William Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 4, Scenes 13-14

— 4.13 —

In her palace in Alexandria, Cleopatra worried about what Mark Antony might do to her. With her were Charmian, Iras, and Mardian.

“Help me, my women!” Cleopatra said. “Oh, Antony is more mad than Great Ajax, son of Telamon, was for his shield; the boar of Thessaly was never so foaming at the mouth.”

After Achilles died in the Trojan War, the Greeks decided to award his armor, including his shield, which had been created by the blacksmith god, Vulcan, to a great Greek warrior. The two contestants for the armor were Great Ajax and Ulysses. The armor was awarded to Ulysses, and Great Ajax became insane as a result. He tortured sheep, thinking that they were Ulysses and Agamemnon, the leader of the Greeks in the Trojan War. After regaining his sanity, Great Ajax committed suicide.

The goddess Diana once sent a huge boar to ravage Thessaly because the people of Thessaly had neglected to sacrifice to her.

Charmian advised Cleopatra, “Go to the monument that will be your tomb after you die! There lock yourself, and send Antony word that you are dead. The soul and body tear not more in parting than the departure of greatness.”

Losing one’s greatness is as painful as the separation of soul from body at the time of death. Mark Antony was in pain because he had lost his greatness.

Cleopatra said, “Let’s go to the monument! Mardian, go and tell Antony that I have slain myself. Tell him that the last word I spoke was ‘Antony,’ and when you tell this tale, please make him feel pity for me. Go, Mardian, and tell me how he takes the news of my death. To the monument!”

— 4.14 —

Mark Antony and Eros spoke together in a room of Cleopatra’s palace.

Antony asked, “Eros, can you still see me?”

Antony was so discouraged by the loss of his greatness that he worried about being so diminished that he could not be seen.

“Yes, noble lord.”

“Sometimes we see a cloud that looks like a dragon,” Antony said. “A cloud sometimes looks like a bear or lion, a towering citadel, an overhanging rock, a mountain with two peaks, or a blue promontory with trees upon it that nod to the world and fool our eyes with air. You have seen such signs; they are the sights that we see in the twilight of the evening.”

“Yes, my lord.”

“We see that which appears now to be a horse, but as quickly as thought the cloud disperses and makes the image indistinct, as water is when it enters a larger mass of water.”

“That is true, my lord.”

“My good servant Eros, your captain is now such a body of cloud. I am Antony now, but I cannot hold this visible shape, my lad. I made these wars for the Queen of Egypt — whose heart I thought I had, for she had mine; while my heart belonged to me, it had joined to it the hearts of a million followers, who are now lost. Eros, Cleopatra has stacked the deck in favor of Octavius Caesar, and she has played the cards in such a way as to allow him to trump my high card and triumph over me.”

Using the royal plural, Antony added, “No, do not weep, gentle Eros; there is something left to us — we ourselves can end ourselves. I can commit suicide.”

Mardian the eunuch arrived, bearing Cleopatra’s message.

Seeing him, Antony said, “Your vile lady has robbed me of my sword and my masculinity!”

“No, Antony,” Mardian said. “My mistress loved you, and her fortunes were mingled entirely with yours. She did not betray you.”

“Go away from here, saucy eunuch; shut up!” Antony said. “She has betrayed me, and she shall die the death of a traitor.”

“The death of one person can be paid only once,” Mardian said, “and that is a debt that she has already paid. What you want to do has already been done for you. The last words she spoke were ‘Antony! Most noble Antony!’ In the midst of a tearing groan, the name of Antony broke in two. She spoke part of your name and died without speaking the other part. She gave up her life, but your name is buried in her.”

“Is she dead, then?” Mark Antony asked.

“Yes, she is dead.”

“Take my armor off me, Eros,” Antony ordered. “The long day’s task is done, and we must sleep.”

He said to Mardian, “Your being allowed to leave here safely pays you richly for your labor. Such a message deserves much worse. Go.”

Mardian exited.

Antony ordered Eros, “Take my armor off, pluck it off me.”

He added, “Great Ajax’s shield with its seven layers of leather cannot keep this battery of blows from my heart. Oh, split apart, my sides! Heart, for once be stronger than your container — crack the frail body that holds you!

“Hurry, Eros, hurry! I am no longer a soldier. Battered pieces of armor, leave me. You have been nobly borne.”

He ordered Eros, “Leave me and let me alone for awhile.”

Eros exited.

Antony said to himself, “I will come after you and overtake you, Cleopatra, and weep for you to pardon me. So it must be, because now all further life is torture. Since the torch of my love and my life is out, I will lie down and stray no farther. Now all labor mars what it does. Yes, it is as if I were in a trap in which the more I struggle the more firmly I am trapped. Let me finish my life and seal it, and all is finished.”

Antony called, “Eros!”

He said to himself, “I am coming to you, my Queen.”

He called again, “Eros!”

He said to himself, “Wait for me, Cleopatra. In the Heavenly fields where souls lie on flowers, we’ll go hand in hand, and with our lively conduct we will make the ghosts gaze at us. Dido and her Aeneas shall lack followers, and all the field will be ours.”

Aeneas had had an affair with Dido, the Queen of Carthage, a great city in Africa, but Aeneas had obeyed the will of the gods and deserted Dido in order to go to Italy and fulfill his destiny of becoming an important ancestor of the Romans. While he was still alive, Aeneas had visited Dido, who had committed suicide, in the Land of the Dead, but she had refused to even talk to him.

