William Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 5, Scene 1

— 5.1 —

In Octavius Caesar’s camp before Alexandria, Caesar was meeting with Agrippa, Dolabella, Maecenas, Gallus, Proculeius, and others in a council of war.

Caesar ordered, “Go to Mark Antony, Dolabella, and order him to surrender. Tell him that since he has been so badly defeated, he is embarrassing himself by delaying his surrender.”

“Caesar, I shall,” Dolabella said and then exited.

Dercetus, carrying Mark Antony’s bloody sword, now walked over to Caesar.

Caesar said, “What is the meaning of this? Who are you who dares to appear before me while you are carrying an unsheathed sword?”

“I am named Dercetus. I served Mark Antony, who was most worthy to be best served. While he stood up and spoke, he was my master; and I was willing to lose my life fighting his haters. I was willing to die for him. If you please to take me into your service, I will be to Caesar what I was to him. If you do not want to take me into your service, then I surrender my life to you.”

“What are you saying?” Caesar asked.

“I say, Caesar, that Antony is dead.”

“The breaking of so great a thing should make a greater noise,” Caesar said. “Thunder and an earthquake should occur. The round world should have shaken lions into city streets, and citizens should have been shaken into the lions’ dens. The death of Antony is not a single fate; Antony controlled half of the world.”

“He is dead, Caesar,” Dercetus said, “not by a public minister of justice, nor by a hired knife; but he has, by that selfsame hand that wrote his honor in the acts it did and with the courage that his heart lent it, split his heart. This is Antony’s sword — I robbed his wound of it. Look, his sword is stained with Antony’s most noble blood.”

“Look, sad friends,” Caesar said, pointing to the sword. “The gods may rebuke me for mourning, but these are tidings to wash with tears the eyes of Kings.”

“How strange it is,” Agrippa said, “that our human nature compels us to lament the result of actions we pursued most persistently.”

Maecenas said, “Antony’s bad and good points were equally matched.”

“A rarer spirit never steered humanity,” Agrippa said, “but the gods always give us some faults that make us fallible men. Caesar is touched by Antony’s death.”

Maecenas said, “When such a spacious mirror as Antony is set before him, Caesar must necessarily see himself in the mirror.”

“Oh, Antony!” Octavius Caesar said. “I have pursued you to this catastrophe, but we lance diseases in our bodies to cure them. I was forced to either show you my own such catastrophe or look on yours. You and I could not live together in this world, but still let me lament you, with tears as sovereign as the blood of hearts, my brother, my partner and competitor in the most exalted enterprises, my mate in empire, my friend and companion in the front lines of war, the arm of my own body, and the heart where my heart kindles its thoughts of courage — let me lament that our stars, which could not be reconciled, should divide us and bring us to this conclusion. Hear me, good friends —”

Caesar saw an Egyptian messenger arriving, so he said, “But I will tell you at some more suitable time. This man has obviously come on important business. We will hear what he says.”

Caesar asked, “Where have you come from?”

“I have come from one who is still a poor Egyptian,” the messenger replied.

He was aware that soon Egypt would become a Roman province and would be no longer a sovereign nation.

He continued, “Queen Cleopatra is shut up in the only thing she has left: her monument, which is her tomb. She wishes to know what you intend to do so that she may prepare herself to bend the way she is forced to.”

“Tell her to have courage,” Caesar said. “She soon shall know, by some messengers of ours, how honorably and how kindly we will treat her; Caesar cannot live as an ignoble person.”

“May the gods preserve you!” the Egyptian messenger replied, and then he exited.

Using the royal plural, Caesar said, “Come here, Proculeius. Go to Cleopatra and say that we intend to give her no shame. Give to her whatever comforts and comforting words are necessary to keep her, in her grief, from defeating us by giving herself mortal wounds and committing suicide. If we can keep her alive and have her appear in our triumphal procession in Rome, the memory of my triumph will be eternal. Go, and as quickly as you can come back and tell us what she says and what you can learn about her.”

“Caesar, I shall,” Proculeius said, and then he exited.

“Gallus, go with him,” Caesar ordered.

Gallus exited.

Caesar asked, “Where’s Dolabella? He should assist Proculeius.”

“Dolabella!” the others called.

“Let him alone,” Caesar said. “I remember now that he is elsewhere employed. He shall return in time to be ready for this job.”

He added, “Go with me to my tent, where you shall see how reluctantly I was drawn into this war. I always proceeded calmly and gently in all my letters to Antony. Come with me, and see the letters I will show to you.”

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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