by William Shakespeare
Presented by Paul W. Collins
© Copyright 2005 by Paul W. Collins
Antony and Cleopatra
By William Shakespeare
Presented by Paul W. Collins
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Note: Spoken lines from Shakespeare’s drama are in the public domain, as is the Globe (1864) edition of his plays, which provided the basic text of the speeches in this new version
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Paul W. Collins, is a copyrighted work, and is made available for your personal use only,
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Student, beware: This is a presentation, not a scholarly work, so you should be sure your teacher, instructor or professor considers it acceptable as a reference before quoting characters’ comments or thoughts from it in your report or term paper.
Uneasy in Egypt
Wisps of lively conversation—much of it gossip and scandal—float in the tall throne room this afternoon among the crowd of lords and ladies, courtiers and officials, attendants and messengers awaiting the Queen of Egypt.
Off to one side, two Roman soldiers speak quietly and privately. Part of a visiting contingent, they serve in the legions with which the powerful republic keeps control of lands around the Mediterranean basin.
“Nay, but this dotage of our general’s o’erflows the measure!” the experienced officer tells the younger, newly arrived from the Italian peninsula. “Those his goodly eyes, that o’er the files and musters of the war have glowed like plated Mars, now bend, now turn the office and devotion of their view upon a tawny front! His captain’s heart, which in the struggle of great fights hath burst the buckles on his breast, reneges from all tempering, and he’s become the bellows of a gypsy’s lust—and the fan to cool it!”
Even standing still, the soldiers sweat. The sun of a long summer day has broiled Alexandria, the capital founded three hundred years ago by Alexander the Great just west of the wide, fertile delta where the world’s longest river, the Nile, finally dissipates into the sea.
A regal flourish of cornets heralds the queen’s arrival, and the huge doors swing wide to welcome her and her train.
“Look where they come,” says Philo, the older Roman, his voice hushed. “Take but good note, and you shall see in him a triple pillar of the world transformed into a strumpet’s fool! Behold—and see….”
Queen Cleopatra, strikingly attractive at twenty-nine, sweeps imperiously into the marble hall, fanned as she goes by two eunuchs. Her ladies-in-waiting follow, then a cluster of Greek noblemen serving as Egyptian officials, or retained as courtiers, all accompanied by soldiers of her guard.
And striding in beside the queen is Marcus Antonius, rugged and handsome at forty-two, a triumvir—one of three men who, after their victory over the rebel Romans who conspired to kill Julius Caesar, govern Rome and all of its conquests. Mark Antony controls the vast and prosperous eastern territories: Greece and Macedonia; Asia Minor from Lydia to Paphlagonia; Cilicia, Syria and Phoenicia, Cyprus and Judea.
He came to Alexandria a year ago to question Cleopatra about Egyptian support for the defeated forces; but, wholly entranced by the queen’s vivacity, he has remained here as her guest—and lover.
This evening she continues to challenge him playfully: “If it be love indeed, tell me how much!”
Watching her, he smiles. “There’s beggary in the love that can be counted.”
“I’ll set a bourn how far to be belovèd,” she proposes.
“Then thou must needs find out new heaven, a new earth!”
An attendant approaches him. “News, my good lord, from Rome.”
“Grates me,” mutters Antony, irritated; listening to emissaries will take time. “The sum,” he demands impatiently.
“Nay, hear them, Antony,” says Cleopatra. She taunts, mentioning his wife, “Fulvia perchance is angry. Or, who knows if the scarce-bearded Caesar”—Octavius, also a triumvir, is a younger man—“have not sent his powerful mandate to you: ‘Do this, or this; take in that kingdom, and enfranchise that!—perform’t, or else we damn thee!’”
Antony, who finds political duties—and his wife—tedious, wants to change topics. “Now, my love—”
“Perchance,” she persists, “nay, most likely!
“You must not stay here longer,” she concludes abruptly. “Your dismission is come from Caesar; therefore hear it, Antony.” She looks peeved. “This is Fulvia’s process—Caesar’s, I should say. Both!
“Call in the messengers,” she urges.
She enjoys his discomfiture. “As I am Egypt’s queen thou blushest, Antony! In that blood of thine is Caesar’s homage!—else thy cheek so pays shame when shrill-tongued Fulvia scolds!
