From Stories of Shakespeare’s Tragedies by Helene Adeline Guerber. New York: Dodd, Mead and company.
The first act opens in the palace at Alexandria, where two Romans discuss Mark Antony’s infatuation for Cleopatra until a flourish of trumpets ushers in this couple and their train. While one Roman whispers that ‘the triple pillar of the world’ is transformed ‘into a strumpet’s fool,’ Cleopatra implores Antony to say how much he loves her, until he fervently rejoins ‘ there’s beggary in the love that can be reckon’d.’ Their amorous talk is interrupted by a message from Rome, which Cleopatra sarcastically bids Antony heed as his wife, Fulvia, may be angry, or ‘ the scarce-bearded Caesar,’ may be sending him mandates. Such taunts cause Antony to declare Rome is naught and the universe represented solely by Cleopatra, whom he embraces. When she inquires why he married Fulvia, he proposes that instead of wasting the day in vain recriminations they devote it to pleasure, and when she urges him to receive the messengers, declines to have anything to do with Rome. As both leave the hall, the Roman spectators marvel at Antony’s contempt for Caesar, gravely admitting that ‘sometimes, when he is not Antony, he comes too short of that great property which still should go with Antony.’
In another room in the same palace, the queen’s women and eunuch are consulting a soothsayer, who predicts their fortunes according to the lines on their hands. But, when he states the women’s end is near, and that they will die together after the lady they serve, both coquettishly protest against such gruesome predictions, amid bantering remarks from the eunuch.
Just then Cleopatra enters demanding her lord, who left her abruptly, ‘a Roman thought’ having evidently struck him. She is just sending for Antony when she sees him draw near, and artfully decides not to look at him, but pass him by. Without heeding this, Antony continues to question the messenger, who describes how Fulvia and his brother, foes at first, joined forces against Caesar. He adds that a large part of the lands Antony conquered is already lost, and that Rome reviles Cleopatra for beguiling him into idleness. Sadly admitting that ‘when our quick minds lie still,’ they bring forth weeds, Antony dismisses this messenger and calls for the next.
He is muttering ‘these strong Egyptian fetters I must break, or lose myself in dotage,’ when the next messenger announces Fulvia’s death, and delivers a letter giving further particulars. While he passes out, Antony musingly avers ‘there’s a great spirit gone!’ adding that he did not desire this, and is more than ever determined to ‘break away’ from this enchanting queen,’ for he realises his idleness is hatching many ills. Calling his officer Enobarbus, Antony therefore informs him they must leave, a move Enobarbus opines ‘will kill all our women.’
Seeing Antony does not heed this objection, this officer describes how ‘Cleopatra, catching but the least noise of this, dies instantly’; adding that he has seen her die twenty times on lesser provocation. When Antony admits she is ‘cunning past man’s thought,’ Enobarbus urges the great strength of her passions, until Antony exclaims he wishes he had never seen her; but his man assures him he ‘ had then left unseen a wonderful piece of work.’
When he learns Fulvia is dead, Enobarbus philosophically rejoins the deities take a man’s wife from him, only to comfort him with a new love, and because Antony remarks the business his wife began ‘cannot endure his absence,’ he suggests Cleopatra cannot endure it either. This answer the general dismisses as light, stating he will break ‘ the cause of our expedience to the queen,’ for now that Pompey has ‘given the dare to Caesar,’ and is master of the seas, Antony foresees that, unless something is done immediately, they may yet have to reckon with another master of the world. He therefore bids Enobarbus announce to the court his imminent removal while he arranges for departure.
In another room Cleopatra enquires of her women and eunuch where Antony may be, and bids one of them go in quest of him, reporting her dancing in case he is sad, but if mirthful to describe her as ill. The eunuch having gone, Charmian, the maid, remarks if Cleopatra really loved Antony, she would not act thus, whereupon the queen sagely informs her that to give way to a man in everything and cross him in nothing is the best way to lose him. A moment later Antony enters to inform the pouting Cleopatra there is bad news. Although she petulantly vows she will not listen, he coaxes until she jealously demands ‘what says the married woman?’ Antony, therefore, tries to impart to her Fulvia’s death, but it is only after some time that he can sufficiently quiet her suspicions to make her understand his wife is gone, Italy a prey to civil war, Pompey threatening Rome, and he obliged to go there and fight. As Cleopatra refuses to believe him, Antony bids her read his letters, whereat she petulantly rejoins she now perceives how coldly he will welcome the news of her demise! Entreating her not to quarrel with him and promising fidelity, Antony is about to depart, when Cleopatra threatens to faint and thus detains him by her side. Then, after having taunted and teased him to the verge of endurance, she suddenly melts and confesses she loves him, begs his forgiveness for detaining him, and finally sends him off with wishes for victory and success. This softness overcomes Antony, who passionately assures her, ‘thou, residing here go’st yet with me, and I hence fleeting, here remain with thee.’
We now remove to a house in Rome, where Caesar, after reading a letter, informs Lepidus how news from Alexandria reports Antony fishing, drinking, and revelling with Cleopatra, but paying no heed to state affairs. When Lepidus opines Antony’s faults are hereditary, Octavius considers he is too indulgent, for Antony should know better than to become Cleopatra’s lover, reel through the streets, and buffet with knaves! This dialogue is interrupted by a messenger, reporting Pompey strong at sea and constantly joined by malcontents, tidings which do not surprise Octavius, for he considers ‘this common body, like to a vagabond flag upon the stream, goes to and back, lackeying the varying tide, to rot itself with motion.’ When the messenger adds that pirates are making inroads into Italy which Pompey alone can check, Octavius fervently wishes Antony would leave his ‘lascivious wassails’ and come and fight, for he remembers what hardships this general formerly endured and the feats he performed when merely a dauntless soldier. This reminder of Antony’s previous prowesses causes Lepidus to wail their companion is no longer the same, while Octavius exclaims it is time to show themselves in the field, since ‘ Pompey thrives in our idleness.’ Promising to furnish on the morrow a full account of the forces he can muster, Lepidus departs, after farewells which show both are determined to turn all their energies against the foe.
