“Antony and Cleopatra”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 4, Scenes 9-12

— 4.9 —

Some sentinels stood at the guard post in Octavius Caesar’s camp outside Alexandria.

The first soldier said, “If we are not relieved within this hour, we must return to the guardhouse. The night is bright and shiny with moonlight, and they say we shall begin getting ready for battle by the second hour of the morning.”

“Yesterday’s battle was cruel to us,” the second soldier said.

Enobarbus came near the soldiers, but he did not see them.

Thinking that he was alone, he said to himself, “Oh, bear witness, night —”

“Who is this man?” the third soldier asked quietly.

“Stay hidden, and listen to him,” the second soldier replied.

“Be witness to me, oh, you blessed Moon,” Enobarbus said. “When men who revolt against their masters are recorded with disgrace in the history books, remember that poor Enobarbus repented his disgraceful actions before your face!”

“Enobarbus!” the first soldier said.

“Quiet!” the third soldier said.

Enobarbus continued, “Oh, sovereign mistress of true melancholy, discharge upon me the poisonous damp of night as if you were wringing out a sponge.”

In this society, people believed that breathing night air was unhealthy.

“I wish that my life, which is a complete rebel to my will that prefers that I be dead, may hang no longer on me. Throw my heart against the hard flintiness of my sin. Let my heart dry out with grief and break up into powder, and finish all my foul thoughts. Antony, you are nobler than my revolt against you is infamous. May you personally forgive me, but let the world remember me in its records as a master-leaver and a fugitive. Oh, Antony! Oh, Antony!”

Enobarbus died from excessive grief.

The second soldier said, “Let’s speak to him.”

“Let’s listen to him,” the first soldier said, “because the things he says may concern Caesar.”

“Let’s do so,” the third soldier said. “But he is sleeping.”

“No, he has fainted,” the first soldier said. “So bad a prayer as his has never been a prelude to sleep.”

“Let’s go to him,” the second soldier said.

They went to him, and the third soldier said, “Wake up, sir, wake up; speak to us.”

The second soldier said, “Do you hear us, sir?”

“The hand of death has caught him,” the first soldier said.

Drums quietly sounded.

“Listen!” the first soldier said. “The drums quietly wake up the sleepers. Let us carry him to the guardhouse. He is an important person. Our guard duty has ended.”

The third soldier said, “Come on, then. He may yet recover.”

They carried away the corpse of Enobarbus.

— 4.10 —

Mark Antony said to Scarus, “Octavius Caesar is preparing today for a sea battle. He does not want to fight us on land.”

“He does not want to fight us by land or sea,” Scarus said. “We are prepared to fight him in both kinds of battles.”

“I wish that they would fight in the fire or in the air,” Antony said. “We would fight there, too. But these are my orders. Our infantry shall stay with us upon the hills next to the city. I have given orders for a sea battle. Our ships have left the harbor. From here, we can best see their position and watch the battle.”

— 4.11 —

Octavius Caesar said to his soldiers, “Unless we are attacked, we will not fight on land. I don’t think that we will be attacked because Antony is using his best soldiers to man his galleys. Let’s go to the valleys, and hold the best positions we can.”

— 4.12 —

Mark Antony said to Scarus, “The ships are still not joined in battle. Where that pine tree stands yonder, I will go and see what is happening. I’ll bring you word soon of how the battle is likely to go.”

He walked to the pine tree.

Scarus said to himself, “Swallows have built their nests in Cleopatra’s ships. The augurs say that they do not know and cannot tell what this means, but they look grim and dare not say what they know. Antony is valiant, and he is dejected; and, by turns, his varying fortunes give him hope, and then they give him fear, about what he has and what he has not.”

Sounds of many ships at sea were heard, and soon Mark Antony returned and said, “All is lost; this foul Egyptian — Cleopatra — has betrayed me. My fleet has surrendered to the foe, and yonder they cast their caps up high in the air and drink together like long-lost friends. Cleopatra is a triple-turned whore! She turned from Gnaeus Pompey to Julius Caesar, from Julius Caesar to me, and from me to Octavius Caesar! Cleopatra has sold me to this novice named Octavius Caesar, and my heart makes wars only on her.”

He ordered Scarus, “Order all my soldiers to flee. For when I am revenged upon Cleopatra, my enchantress, I have done all that I will do in this life. Order them all to flee — go!”

Scarus left.

Antony said to himself, “Oh, Sun, your dawn I shall see no more. Good fortune and Antony part here; even now do we shake hands in parting. Has all come to this? The soldiers who followed me at my heels like a cocker spaniel, to whom I gave what they wished, now melt away from me and give their loyalty to blossoming Caesar. I am like a pine tree that has been stripped of its bark, although I overtopped everyone else. I have been betrayed! Oh, this false soul of Egypt! This grave enchantress — her eye summoned forth my wars, and called them home; her bosom was my crown, my chief desire in life — like a typical Egyptian whore, has, as if she were playing a game with the intention of cheating me, beguiled me and caused me total defeat.”

Antony called, “Eros! Where are you, Eros?”

Cleopatra walked over to Mark Antony.

Seeing her, he said, “You enchantress! Avaunt! Get away from me!”

“Why is my lord enraged against his love?” Cleopatra asked.

“Vanish, or I shall give you what you deserve, and thereby blemish Caesar’s triumph,” Antony said.

He meant that he was tempted to kill Cleopatra. It would give him a feeling of revenge, and it would also diminish the triumphal procession that Octavius Caesar would hold in Rome because Caesar would like to capture Cleopatra so that he could exhibit her to the Romans in his triumphal procession.

Antony said to Cleopatra, “Let Caesar capture you, and hoist you up to the shouting Roman commoners. You will walk behind his chariot, like the greatest stain of all your sex; most monster-like, you will be shown to the poorest of the poor diminutives, to idiots and cretins; and patient Octavia will rake your face up and down with her long and sharp fingernails.”

Cleopatra exited.

“It is well you have gone,” Antony said to himself, “if it is well to live, but it would be better if you died as a result of my fury because one death now might prevent many more. If you die now, your life is ended. But if you stay alive now, you will worry about being killed later and you will suffer many deaths in your imagination.”

Antony called, “Eros!”

He said to himself, “The shirt of Nessus is upon me. Teach me your rage, Alcides, you who are my ancestor and are better known as Hercules. Let me lodge Lichas on the horns of the Moon, and with those hands that grasped the heaviest club, subdue my worthiest self.”

Antony was thinking of emulating the death of club-wielding Hercules, strongman of the ancient world. A Centaur named Nessus had attempted to rape Hercules’ wife, Deianira, so Hercules had shot him with an arrow and killed him. Nessus told Deianira to take his shirt, which was stained with his blood, and keep it because if Hercules ever ceased to love her, the shirt would cast a magical spell over him and make him love her again. Eventually, Deianira thought that Hercules had fallen out of love with her, so she gave Lichas Nessus’ bloodstained shirt to take to Hercules, but when Hercules put on the shirt, Nessus’ blood burned him and melted his flesh, causing him agonizing pain. He was in so much pain that he grabbed Lichas and hurled him high into the air — Lichas fell into the sea. Hercules then committed suicide by climbing onto a funeral pyre and setting it on fire.

Antony said about Cleopatra, “The witch shall die. To the young Roman boy — Octavius Caesar — she has sold me, and I have been utterly defeated because of her plot — she dies for it.”

He called again, “Eros!”

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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