“The messengers,” she tells the attendant crisply; he bows and goes to fetch them.
Antony scoffs: “Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide arch of the rangèd empire fall! Here is my space!
“Kingdoms are clay; our dungy earth feeds beast and man alike. The nobleness of life is to do thus!” he says, clasping her to him. “When such a mutual pair embrace—and such a twain can do’t, which I bind the world to recognize, on pain of punishment—we stand up peerless!”
As he kisses her neck, Cleopatra is thinking. Excellent falsehood! Why did he marry Fulvia and not love her? I’ll seem the fool I am not. “Antony will be himself.”
“But stirred by Cleopatra!” he replies, with a charming smile. “Now, for the love of love and its soft hours, let’s not confound the time with conference harsh! There’s not a minute of our lives should stretch without some pleasure now!” He rubs his strong hands together eagerly. “What sport tonight?”
“Hear the ambassadors,” she insists.
“Fie, wrangling queen!” says Antony—adding, “whom everything becomes: to chide, to laugh, to weep—whose every passion fully strives to make itself, in thee, fair and admirèd!
“No messages but thine! And all alone tonight we’ll wander through the streets and note the qualities of people! Come, my queen; last night you did desire it!”
He waves away the approaching emissaries: “Speak not to us.” He grasps her hand, she smiles, dark eyes flashing, and together Antony and Cleopatra leave the throne room and head toward her private quarters.
As the messengers, just arrived after a long voyage, turn to each other in surprise, the queen’s courtiers disperse.
Young Demetrius regards Philo with dismay. “Is Caesar by Antonius prizèd so slightly?” Octavius Caesar, a triumvir at twenty-two, governs the western part of the empire; from Italy and Sicily, it extends through Sardinia and Corsica to Gaul.
Philo nods, disgusted. “Sir, sometimes, when he is but Antony”—is disporting—“he comes too short of that great propriety which ever should go with Antonius.”
Demetrius is disturbed. “I am full sorry that he confirms the common liar, who speaks thus of him at Rome!
“But I will hope for better deeds tomorrow. Rest you happy.” The officers part for the day.
Demetrius goes to his billet—to write; his secret report will soon be on its way to Rome.
Near the queen’s own bed-chambers, in a large, luxuriously appointed room at the palace, two of her ladies while away their many idle hours in languorous entertainments. Alexas Laodician, one of the Greek noblemen in Cleopatra’s retinue, has promised to have their fortunes told this morning—and it is nearly noon.
Charmian greets him as he arrives: “Lord Alexas, sweet Alexas, most anything Alexas, almost absolute Alexas!—where’s the soothsayer that you praisèd so to the queen?
“Oh, that I knew that husband—one you say could change his horns into garlands!” A man who can foresee cuckolding might—arguably—prevent it.
Alexas turns toward the door. “Soothsayer!”
“Your will?” says he, coming in.
“Is this the man?” asks Charmian, eying the sad-looking ancient dubiously. “Is’t you, sir, that know things?”
“In Nature’s infinite book of secrecy, a little I can read.”
“Show him your hand!” Alexas tells her.
Double doors at the front are pushed open, and Domitius Enobarbus, Antony’s chief lieutenant, enters the room, followed by three servants. “Bring in the banquet—quickly!” the massive officer tells the men. “Wine enough Cleopatra’s health to drink!”
He expects that she and Antony, after another night of carousing, will rise late, as usual, and want refreshment: fruit, cheese, nuts—and plenty of wine.
As the table is being furnished, Charmian holds out her hand. “Good sir, give me good fortune!” she says.
“I make not, only foresee,” the soothsayer replies.
“Pray, then, foresee me one!”
He examines her palm. “You shall yet be far fairer than you are.”
“He means in flesh,” says Charmian; she knows she can be contentious.
“No,” counters her slender young friend Iras, “you shall paint when you are old!”
Charmian laughs. “Wrinkles forbid!” she tells the visitor.
Alexas scolds them. “Vex not his prescience; be attentive!”
Charmian tells Iras, “Hush.”
The soothsayer looks at Charmian’s hand. “You shall be more beloving than belovèd.”