In Alexandria Cleopatra implores her maids and eunuch to give her a sedative, so she can ‘sleep out this great gap of time’ during which her Antony is away. When her attendants assure her she thinks too much of him, Cleopatra reviles them for talking treason, and bids one of her men sing to her. Still, she pays no heed to his music, but keeps wondering what Antony is doing or saying, and whether he is thinking of her and of the extravagant compliments he once used to lavish on his ‘serpent of old Nile’? While she is thus musing, Alexas delivers a jewel and letter from Antony, vowing his master kissed them many times before forwarding them to her. Because Cleopatra eagerly enquires whether Antony was sad or merry, he rejoins neither, a mood she interprets most favourably, ere she enquires whether Alexas met her posts? Although he reports crossing twenty different messengers, she calls for ink and paper to forward another missive, questioning meanwhile whether she ever loved Caesar so fervently, and threatening to strike Charmian when this maid attempts to paragon with Caesar her ‘man of men’! When the maid humbly objects she was merely repeating her mistress’ words, Cleopatra rejoins she was then in her ‘salad days’ and ‘green in judgment,’ before she again calls for writing materials, vowing Antony shall have ‘every day a several greeting, or I’ll unpeople Egypt.’
The second act opens in Pompey’s house in Messina, just as he enters exclaiming, ‘if the great gods be just, they shall assist the deeds of justest men.’ His friends rejoin that, although the gods delay they do not deny, ere Pompey admits his powers are increasing, and he hopes to triumph, for Antony is feasting in Egypt, Caesar alienating his followers by his avarice, and Lepidus weakening his cause by flattery. When one of his followers rejoins that Caesar and Lepidus are in the field with mighty forces, Pompey refuses to believe him, for he fancies they must be still in Rome, waiting for Antony, who, bewitched by Cleopatra, proves oblivious to everything else.
Just then an officer reports Antony has already left Egypt and is hourly expected in Rome; news unwelcome to Pompey, who wonders Antony should have donned his helmet for such a petty war, and should have consented to forsake Cleopatra. When one of his followers suggests Caesar and Antony cannot remain friends owing to Fulvia’s machinations, Pompey shrewdly opines ‘lesser enmities may give way to greater’ and that, through fear of him and his party, their petty divisions may be healed.
The next scene is played in the house of Lepidus, who cautions Enobarbus to entreat Antony to be gentle, an office the confidant haughtily refuses, declaring should Caesar irritate Antony, the latter will doubtless ‘speak as loud as Mars.’ Just as Lepidus reminds him this is no time for private quarrels, and that ‘small to greater matters must give way,’ Antony and Caesar enter with friends. The former remarks, if they succeed here they can soon pass on to Parthia, while the latter refers some question to Agrippa. Lepidus now reminds those assembled that it behooves them to cease debating private differences and think only of the public weal. All present having taken seats, Antony opens the council by remarking his fellow-triumvirs have ‘taken things ill which are not so.’ When Caesar retorts it would be strange were he not offended, Antony haughtily demands what difference it made whether he lingered in Egypt? To this Caesar rejoins that, during his absence, his wife and brother made war against him, a move Antony never upheld, as he declares his letters prove. Assuming he is trying to patch up excuses, Caesar answers so coldly that Antony hotly wishes he, too, had a spirited wife, for, owning one-third of the world, he needs such a companion. Nevertheless, Caesar insists Antony is to blame for all the trouble stirred up by his wife, as well as for the riots in Alexandria, and taxes him with scorning his letters and gibing at him publicly.
Imperiously, Antony explains these letters came when he had been feasting and was not himself, adding that the next day he made due atonement. But, when Caesar accuses him of having broken the article of his oath, Lepidus interferes, although Antony insists Caesar speak out since he has attacked his honour, which is sacred. Because Caesar states Antony denied him the arms and aid he requested, Antony exclaims that, fancying his wife w r as making war merely to force him to leave Egypt, he naturally refused to budge. This excuse seems pertinent to Lepidus and the others, ‘who try to reconcile Caesar and Antony by suggesting that they wrangle ‘when they have nothing else to do.’ Thus admonished, Caesar reluctantly admits he doesn’t so ‘much dislike the matter, but the manner’ of Antony’s speech, yet is willing to overlook all and make friends, a concession which Agrippa tries to make binding by suggesting that Octavius’ sister be given in marriage to Antony. When Caesar bitterly remarks Cleopatra may not admit Antony is a widower, the general haughtily returns he is not married, but ready to consider Agrippa’s proposal. In detail, this man now sets forth the advantages of such an alliance, his arguments convincing both parties, who agree to the alliance and shake hands on the strength of this contract. The third triumvir seems equally delighted with this suggestion, and when it has been duly settled, all three amicably discuss how best to oppose Pompey, whose forces have been increasing every day. But because they have decided to conclude the marriage before arming, Cassar invites Antony to come immediately and view his beloved sister.
Amid a flourish of trumpets the three generals march out, while their friends begin to talk of Egypt, Enobarbus describing for the benefit of the rest the feasting and merriment, and especially the beauty of Cleopatra, when she first met Antony on the Cydnus River. His enthusiastic description of the state barge’s silken and perfumed sails, of the queen’s attire and attendants, accounts for the deep impression she produced upon Antony, who not only joyfully accepted her invitation to supper, but prepared for it as a bridegroom for his wedding. When Agrippa admits Cleopatra is ‘such a royal wench’ that she conquered the great Cassar, Enobarbus adds there is little prospect of his master really forsaking her, since ‘age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety: other women cloy the appetites they feed: but she makes hungry where most she satisfies.’ Although convinced of all this, Mecasnas concludes that if beauty, wisdom, and majesty can make a lasting impression, Octavia will soon fetter Antony for good, and all agree to sup together ere they separate and leave the house.
