an attentive watch.”

“You, too,” the third soldier said. “Good night.”

The two groups of soldiers moved away from each other and started their guard duty.

The second soldier said, “Here we are, in the correct positions for guard duty. If our navy thrives tomorrow, I have an absolute hope that our army will stand up on land and be victorious.”

“It is a brave army,” the first soldier said, “and very resolute.”

The sound of oboes came from underground.

“Silence!” the second soldier said. “What is that noise?”

The first soldier said, “Listen! Listen!”

“Hark!” the second soldier said.

“Music is in the air,” the first soldier said.

At the other guard post, the third soldier said, “It is coming from under the ground.”

“This is a good sign, isn’t it?” the fourth soldier said.

“No,” the third soldier replied.

At the first guard post, the first soldier said to the second soldier, “Quiet, I say! What does this mean?”

The second soldier said, “It means that the god Hercules, whom Antony loved, is now leaving him.”

“Let’s walk and see if the other guards hear what we do,” the first soldier said.

They walked to the second guard post, and the second soldier asked, “How are you, sirs?”

They all began to speak at the same time: “How are you! How are you? Do you hear this music?”

The first soldier said, “Yes, I hear the music. Isn’t it strange?”

“Do you hear the music, sirs? Do you hear it?” the third soldier asked.

“Let’s follow the noise as far as we can and still keep our guard,” the first soldier said. “Let’s see how the music finishes.”

“Agreed,” the other soldiers said. “This music is strange.”

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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