Her experience of love has been very diverse, but always temporary. “I had rather heat my liver with drinking!”
“Nay, hear him!” admonishes Alexas.
“Good now, some excellent fortune!” demands Charmian, imagining. Her eyes widen. “Let me be married to three kings in a forenoon!—and be widow to them all! Let me have a child at fifty, to whom Herod of Jewry may do homage! Find me to marry me with Octavius Caesar!—and companion me with my mistress!”
Iras laughs with her.
The soothsayer gazes at Charmian. “You shall outlive the lady whom you serve.”
“Oh, excellent!” she cries glibly. “I love long life better than figs!”
The soothsayer regards her. “You have seen and proven a fairer former fortune than that which is to approach.”
“Then belike my children shall have no names,” says Charmian dryly. She sighs as if resigned. “Prithee, how many boys and wenches must I have?”
The man smiles. “If every one of your wishes had a womb, and fertile every wish—a million.”
“Out, fool!” she laughs. “I’ll forego thee in such a wish!”
Alexas is laughing, too. “You think none but your sheets are privy to your wishes?”
Charmian pulls the old soothsayer toward her friend. “Nay, come!—tell Iras hers!”
“We’ll all know our fortunes!” says Alexas.
Behind them, Enobarbus has watched, and the gruff old warrior is amused. “Mine—and most of our fortunes, tonight—shall be: drunk to bed!”
Iras holds out a tiny hand demurely. “There’s a palm that presages chastity, if nothing else,” she claims.
Charmian laughs: “E’en as the o’erflowing Nilus presageth famine!”
“Go to, you wild bedfellow,” Iras tells her, blushing, “you cannot soothsay!”
“Nay, if an oily palm be not a fruitful prognostication, I cannot scratch mine ear!” retorts Charmian. “Prithee, tell but her worky-day fortune!”
“Your fortunes are alike.”
“But how, but how?” demands Iras. “Give me particulars!”
“I have said.”
Little Iras frowns. “Am I not an inch of fortune better than she?”
“Well, if you were but an inch of fortune better than I, where would you choose it?”
Iras grins. “Not in my husband’s nose!”
“Our worser thoughts, heavens mend!” laughs Charmian. She grasps an arm of the jovial Greek. “Alexas! Come, his fortune, his fortune!
“Oh, let him marry a woman that cannot come, I beseech thee sweet Isis”—the beautiful Egyptian earth goddess. “And let her die, too—and give him a worse! Then let worse follow worse till the worst of all follows him, laughing, to his grave—fifty-fold a cuckold! Good Isis, hear me this prayer; though thou deny me a matter of more weight, good Isis, I beseech thee!”
“Amen!” laughs Iras. “Dear goddess, hear that prayer of the people! For, as it is heartbreaking to see a handsome man loose-wived, so is it a deadly sorrow to behold a foul knave uncuckolded! Therefore, dear Isis, keep decorum, and fortune him accordingly!”
“Amen!” says Charmian.
Even Alexas is laughing. “Lo, now!—if it lay in their hands to make me a cuckold, they would make themselves whores but they’d do it!”
Enobarbus has been watchful; he spots movement at the side entrance leading from the queen’s chambers. “Hush! Here comes Antony!”
“If not he, the queen,” says Charmian.
Cleopatra stalks into the room, alone. “Saw you my lord?”
“No, lady,” Enobarbus replies.
“Was he not here?”
Charmian answers. “No, madam.”
The queen stares down, thinking. “He was disposèd to mirth; but on the sudden a Roman thought hath struck him…. Enobarbus.”
“Seek him, and bring him hither. Where’s Alexas?”
He steps forward. “Here, at your service.” He nods toward the main doors. “My lord approaches….”
But suddenly Cleopatra is petulantly indignant: “We will not look upon him! Go with us.”
The others all hasten to follow her.
Visitors and attendants trail Antony into the room, as he listens, intently now, to a courier from Rome. “Fulvia, thy wife, came first into the field,” the officer reports.
Antony frowns. “Against my brother Lucius?”
“Aye. But soon that war had end, and circumstance made friends of them, joining their forces ’gainst Caesar—whose better issue in the war drave them, upon the first encounter, from Italy!”