The next scene occurs in Caesar’s dwelling, after Antony’s first momentous interview with Octavia, for he enters walking on one side of her while Caesar escorts her on the other. When Antony gravely explains to his newly betrothed that ‘the world and my great office will sometimes divide me from your bosom,’ she graciously rejoins that during such times she will pray for his success. Fascinated by such gentleness, Antony begs her not to believe the world’s report in regard to him, and promises to live squarely hereafter, ere he bids her good-night. Caesar and his sister having retired, a soothsayer joins Antony, who, remembering having seen him in Egypt, begins talking to him. Not only does the soothsayer wish he had never left that country, but advises Antony to hasten back there, warning him Caesar’s fortunes are fated to rise highest. This prediction displeases Antony, who refuses to listen when the soothsayer warns him that in playing with Caesar he will lose the game. After dismissing this bird of ill omen, Antony calls for Ventidius, whom he intends to send to Parthia, while he returns to Egypt, for although he has concluded a marriage with Octavia for peace’s sake, he owns it is in the East his pleasure lies. When Ventidius joins him, therefore, Antony bids him start immediately for Parthia, and soon leaves with him to complete arrangements.
Meantime Lepidus bids his friends Mecaenas and Agrippa escort him no further, but hasten back to their general, who, they rejoin, is taking leave of Octavia. They playfully predict they will reach the tryst before Lepidus, who admits such may be the case, as he is coming by a roundabout way.
In Egypt Cleopatra capriciously refuses to listen to the singer she summons, or to play billiards with her eunuch, with whom she indulges in a dubious play of wit. But all at once she proposes to go fishing, and her mention of angling reminds Charmian of the day when her mistress had a diver fasten salt fish to Antony’s hook! This reminder pleases Cleopatra, who exclaims she laughed Antony out of patience that day, but laughed him into it again before night.
Just then a messenger arrives, from whom she eagerly demands news. Because he hesitates to answer, Cleopatra wails Antony is dead, adding that should he confirm her fears he will kill his mistress, but if he assure her of the contrary, he may kiss her hand. When the messenger gasps Antony is well, Cleopatra effusively rewards him, only to interrupt him incredulously when he adds Antony and Caesar are friends. Because even this statement concludes with a timorous ‘but,’ Cleopatra waxes so impatient that he finally blurts out the news of Antony’s marriage to Octavia! In her rage Cleopatra strikes the messenger, although her attendants try to check her fury, and hales him up and down by the hair, the man meantime feebly protesting the match is not his fault. When the jealous queen bids him take back his words, he regrets not being able to do so, and thus so exasperates her that she is about to slay him, when he saves himself by flight. Drawing near her mistress, Charmian now implores her to exerelse some self-control, and Cleopatra, after raging for a while longer, recalls the man, from whom she wishes to extract further information. When Charmian reports him afraid to appear, Cleopatra promises not to hurt him, murmuring her hands lacked ‘nobility’ in striking a meaner than herself. When the maid reushers in the poor messenger, therefore, Cleopatra tells him it is an ungrateful task to bear bad news, yet makes him repeat Antony has married Octavia, although she interrupts him frequently by exclamations of rage.
Dismissing him finally, Cleopatra gives way to a paroxysm of fury which Charmian vainly tries to soothe, until turning finally to her, Cleopatra enquires whether in praising Antony she did not often dispraise Julius Cassar? When her attendant assures her such was the case, she bitterly rejoins she is ‘paid for’t now.’ Then, feeling faint, Cleopatra asks to be led to her apartment; but ere leaving, charges Alexas to make the messenger report Octavia’s features, her age, the colour of her hair, and her inclinations, for the Egyptian queen is madly jealous of the person who now receives Antony’s attentions. The next scene is played near Cape Misenum, where Pompey enters with his forces on one side, and the triumvirs on the other. Haughtily addressing his foes, Pompey declares that having exchanged hostages, they can confer before fighting; a move Cassar approves, for he remarks they sent written statements for Pompey to consider, and that unless he tie up ‘his discontented sword’ many will perish on the field of battle. In return Pompey, alluding to the conspiracy which drenched the Capitol with blood and caused the battle of Philippi, claims to be his father’s avenger. Although assured that Cassar and Antony are not afraid to meet him, even at sea where his forces are greatest, Pompey taunts them, until Lepidus enquires whether he will accept Sicily and Sardinia, rid the sea of pirates, send wheat to Rome, and cease to make war against the triumvirs? This proposal Pompey says he was on the point of accepting when Antony’s truculent speeches angered him. He is, however, ready to make friends, as he proves by shaking hands with Cassar, who notices a great change in him, which Pompey ascribes to the harsh fortunes he has recently endured. To cement this alliance feasts are suggested, Antony entertaining the rest with the famed Egyptian cooking, which it is reported made even Julius Cassar grow fat!
In the course of the ensuing playful conversation, Pompey asks Enobarbus whether Cleopatra really was carried to Cassar in a mattress, and after genially conversing with the rest, invites them on board his galley. All follow him thither, save Menas and Enobarbus, who discuss this meeting, and wonder that Pompey should conclude such a treaty. They also mention the marriage of Antony and Octavia, in reference to which Enobarbus shrewdly predicts that, ‘the band that seems to tie their friendship together will be the very strangler of their amity,’ for he feels certain Antony will ‘to his Egyptian dish again,’ and foresees that Octavia will then stir up Caesar’s wrath.
Amid music, servants pass to and fro on Pompey’s galley, commenting on the fact that their generals are drinking so freely that they are no longer responsible. After a while trumpets usher in the generals, Antony gravely stating that in Egypt the height of the Nile waters serves to gauge the prosperity which will visit the country at harvest time. When Lepidus enquires whether strange serpents are bred there from the mud, Antony gives a fantastic description of the crocodile, to which the others listen, while one of Pompey’s men draws him aside. It is clear Pompey does not approve of this man’s suggestion, since he indignantly terms him mad; still, the man insists if Pompey wishes to be master of the world, he need but have the cables of his galley cut, and convey these drunken world conquerors out to sea, when here, after disposing of them, he need fear no rivals! Rejoining this would be villainy on his own part, Pompey hints had his friend only known how to serve him, he would have executed this plan without consulting him. This remark so enrages the officer that he goes off, muttering he will no longer follow the fortunes of a man ‘who seeks, and will not take when once ’tis offered,’ a chance he feels he shall never find again. Meantime, turning to his companions, Pompey proposes healths, until Lepidus, overcome by potations, has to be carried off the ship, whereupon the servants sarcastically comment that a third part of the world is very drunk!