Antony called, “Come, Eros! Eros!”

Eros returned and asked, “What does my lord want?”

“Since Cleopatra died, I have lived in such dishonor that the gods detest my baseness. I, who with my sword divided the world into quarters, and over the back of the ocean, the domain of the god Neptune, made cities with my numerous ships, condemn myself because I lack the courage of a woman; I have a less noble mind than she, who by her death told Caesar, ‘I am conqueror of myself.’ By killing herself, she — not Caesar — conquered herself. You have sworn, Eros, that when the decisive moment should come, which indeed has now come — that time when I should look behind me and see disgrace and horror inevitably overtaking me — that, on my command, you then would kill me. Do what you promised to do; the time has come. You will strike me, but it is Caesar whom you defeat. Put color in your cheeks and gather the courage to do this.”

“The gods forbid!” Eros said. “Shall I do that which all the Parthian darts, although hostile to you, could not do? None of the Parthian spears and arrows struck you.”

“Eros, do you want to be located at a window in great Rome and see your master like this?” Antony demonstrated what he meant when he said, “Do you want to see your master with bent and tied arms, bending down his submissive neck, his face subdued and displaying the redness of shame, while the wheeled chariot of fortunate Caesar, drawn before him, marks like a brand the humiliation of me, who follows behind him?”

“I do not want to see that,” Eros replied.

“Come, then; for with a wound I must be cured,” Antony said. “Draw your honest sword, which you have worn most usefully for your country.”

“Oh, sir, pardon me!”

“When I made you a free man, didn’t you swear then to do this when I ordered you? Do it now, at once; or all your preceding services are only things that you did accidentally without intending to serve me. Draw your sword, and come and strike me.”

“Turn away from me, then, your noble countenance to which the whole world pays homage.”

“As you wish,” Antony said, turning so that his back faced Eros.

“My sword is drawn,” Eros said.

“Then do at once the thing for which you have drawn it.”

“My dear master, my captain, and my Emperor, let me say, before I strike this bloody stroke, farewell.”

“You have said it, man,” Antony said. “And I say farewell to you.”

“Farewell, great chief. Shall I strike now?” Eros asked.

“Now, Eros.”

“Why, there then,” Eros said, stabbing himself. “Thus I do escape the sorrow of Antony’s death!”

Eros died.

Mark Antony said to himself, “Eros, you are thrice nobler than myself! You teach me, valiant Eros, to do what I should do, and what you could not — kill me. My Queen and Eros have by their brave example got before myself a noble spot in the history books, but I will be a bridegroom in my death, and run to death as if I were running to a lover’s bed. Come, then; and, Eros, your master dies your scholar. I have learned from you how to do this.”

Antony fell upon his sword. He gave himself a mortal wound, but he did not die immediately from it.

He said, “What! I am not dead? Not dead?”

He called, “Guards, come here! Oh, finish killing me!”

Dercetus, who was one of Mark Antony’s followers, and some guards entered the room.

“What’s that noise?” the first guard said.

Antony said, “I have done my work badly, friends. Oh, make an end of what I have begun.”

“The Sun that lit our world has fallen,” the second guard said.

“And his time is at its end,” the first guard said.

The guards mourned.

“Let him who loves me strike me dead,” Antony requested.

“Not I,” the first guard said.

“Nor I,” the second guard said.

“Nor anyone,” the third guard said.

The guards left the room.

Dercetus said, “Your death and bad fortune are reasons for your followers to flee away from you.”

He picked up Antony’s sword and said, “If I show this sword to Octavius Caesar and bring him news of your death, Caesar will treat me well.”

Diomedes, one of Cleopatra’s servants, entered the room and asked Dercetus, “Where’s Antony?”

“There he is, Diomedes,” Dercetus replied, pointing. “There he is.”

“Is he alive?” Diomedes asked.

Dercetus ignored him and left.

“Won’t you answer me, man?” Diomedes asked.

Antony asked, “Is that you, Diomedes? Draw your sword, and give me sword strokes that will result in my death.”

“Most absolute lord, my mistress — Cleopatra — sent me to you.”

“When did she send you?”

“Just now, my lord.”

“Where is she?”

“Locked in her monument,” Diomedes replied. “She had a prophesying fear of what has come to pass. For when she saw that you suspected that she had made an agreement with Caesar — which shall never happen — and that your rage would not abate, she sent you a message that she was dead, but fearing what might result from that message, has sent me to proclaim the truth, but I have come, I fear, too late.”

“Yes, you are too late, good Diomedes,” Mark Antony said. “Call my guards, please.”

“Guards! The Emperor’s guards! The guards! Come here. Your lord wants you!”

Some of Antony’s guards entered the room.

“Carry me, good friends, to where Cleopatra is staying; it is the last service that I shall command you to do for me.”

“We grieve, sir,” the first guard said, “that you will not outlive all your loyal followers.”

“We grieve on this mournful day,” the other guards said.

“No, my good fellows,” Antony said. “Do not please sharp fate by gracing it with your sorrows; instead, welcome whatever comes to punish us — we punish it by seeming to bear it lightly. Pick me up. I have led you often. Carry me now, good friends, and I give my thanks for all you have done for me.”

They carried Mark Antony away.

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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