When stern Lady Fulvia raised an army in rebellion against Octavius, the first opposition she faced was from the Consul of Rome—Lucius Antony, Mark’s younger brother. When the in laws parleyed, they decided to unite forces; but they were soon defeated, thirty leagues north of the capital, by Caesar’s legions.
Antony knows the messenger has much more. “Well, what worst?”
The soldier is apprehensive. “The nature of bad news infects the teller….”
“When it troubless a fool or coward! On!—things that are past are done; with me, ’tis thus: who tells me true, though in his tale lie death, I hear him as if he flattered.”
“Labienus—this is stiff news—hath with his Parthian force extended Asia! West from the Euphrates his conquering banners took from Syria to Lydia, then to Ionia, whilst—” The messenger flushes.
“‘Antony,’ thou wouldst say….” Whilst Antony dallied in Egypt.
“Oh… my lord—”
“Speak it home to me!—mince not the general tongue! Name Cleopatra as she is callèd in Rome!—rail thou in Fulvia’s phrase, and taunt my faults with such full license as both truth and malice have power to utter!
“Oh, we bring forth weeds when our quick winds lie still!”—when living voices are silent. “And our ills told to us is as our earing!”—harvest, with a play on hearing. The messenger is relieved—but prudently says nothing. “Fare thee well awhile.”
The officer bows. “At your noble pleasure.”
As the Roman leaves, Antony reflects. Quintus Labienus, an ally of the conspirators against Julius Caesar, fled after his murder to Orodes II, king of the Parthians, and now he has led their army from the Euphrates River—bordering between Rome’s empire and Parthia’s—west into Roman territory, rapidly occupying much of Asia Minor and threatening Greece. And he has moved without hindrance from the triumvir here.
Antony calls for another messenger. “From Sicyon, ho, the news! Speak, there!”
But an attendant steps forward. “The man from Sicyon—”
“Is there such an one?” grumbles Antony impatiently.
“He stays upon your will….” The messenger, irritated at having rushed to the palace only to be kept waiting, has drifted away.
“Let him appear.” Antony ruminates. These strong Egyptian fetters I must break, or lose myself in dotage! He sees the second courier approaching. “What have you?”
The man is stone-faced; he has traveled a long way, from Greece. “Fulvia thy wife is dead.”
“Where died she?”
“In Sicyon”—the city, sixteen leagues west of Athens, where she fled after the defeat at Perusia. He hands Antony a letter. “Her length of sickness, with what else more serious importeth thee to know, this bears.”
Antony nods gravely. “Forbear me.” The emissary bows stiffly and leaves.
Mark pictures Fulvia. There’s a great spirit gone!
Thus did I desire it, he admits—and he is surprised to feel some remorse. Often what our contempt doth hurl from us we wish ours again; the present pleasure, by revolution lowering, does become the opposite of itself. She’s good, being gone; the hand would pluck her back that shoved her on.
But increasingly he has felt burdened with pressing matters which can no longer be ignored. I must from this enchanting queen break off! Ten thousand harms more than the ills I know of my idleness doth hatch!
The veteran soldier has been waiting in the corridor. “What’s your pleasure, sir?”
“I must with haste from hence.”
Enobarbus doesn’t think he means it. “Why, then we kill all our women! We see how mortal any unkindness is to them; if they suffer our departure, death’s the word!”
Antony is resolved. “I must be gone.”
Enobarbus grins. “Under a compelling occasion, let women die!”—reach the climax during sex; he has enjoyed his time in Alexandria well. But he sighs. “It were pity to cast them away for nothing….
“Though between them in a great cause”—erection—“there should be an esteemèd ‘nothing!’”
He sees now that Antony is serious. “Cleopatra, catching but the least noise of this, dies instantly!” he warns. “I have seen her die twenty times upon far poorer movement! I do think there is mettle in Death which commits some loving act upon her, she hath such a celerity in dying!”
Antony must laugh. “She is cunning past man’s thought!”
But the battle-scarred commander admires the young queen’s potent vivacity. “Alack, sir, no. Her passions are made of nothing but the finest part of pure love! We cannot call her winds and waters sighs and tears—they are greater storms and tempests than almanacs can report! This cannot be cunning in her, if it can be that she makes a shower of rain as well as Jove!”