Meanwhile Pompey enquires whether this approaches an Alexandrian feast, only to be told by Antony it is gradually nearing one; so the drinking continues, until the music entices the generals to dance. After this Caesar prepares to retire, declaring his tongue is splitting, and as they land, Enobarbus warns both Antony and Caesar to be careful lest they fall, while Menas proposes going down into the cabin to talk sundry matters over with him.
The third act opens in a plain in Syria, where Ventidius, having avenged Crassus’ death, returns in triumph with the body of the prince of Parthia. Although his followers urge him to pursue the fugitives through Media, Ventidius deputes a lieutenant to finish this work, lest Antony wax jealous of his successes. Meantime, he proposes to send word/ of what he has done in Antony’s name to Athens, following these tidings in person as soon as possible.
We now witness a scene in Caesar’s antechamber, where Agrippa asks Enobarbus whether the brothers have parted? He learns in return that Pompey has gone, and the rest are about departing, Octavia weeping because she must leave Rome. Hearing Enobarbus profess devotion to Cassar, his master, Agrippa returns the compliment by saying he adores Mark Antony; and both conclude Lepidus is only the tool of these great men. They have barely departed together when Caesar, Antony, Lepidus, and Octavia come in, Antony begging his host not to escort them any further, while Caesar reminds him he is bearing away a ‘piece of virtue,’ which has been set betwixt them ‘as the cement’ of their love. When he urges Antony to take good care of his wife, the latter begs him not to offend him by mistrust, and takes leave, praying the gods to keep Caesar during his absence. While bidding Octavia farewell, Caesar notes ‘the April’s in her eyes,’ for she weeps at parting from him, while smiling upon her new husband. After some whispered words Caesar reluctantly lets her go, his followers meanwhile wondering whether he will weep, and mentioning the tears in Antony’s eyes when Julius Caesar died, and when Brutus was slain. After embracing both sister and brother-in-law, Caesar watches Antony depart with his wife, while trumpets sound the farewell note.
In another room of the same house, Enobarbus asks Eros what news he has heard? The report that Caesar and Lepidus have triumphed over Pompey causes Enobarbus to predict ‘they’ll grind the one the other,’ ere he wonders what has become of his master. Eros describes Antony pacing up and down the garden, denouncing Lepidus and threatening those who murdered Pompey. When Eno- barbus asks why the vessels are rigged, Eros rejoins they are bound for Italy, ere he hastens off to join his master.
The rising curtain reveals Caesar exclaiming Antony has gone back to Egypt, where he and Cleopatra have been seen enthroned, with their offspring at their feet! Not only has Antony bestowed upon Cleopatra all his recent conquests, but has proclaimed his Egyptian son ‘ king of kings.’ These tidings shock Agrippa, who vows Antony is getting too insolent, while Caesar claims the Romans can plainly see he is unworthy of respect. He adds, besides, that they will not credit the accusations that he has despoiled Pompey, deposed Lepidus, and detained part of Antony’s revenues, charges which Agrippa thinks it would be well to answer, although Caesar asserts he has done so by proving Lepidus cruel and by giving Antony Armenia. Nevertheless Agrippa and Mecaenas deem Antony will not be satisfied, just as Octavia arrives, affectionately greeting the brother who hails her as ‘a castaway.’ After denying this, she explains she has come hither of her own free will to make peace between her husband and brother. Hearing her remark that Antony granted her leave of absence, Caesar sarcastically retorts he was only too ready to let her go, and questions whether she knows where he is at present. When Octavia innocently rejoins ‘in Athens,’ Caesar grimly informs his ‘most wronged sister’ that her spouse has gone back to Egypt, where he is again subject to Cleopatra’s wiles, news which Octavia refuses to credit until it is confirmed by Mecaenas.
The next scene occurs near Actium, in Antony’s camp, where here Cleopatra threatens Enobarbus, because he pronounces her unfit for war, although she has decided to take part in the coming encounter. In an aside, Enobarbus comments upon the unwisdom of such a decision, and when Cleopatra enquires what he is muttering, declares her presence ‘needs must puzzle’ Antony, who, having been ‘traduced for levity,’ requires all his strength to oppose Caesar. He adds it is rumoured in Rome her eunuchs and maids are managing this war, an accusation which causes her charitably to hope Rome may sink and the tongues of her detractors rot!
Just then Antony enters with his general Canidius, discussing the news received and wondering that the fight should be so near at hand. When Cleopatra exclaims ‘celerity is never more admired than by the negligent,’ Antony declares it is a fitting rebuke, and decides the battle shall be by sea. This decision is opposed by Cleopatra and by the general; but Antony insists upon accepting Caesar’s challenge, although Enobarbus reminds him his vessels are but poorly manned.
While Canidius is vainly trying to make Antony change his mind, a messenger reports Caesar’s force in view. This man, too, implores Antony not to trust to rotten vessels, but to settle this quarrel by land. Notwithstanding these warnings, Antony embarks with Cleopatra and Enobarbus, leaving a soldier and the general to conclude sadly, ‘our leader’s led, and we are women’s men.’ In the next scene Caesar reviews his army on a plain near Actium, and bids his general Taurus keep these forces in reserve until he has triumphed at sea, warning him that ‘our fortune lies upon this jump.’
In another part of the same plain Antony points out to Enobarbus where his squadrons are to be stationed, ere he goes off to count the ships of his foe. Then forces march to and fro on the scene, while a naval battle is being waged, at the end of which Enobarbus cries all is over, and Antony’s fleet of sixty sail in full flight! While he is bewailing this defeat, the soldier, Scarus, joins him exclaiming ‘we have kiss’d away kingdoms and provinces,’ and describing how in the midst of the fray Cleopatra fled, and how Antony clapped on ‘his sea-wing, and, like a doting mallard,’ followed her. This soldier avers he ‘never saw an action of such shame,’ just as Canidius enters, declaring if Antony had not fled all would now be well. Asked in what direction the fleet has gone, he designates the Peloponnesus, bitterly adding that he will surrender to Caesar, six kings having already given him this example. But Scarus and Enobarbus decide to follow Antony’s fortunes, although ‘reason sits in the wind against’ them.
After the battle of Actium, Antony enters Cleopatra’s palace, exclaiming the earth is ashamed to bear him, and bidding his followers divide his treasures and join Caesar. When they refuse to desert him, he vows he set them a cowardly example for which he blushes. In his humiliation he longs to be alone, and has just sunk into dejected revery, when Cleopatra comes in, supported by her women and Eros. These attendants beseech the queen to comfort Antony, who shudders at her sight, and hides his face when they urge him to make the first advances. Bitterly, Antony recalls the part he played at Philippi, where his rival proved an inglorious spectator, and heaves a regretful sigh; so, seeing he will not make any advances, Cleopatra draws near him in a suppliant attitude, and when he reproachfully states he is trying to ‘convey his shame’ out of her eyes, entreats his pardon for fleeing. Hearing her stammer she little thought he would follow her, Antony rejoins she knew his heart was to her ‘rudder tied by the strings’ so it was inevitable she should tow him after her. But, because she humbly sues for pardon, he finally kisses away her tears, vowing ‘one of them rates all that is won and lost’ and adding that he will see what answer his schoolmaster will bring from Caesar. This scene closes with his assurance that ‘Fortune knows we scorn her most when most she offers blows.’
The next scene is played in camp, where Caesar receives Antony’s messenger, his lieutenant commenting upon the fact that the defeated general, who once had ‘superfluous kings’ at his command, now has to use humble emissaries. After transmitting Antony’s greeting, the schoolmaster requests he may continue to live in Egypt, or retire to Athens, while Cleopatra and her children continue to reign over Egypt. Although Caesar haughtily refuses to treat with Antony, he declares if Cleopatra will drive away or kill ‘her all-disgraced friend’ ‘she shall not sue unheard.’ It is as bearer of this message that the schoolmaster departs, while Caesar enjoins upon Thyreus to go and win Cleopatra away from Antony, noting, besides, how the latter ‘becomes his flaw, and what thou think’st his very action speaks in every power that moves.’
In the palace Cleopatra consults Enobarbus, who deems they have no alternative save to ‘think, and die.’ Still, he blames Antony only, considering the queen justified by her sex for showing fear. He cannot conceive, however, how Antony could forfeit half the world to follow her, and is discussing this knotty point with Cleopatra, when Antony enters with the schoolmaster, whose report he can hardly credit. When told again the queen will be courteously treated provided she yield him up, Antony grimly bids her send his grizzled head ‘to the boy Caesar.’ Hearing these bitter words, Cleopatra tries to pacify him, but he hastens out to challenge Caesar ‘sword against sword,’ although Enobarbus feels sure the conqueror will not accept, and shrewdly adds, ‘I see men’s judgments are a parcel of their fortunes.’
At that moment an attendant announces a messenger from Caesar, his abrupt manner proving some of Cleopatra’s power is already gone. She bewails this, while Enobarbus comments that ‘loyalty well held to fools does make our faith mere folly.’ Still he realises those who follow a fallen lord, ‘conquer him that did his master conquer,’ and earn ‘a place i’ the story.’ Thyreus is now ushered in, and craves a private interview with Cleopatra, who assures him ‘none but friends’ are present. When Thyreus objects they may be friends of Antony as well, Enobarbus retorts his master needs them just as much as Caesar! Turning to the queen, Thyreus explains that, knowing she clung to Antony through fear more than love, Caesar is inclined to pity rather than blame her. When Cleopatra hypocritically concedes she was conquered rather than won, Enobarbus questions this statement beneath his breath, and concludes that as his master, like a sinking ship, is being deserted, he had better follow the general example. He, therefore, slips out, while Thyreus enquires what reply he is to convey to Caesar, who offers to be Cleopatra’s ‘staff,’ provided she will forsake Antony and place herself wholly under his protection. After enquiring the messenger’s name, the subtle Cleopatra bids him report she lays her crown at Caesar’s feet, and awaits the doom of Egypt ‘from his all-obeying breath.’ Pleased to bear so satisfactory a message, Thyreus begs permission to kiss her hand, a favour she grants with the remark that ‘your Caesar’s father oft … bestow’d his lips on that unworthy place, as it rain’d kisses.’
Even while Thyreus is receiving this token of favour Antony appears, and driven mad by jealousy, orders the ambassador whipped. Then, while the culprit is hurried off to his doom, he reviles Cleopatra, angrily mentioning all the lovers she had before him, and accusing her of trying to win every man she sees. He is still raging when the chastened Thyreus is brought back by his order, and told to return to Caesar bearing Antony’s challenge. After he has gone, Cleopatra cleverly soothes her irate lover, and so restores his confidence in himself that he proposes to celebrate her birthday by another ‘ gaudy night.’ After that he will go forth to fight, and swears: ‘I’ll make death love me; for I will contend even with his pestilent scythe.’ As Antony and Cleopatra leave the room, Enobarbus sagely comments, ‘when valour preys on reason, it eats the sword it fights with,’ and feels more than ever inclined to desert so rash a master.
The fourth act opens in the Roman camp, where Caesar, after reading Antony’s challenge, contemptuously bids his friends ‘let the old ruffian know I have many other ways to die.’ Then, after deciding he will on the morrow fight ‘the last of many battles,’ he gives orders that his army be feasted. Meantime, on receiving Caesar’s refusal to meet him in single encounter, Antony boasts ‘by sea and land I’ll fight: or I will live, or bathe my dying honour in the blood shall make it live again.’ This settled he, too, orders a feast, and, to Cleopatra’s surprise, shakes hands with all his serv- ants, thanking them for having served him faithfully. Then he bids them wait upon him once more, assuring them their services won’t be required any longer, and seeing tears in their eyes, tries to cheer them by saying, ‘I hope well of to-morrow ; and will lead you where rather I’ll expect victorious life than death and honour.’