“Would I had never seen her!”
“Ah, sir, you had then left unseen a wonderful piece of work—which not to have been blest withal would have discredited your travel!”
Antony stares down, thinking. “Fulvia is dead.”
“Fulvia is dead.”
Antony nods. “Dead.”
Enobarbus remembers the haughty, humorless lady. “Why, sir, give the gods a thankful sacrifice!
“When it pleaseth their deities to take the wife of a man from him, it shows to men the tailors of the earth comforting them—in that when old robes are worn out, there are parts to make new!
“Were there no more women but Fulvia, then had you indeed a cut, and a case to be lamented!”—both words also mean pudenda. “This grief is crownèd with consolation: your old smock brings forth a new petticoat!—and indeed the tears that should water this sorrow live in an onion!”
Antony will shed no tears for his troublesome late wife. “The business she hath broachèd in the state cannot endure my absence.”
The warrior’s smile is knowing. “And the business you have broached here cannot be without you—especially that of Cleopatra, which depends in the whole on your abode!”
Antony waves away the rude comment. “No more light answers!” He wants to proceed. “Let our officers have notice what we purpose.
“I shall break the cause of our expedience to the queen, and get her leave to depart. For not alone the death of Fulvia, but the letters, too, with a more urgent touch do strongly speak to us of our many conniving ‘friends’ in Rome, and petition us home.
“Sextus Pompeius hath given the dare to Caesar, and commands the empire of the sea!
“Our slippery people, whose love is never linked to the deserver till his deserts are past, begin to throw ‘Pompey the Great’ and all its dignities upon his son, who, high in both name and power—higher than in blood and life,”—than is warranted, “stands up as the day’s main soldier!—whose quality, going on, the sides o’ the world may endanger!
“Much is breeding which, like the courser’s hair, hath but life, and not yet a serpent’s poison.” Peasants believe a stallion’s fallen hair can grow into a snake.
“Say our pleasure to such whose place is under us! Require our quick remove from hence!”
Enobarbus bows. “I shall do’t.” He goes to arrange for the triumvir’s departure, and his party’s voyage north.
Frowning, and running a hand through his hair, Antony heads toward his chambers; more missives are waiting to be opened, at last, and read.
The ladies have returned to their chamber of amusements with Lord Alexas, and they are at the side table, picking over the unused repast.
Cleopatra again emerges alone from her flower-strewn bedroom. “Where is he?”
Says Charmian, “I did not see him since—”
“See where he is, who’s with him, what he does,” the queen tells Alexas—warning: “I did not send you. If you find him sad, say I am dancing; if in mirth, report that I am sudden sick. Quick, and return!” He bows and goes.
Charmian examines a grape. “Madam, methinks, if you did love him dearly, you do not hold the method to enforce the like from him.”
“What should I do that I do not?”
“In each thing give him way!—cross him in nothing.”
Cleopatra scoffs. “Thou teachest, like a fool, the way to lose him!”
“Tempt him not so too far!—forbear,” advises Charmian. “In time we hate that which we often fear.” She looks toward the bedroom. “But here comes Antony….”
He strides in—resolved, and holding several letters.
Cleopatra appears to pout. I am sick and sullen.
He begins, “I am sorry to give breathing to my purpose—”
“Help me away, dear Charmian!” Cleopatra knows his tone; she moans, faltering, “I shall fall! I cannot be thus strong—these sides of Nature will not sustain it!”
Antony expected this. “Now, my dearest queen—”
“Pray you stand further from me!”
“What’s the matter?”
She says, with dour sarcasm, “I know by that same eye there’s some good news. What says the married woman? That you may go? Would she had never given you leave to come! Let her not say ’tis I that keep you here—I have no power upon you; hers you are!”
“The gods best know—”
“Oh, never was there queen so mightily betrayed! Yet at the first I saw the treasons planted!”
“Why should I think you can be mine and true, when you have been false to Fulvia in so swearing as to shake the thronèd gods!” She shakes her head. “Riotous madness, to be entangled by those mouth-made vows which break themselves in the swearing!”