While the revelry of Antony’s ‘gaudy night’ is at its height, the soldiers on guard without the palace exchange remarks, commenting upon the coming battle, and strange noises heard in the streets. Suddenly their attention is attracted by mysterious music in the air which gradually seems to pass out of the city, whence they superstitiously conclude the god Hercules is forsaking Antony and going over to the enemy.
At dawn, Antony calls for his armour, although Cleopatra tries to beguile him to rest a little longer. When Eros produces the weapons, Cleopatra insists upon helping her lover don his armour, thereby winning his praise and the gallant assurance that ‘he that unbuckles this, till we do please to daff’t for our repose, shall hear a storm.’ He is wishing Cleopatra could see him fight, proudly assuring her she would see ‘a workman in’t,’ when soldiers enter, whom he jovially greets; then, kissing Cleopatra good-bye he leaves her, ‘a man of steel,’ bidding all who wish to fight follow him closely. After he has gone, Cleopatra is tenderly led back to her chamber by Charmian, murmuring Antony has departed gallantly, and that she wishes ‘he and Cassar might determine this great war in single fight!’
Arriving at camp, Antony is greeted by good wishes from the soldier who, at Actium, tried to make him stake his fortunes on a land battle rather than trust to rotten ships. Since then the soldier has noted many desertions, reporting as the latest the departure of Enobarbus, who has just gone over to Caesar’s camp. Hearing this man left his treasures behind him, Antony generously orders them sent after him, with a letter containing ‘gentle adieus and greetings,’ together with the hope he will ‘never find more cause to change a master.’ Then he groans to himself that his ‘ fortunes have corrupted honest men!’ Meantime, in Caesar’s camp preparations are being made for the coming battle, where Antony is to be taken alive, if possible, and where Caesar predicts ‘the time of universal peace is near. Prove this a prosperous day, the three-nook’d world shall bear the olive freely.’
Just then a messenger reports Antony is in the field, so Cassar orders those who have deserted him to fight first. While he hurries out to see his orders executed, Enobarbus remarks that Alexas, who deserted Antony, has been hanged, that none of the deserters enjoy ‘ honourable trust,’ and concludes he did ill to forsake his master and can ‘joy no more.’ While he is talking to himself a soldier informs him Antony has sent his treasures, but when Enobarbus bids him take them all, the soldier, deeming he is joking, enjoins upon him to see the messenger safely out of camp, adding admiringly, ‘your emperor continues still a Jove.’ Pierced to the quick by Antony’s generosity, Enobarbus declares it has so broken his heart, that he will seek ‘some ditch where herein to die; the foul’st best fits my latter part of life.’
On the battle-field between both camps Agrippa retreats with his forces, exclaiming their ‘oppression exceeds what we expected.’ He is closely followed by Antony and Scarus; and the latter, although wounded, enthusiastically exclaims that had they fought thus before, they would surely have conquered. When Antony urges him to go and have his wounds dressed, Scarus jocosely rejoins there is room on his person for many more gashes. They are still talking when Eros appears to report they are triumphing, news which puts new ardour into both Antony and Scarus.
Beneath the walls of Alexandria Antony arrives in triumph, having beaten the foe back to their tents, and decided to postpone the rest of the victory until the morrow. He is shaking hands with Scarus when Cleopatra appears, whom he rapturously clasps to his heart, bidding her ‘ride on the pants triumphing!’ When she exults that he has come ‘smiling, from the great world’s snare uncaught,’ he dubs her his nightingale, and relates the day’s feats, bidding her allow brave Scarus to kiss her hand. Not only does Cleopatra grant this favour, but she promises the man a golden armour, ere Antony leads her off to the city, where music heralds their triumphant return.
Night has come, and sentinels in Csesar’s camp watch the stars, discussing the coming battle, and declaring the one just waged proved very unkind to their party. While they are talking, Enobarbus strolls on the scene, talking to himself, and his actions seem so suspicious that the sentinels hide to watch him, commenting softly on all he says and does. They thus overhear him confess to the moon how sorely he repents his treachery, and wail that the world will register him as ‘ master-leaver,’ His grief is so heartrending that the sentinels are about to address him, when he falls in what they take for a swoon. But, when they emerge from their hiding place and try to revive him, they discover he is lifeless, and bear away his corpse.
Between the two camps Antony and Scarus appear, the former exclaiming Caesar is about to try his fortunes by sea. Undismayed, he calmly awaits the result of this battle, which he has come to watch from a neighbouring height. Meantime, in another part of the field, Caesar informs his army that as all Antony’s best forces man the ships, he proposes to attack him by land.
Unable to see as much as he wishes from the point he has chosen, Antony climbs higher still, while Scarus comments that ‘swallows have built in Cleopatra’s sails their nests,’ that the augurs refuse to speak, and that Antony’s spirits are so fluctuating that the result of the day seems very doubtful. Great noise of a battle at sea is heard, and before long Antony rushes in exclaiming all is lost, since the Egyptian fleet has surrendered! In his wrath he curses Cleopatra, bids his men save themselves, and declares that ‘ when I am revenged upon my charm, I have done all.’ Scarus, having hastened off to warn the army of the fleet’s defeat, Antony bids farewell to the sun, whose rising he never expects to see again, bitterly adding that the people who once fawned upon him will now pay court to Cassar. He realises he has been beguiled into this war by ‘this false soul of Egypt,’ and is just calling for Eros when Cleopatra enters. Recoiling from her in horror, Antony bids her not approach lest he mar her beauty, and thus detract from Caesar’s triumph! His allusions to her progress through Rome behind the conqueror’s chariot, where patient Octavia will plough her visage ‘ with her prepared nails,’ so horrify Cleopatra, that she flees in dismay, while Antony compares himself to the tortured and dying Hercules. Still he is determined Cleopatra shall perish, too, for having betrayed him, and loudly calls for Eros to execute his revenge.
Having fled from Antony’s enraged presence to her own apartment, Cleopatra hysterically sobs he is mad ; then eagerly adopts Charmian’s suggestion that she take refuge in the monument, where she can guard against every attack, since ‘the soul and body rive not more in parting than greatness going off.’ She, therefore, bids her eunuch report to Antony she died breathing his name, and send word after her how this news is received.
Meantime, Antony asks Eros whether he was ever mocked by mirage, and vows he does not at present behold Antony the conqueror, but one whom Cleopatra has betrayed. His man is weeping over his sorrows when the eunuch enters, to inform Antony his mistress has just expired with his name on her lips! These tidings are received with uncanny calmness by Antony, who, after dismissing the eunuch, bids Eros unarm him, for ‘the long day’s task is done, and we must sleep.’ While his man removes the battered gear Antony never expects to don again, he mutters he will soon overtake Cleopatra and sue her pardon for having misjudged her. Then, left alone, he ardently pictures their entrance, hand in hand, to the land of shades, ‘where souls do couch on flowers,’ and where they’ll enter ‘hand in hand, and with our sprightly port’ will ‘make the ghosts gaze.’
Summoning Eros, who has carried away his discarded weapons, Antony next states it is a disgrace to live since Cleopatra has gone, and reminds his man of the promise once given to slay his master when the latter bade him do so. Seeing Eros shrink from this task, Antony fiercely demands whether he wishes to see him grace Caesar’s triumph, and urges him to keep his oath. At first, all Antony’s eloquence proves vain, but finally Eros gasps he may gain courage to do it if his master will only assure him of his forgiveness, bid him farewell, and turn aside his noble countenance. But, when all this has been done, Eros stabs himself, exclaiming ‘thus do I escape the sorrow of Antony’s death.’ Pronouncing his man ‘thrice-nobler’ than himself, and vowing Eros and Cleopatra have set him such an example that it behooves him to act as a bridegroom and run to his death ‘as to a lover’s bed,’ Antony falls upon his sword, inflicting so painful a wound that he groans for his guards to despatch him. These men, rushing in, refuse this humane office; but one of them, picking up Antony’s bloody sword, darts off with it to Caesar. Meantime, pleading for death, Antony addresses a newcomer, whose remark that Cleopatra sent him, reveals she is not dead as was supposed. On discovering his charmer has taken refuge with her treasures in the monument, Antony, anxious to die in her presence, implores the guards to carry him thither; so, although fearing he may expire on the way, they gently raise and bear away the general who so often led them on to victory.
In the interior of the monument, Cleopatra moans she will ‘never go from hence,’ and insists, in spite of all proffered consolations that ‘our size of sorrow, proportion’d to our cause, must be as great as that which makes it.’ While she is moralising thus, a messenger bids her look out and see the dying Antony brought to her by his guards. A moment later Antony appears upon the scene, and perceiving his plight Cleopatra’s heart melts. To reassure her, Antony himself exclaims, ‘Peace! not Caesar’s valour hath o’erthrown Antony, but Antony’s hath triumph’d on itself,’ a state of affairs she deems fitting though passing sad. When Antony adds he is dying fast, and wishes to exhale his last breath in a kiss, she refuses to come down lest she fall into Caesar’s hands. But she and her maids laboriously draw him up into the monument, where she strains him to her heart. Collecting his last strength, Antony then warns beloved ‘Egypt,’ as he calls her, not to trust any of Caesar’s followers save Proculeius, and bids her remember him only as he was in his prime, rejoicing that he dies ‘a Roman by a Roman valiantly vanquish’d.’ Then, as his eyes close in death, Cleopatra wails ‘the crown of the earth doth melt,’ and that ‘there is nothing left remarkable beneath the visiting moon.’ In the midst of her lament she sinks into a swoon, so that her maids fancy she is dead, too; but, after a while, Cleopatra comes to life again, only to bewail her lot, and question whether ‘it is sin to rush into the secret house of death, ere death dare come to us?’ Then, perceiving her women’s grief, Cleopatra rouses herself sufficiently to say they will bury Antony, ‘and then, what’s brave, what’s noble, let’s do it after the high Roman fashion, and make death proud to take us.’
The fifth act opens in Caesar’s camp just as he is directing an officer to go and demand Antony’s surrender. This man has barely departed when a guard bursts in, accounting for his unmannerly intrusion by gasping Antony was his master while he lived. When he reveals Antony’s suicide, Caesar, at first, can scarcely credit it, although he eloquently praises the man whose faults he deprecates while lauding his great deeds, and concludes his panegyric with the statement that they ‘could not stall together in the whole world,’ because their stars were unreconcilable.
The arrival of a messenger from Cleopatra, asking his intentions, so she ‘preparedly may frame herself to the way she’s forced to,’ interrupts this scene. Bidding the man rejoin that Cleopatra may be of good heart ‘for Caesar cannot live to be ungentle,’ he dismisses this messenger, sending Proculeius after him to comfort the queen, ‘lest, in her greatness, by some mortal stroke she do defeat us; for her life in Rome would be eternal in our triumph.’ Then Caesar invites the rest to his tent, where he offers to prove to them ‘how hardly’ he was drawn into this war, and how calmly and gently he proceeded in all his writings.
In the interior of the monument Cleopatra is musing how even a Caesar is only ‘Fortune’s knave’ when Proculeius delivers the conqueror’s greetings and request that she ‘study on what fair demands’ she wishes him to grant her. Ascertaining that this is the very man Antony bade her trust, Cleopatra rejoins that when a queen turns beggar she can sue only for a kingdom, and that hence she entreats her son may have Egypt, promising all gratitude in return. All Proculeius can rejoin is the assurance she has fallen ‘into a princely hand,’ together with a promise to convey her request to see Caesar face to face.
The hollowness of this exchange of courtesies is proved by the fact that, having forced their way into the monument as ambassadors, the Romans now treacherously take possession of it, and make Cleopatra their prisoner, deftly disarming her when she draws a dagger to slay herself. Then they sternly warn her not to abuse their master’s bounty by undoing of herself, whereupon she calls for death, vehemently declaring she will neither eat nor drink if she cannot save herself otherwise from being stared at in Rome. To pacify her, Proculeius assures her ‘you do extend these thoughts of horror further than you shall find cause in Caesar.’ Then, summoned to his master, he entrusts her keeping to his comrade Dolabella, and departs, promising to do his best for the captive queen.