“Most sweet queen—”
“Nay, pray you, seek no colour for your going, but bid farewell and go! When you sued for staying, then was the time for words! No going then!—eternity was in my lips and eyes, bliss in my brow’s aim!—none of my parts so poor but it was a trace of heaven!
“So they are still!—or art thou, the greatest soldier of the world, turned the greatest liar?”
“How now, lady!” cries Antony in protest.
“I would I had thine inches!” She does not mean just his height. “Thou shouldst know there were a heart in Egypt!”
“Hear me, queen!” cries Antony. “Strong necessity of the time commands our services a while!—but my full heart remains in use with you!
“Our Italy shines o’er with civil swords!—Sextus Pompeius makes his approaches at the ports of Rome!”
Faced with her morose silence, he hastens to explain further. “Equality of two domestic powers breeds less-scrupulous factions: the hated, grown to strength, are newly become belovèd!
“The condemnèd Pompey, rich in his father’s honour, creeps apace into the hearts of such as have not thrived within the present state—and whose numbers threaten! And quietness, grown sick of rest, would purge itself by any desperate change!”
He sees that civil strife and piracy do not interest her. “My more particular—and that the most by which you should vouchsafe my going—is Fulvia’s death.”
Cleopatra replies angrily: “Though age from folly could not give me freedom, it does from childishness! Can Fulvia die?”
“She’s dead, my queen.” He offers the letters. “Look here, and at thy sovereign leisure read the garboils she awaked! At the last, best: see when and where she died.”
Cleopatra brusquely pushes away the paper. “Oh, most false love! Where be the sacred vials thou shouldst fill with sorrowful water?”—tears. “Now I see!—I see in Fulvia’s death how mine shall receivèd be!”
Antony, resolute, proceeds. “Quarrel no more, but be prepared to know the purposes I bear—which are or cease as you shall give me advice! By the fire that quickens Nilus’ slime,”—the life-giving sun, “I go from hence thy soldier, servant—making war or peace as thou affect’st!”
The queen sags, seems about to faint: “Come Charmian, cut my lace!”—to loosen her bodice. She straightens. “But let it be. I am quickly ill and well—as Antony loves!”
“My precious queen, forbear,” he pleads, “and give ‘true evidence’ to this love, which withstands any honourable trial.”
“So Fulvia told me!” retorts Cleopatra. “I prithee, turn aside and weep for her—then bid adieu to me, and say the tears belong to Egypt! Good man, play one scene of excellent dissembling, and let it look like perfect honour!”
Antony shakes his head in frustration. “You’ll heat my blood! No more!”
She appraises that performance: “This is meetly, but you can do better yet.”
“Now, by my sword—”
“—‘and shield!’” adds Cleopatra, continuing with her stage-acting metaphor. “Still, he mends; but this is not the best… Look, prithee, Charmian, how this Herculean Roman does become the carriage of his chafe!”—simulates fury.
She knows how to goad him; Antony encourages comparison to his putative forefather.
“I’ll leave you, lady,” he growls.
As he starts away she catches his arm. “Courteous lord, one word! Sir, you and I must part—but that’s not it….” She frowns, apparently puzzled. “Sir, you and I have loved…—but there’s not it; that you know well. Something it is I would….” She sighs. “Oh, my oblivion is a very Antony—I have all forgotten!”
He pulls away, exasperated. “But that Your Royalty holds Idleness as your subject, I should take you for Idleness itself!”
She touches his chest. “’Tis a sweating labour to bear such idleness, when this heart is so near Cleopatra’s,” she reminds him. “But, sir, forgive me, since my comings kill me,” she says, with blatant sarcasm, “when they do not eye well to you!”
She pushes him away. “Your honour calls you hence; therefore be deaf to my unpitièd folly! Then may all the gods go with you; upon your sword sit laurel victory. And smooth success be strewed before your feet.”
Antony regards her with open affection. “Let us go,” he says quietly, trying to take her by the hand. “Come, our separation abides and flies, so that thou, residing here, goest yet with me—and I, hence fleeting, here remain with thee!”
She turns her back on him.
With that, he storms out. “Away!”
Eyes averted, Charmian wisely holds her peace, certain that the queen has lost her lover.
Cleopatra knows he must return.