When he has gone, Dolabella vainly tries to rouse Cleopatra, who finally gasps she dreamt there was a man called Antony, whose ‘legs bestrid the ocean,’ and whose ‘voice was propertied as all the tuned spheres.’ It is only when her enthusiastic description of Antony is finished, that she becomes conscious of Dolabella, from whom she wrings the admission that she is, indeed, destined to figure in Caesar’s triumph.
Just then trumpets proclaim the arrival of Caesar, before whom Cleopatra sinks on her knees as a suppliant, only to be told to rise since her injuries are forgotten, and assured if she prove amenable to reason she will find ‘a benefit in this change.’ Caesar adds the stern warning, however, that if she resorts to ‘Antony’s course’ she will jeopardise her children’s future. Hearing this, Cleopatra humbly proffers the inventory of her treasures, assuring Caesar she reserves naught, as her treasurer can bear witness. But, instead of confirming these words, her treasurer reveals she has reserved more than half her fortune for her own use, a thrift Caesar admires, while Cleopatra hotly reviles the man for betraying her. Hoping to give a favourable colour to this unexpected revelation, Cleopatra next pretends she reserved these things as propitiatory gifts for Caesar’s wife and sister, and after dismissing her treasurer philosophically remarks, ‘Be it known, that we, the greatest, are misthought for things that others do; and, when we fall, we answer others’ merits in our name, are therefore to be pitied.’
After assuring her she can retain her treasures, and that he will do nothing without consulting her, Caesar leaves, while Cleopatra watches him depart, murmuring he is trying to prevent her from being noble’ to herself. Then she whispers a few words in Charmian’s ear, whence Iras gloomily concludes ‘the bright day is done, and we are for the dark.’ Just then Dolabella reenters and curtly informs the captive queen that Caesar is about to leave for Syria, where she and her children are ordered to precede him.
Grateful for this warning, Cleopatra watches Dolabella retire, and then asks Iras how they could endure to be exposed to the stares of the vulgar in Rome, where their Alexandrian revels will be staged, and ‘some squeaking Cleopatra ‘ will ‘boy my greatness.’ Rather than undergo such humiliation, Iras is ready to scratch out her own eyes; a way to ‘ fool their preparation ‘ that Cleopatra approves. But, when Charmian reenters, she surprises both maids by bidding them attire her as when she met Antony on the Cydnus, assuring them that, that duty fulfilled, she will give them ‘leave to play till doomsday.’
While the women are preparing this elaborate toilet, a guard reports that ‘ a rural fellow ‘insists upon being admitted, so Cleopatra bids him usher the man in, whispering ‘ he brings me liberty. My resolution’s placed, and I have nothing of woman in me: now from head to foot I am marble-constant.’ As this soliloquy ends, the peasant enters, and when sure the guard cannot overhear them, Cleopatra eagerly enquires, ‘ Hast thou the pretty worm of Nilus there, that kills and pains not?’ She seems gratified when she learns the basket contains figs and deadly asps, whose bite the man volubly assures her is mortal. Bidding him set the basket down, Cleopatra dismisses him, so he reluctantly leaves, wishing her ‘ all joy of the worm.’ After he has gone, the women bring in Cleopatra’s regal attire, wherein she urges them to hurry and array her, for Antony is calling her, and will surely praise her noble act. When duly decked out, Cleopatra kisses both maids farewell and as her lips touch Iras, the girl, overcome by her emotions, falls dead, while her mistress dully wonders whether she can have the aspic in her lips?
While Charmian weeps, Cleopatra reiterates she must hurry or Iras will be first to meet Antony, who will ‘make demand of her, and spend that kiss which is my heaven to have.’ Saying this, Cleopatra takes an asp from the basket and applies it to her breast, exclaiming, ‘with thy sharp teeth this knot intrinsicate of life at once untie.’ Because Charmian laments at the sight, Cleopatra murmurs it is her babe feeding at her breast, and rouses herself from her lethargy, only to apply a second asp to her arm, such is her eagerness to rejoin Antony. She has just breathed her last, and Charmian is tenderly adjusting her crown and robes, when guards rush in. Muttering Caesar has sent too slow a messenger, Charmian deftly applies an asp to her own arm, just as the guards become aware there is something strange in the queen’s attitude. While some loudly call for Dolabella, one reproachfully asks Charmian whether this is well, whereat she triumphantly rejoins ‘It is well done, and fitting for a princess descended of so many royal kings,’ ere she, too, sinks down lifeless.
When Dolabella enters, therefore, he finds three corpses, and exclaims Caesar himself is coming only to ‘see perform’d the dreaded act’ ‘ which he sought to hinder. These words are scarcely uttered when Caesar marches in, only to be greeted by the remark, 1 O sir, you are too sure an augurer, that you did fear is done.’ Exclaiming ‘ bravest at the last, she levell’d at our purposes, and being royal, took her own way,’ Caesar bends over the bodies to investigate the mode of death employed; while Dolabella questions the guards and hears of the rustic’s visit. The basket of figs is still in evidence, while the guard describes how Charmian was alive when he came in, and how suddenly she died. Sure if they had taken poison their beauty would be marred, whereas now Cleopatra ‘looks like sleep, as she would catch another Antony in her strong toil of grace,’ Caesar continues to search. Just then Dolabella discovers a slight puncture on the queen’s arm and breast, and one of the guards perceives the slimy trail of an asp on the fig leaves. The mystery being thus solved, Caesar explains he has just learned from Cleopatra’s physician, that his mistress ‘ pursued conclusions infinite of easy ways to die.’ After ordering her body removed, and decreeing ‘ she shall be buried by her Antony: no grave upon earth shall clip in it a pair so famous,’ Caesar adds that after the funeral he will return to Rome, but bids Dolabella ‘see high order in this great solemnity.’