VENTIDIUS, his General.
DOLABELLA, his Friend.
ALEXAS, the Queen’s Eunuch.
SERAPION, Priest of Isis.
MYRIS, another Priest.
Servants to Antony.
CLEOPATRA, Queen of Egypt.
OCTAVIA, Antony’s Wife.
CHARMION, Cleopatra’s Maid.
IRAS, Cleopatra’s Maid.
Antony’s two little Daughters.
Scene I.—The Temple of Isis
Enter SERAPION, MYRIS, Priests of Isis
SERAPION. Portents and prodigies have grown so frequent,
That they have lost their name. Our fruitful Nile
Flowed ere the wonted season, with a torrent
So unexpected, and so wondrous fierce,
That the wild deluge overtook the haste
Even of the hinds that watched it: Men and beasts
Were borne above the tops of trees, that grew
On the utmost margin of the water-mark.
Then, with so swift an ebb the flood drove backward,
It slipt from underneath the scaly herd:
Here monstrous phocae panted on the shore;
Forsaken dolphins there with their broad tails,
Lay lashing the departing waves: hard by them,
Sea horses floundering in the slimy mud,
Tossed up their heads, and dashed the ooze about them.
Enter ALEXAS behind them
MYRIS. Avert these omens, Heaven!
SERAPION. Last night, between the hours of twelve and one,
In a lone aisle of the temple while I walked,
A whirlwind rose, that, with a violent blast,
Shook all the dome: the doors around me clapt;
The iron wicket, that defends the vault,
Where the long race of Ptolemies is laid,
Burst open, and disclosed the mighty dead.
From out each monument, in order placed,
An armed ghost starts up: the boy-king last
Reared his inglorious head. A peal of groans
Then followed, and a lamentable voice
Cried, Egypt is no more! My blood ran back,
My shaking knees against each other knocked;
On the cold pavement down I fell entranced,
And so unfinished left the horrid scene.
ALEXAS. And dreamed you this? or did invent the story,
To frighten our Egyptian boys withal,
And train them up, betimes, in fear of priesthood?
SERAPION. My lord, I saw you not,
Nor meant my words should reach you ears; but what
I uttered was most true.
ALEXAS. A foolish dream,
Bred from the fumes of indigested feasts,
And holy luxury.
SERAPION. I know my duty:
This goes no further.
ALEXAS. ‘Tis not fit it should;
Nor would the times now bear it, were it true.
All southern, from yon hills, the Roman camp
Hangs o’er us black and threatening like a storm
Just breaking on our heads.
SERAPION. Our faint Egyptians pray for Antony;
But in their servile hearts they own Octavius.
MYRIS. Why then does Antony dream out his hours,
And tempts not fortune for a noble day,
Which might redeem what Actium lost?
ALEXAS. He thinks ’tis past recovery.
SERAPION. Yet the foe
Seems not to press the siege.
ALEXAS. Oh, there’s the wonder.
Maecenas and Agrippa, who can most
With Caesar, are his foes. His wife Octavia,
Driven from his house, solicits her revenge;
And Dolabella, who was once his friend,
Upon some private grudge, now seeks his ruin:
Yet still war seems on either side to sleep.
SERAPION. ‘Tis strange that Antony, for some days past,
Has not beheld the face of Cleopatra;
But here, in Isis’ temple, lives retired,
And makes his heart a prey to black despair.
ALEXAS. ‘Tis true; and we much fear he hopes by absence
To cure his mind of love.
SERAPION. If he be vanquished,
Or make his peace, Egypt is doomed to be
A Roman province; and our plenteous harvests
Must then redeem the scarceness of their soil.
While Antony stood firm, our Alexandria
Rivalled proud Rome (dominion’s other seat),
And fortune striding, like a vast Colossus,
Could fix an equal foot of empire here.
ALEXAS. Had I my wish, these tyrants of all nature,
Who lord it o’er mankind, rhould perish,—perish,
Each by the other’s sword; But, since our will
Is lamely followed by our power, we must
Depend on one; with him to rise or fall.
SERAPION. How stands the queen affected?
ALEXAS. Oh, she dotes,
She dotes, Serapion, on this vanquished man,
And winds herself about his mighty ruins;
Whom would she yet forsake, yet yield him up,
This hunted prey, to his pursuer’s hands,
She might preserve us all: but ’tis in vain—
This changes my designs, this blasts my counsels,
And makes me use all means to keep him here.
Whom I could wish divided from her arms,
Far as the earth’s deep centre. Well, you know
The state of things; no more of your ill omens
And black prognostics; labour to confirm
The people’s hearts.
Enter VENTIDIUS, talking aside with a Gentleman of ANTONY’S
SERAPION. These Romans will o’erhear us.
But who’s that stranger? By his warlike port,
His fierce demeanour, and erected look,
He’s of no vulgar note.
ALEXAS. Oh, ’tis Ventidius,
Our emperor’s great lieutenant in the East,
Who first showed Rome that Parthia could be conquered.
When Antony returned from Syria last,
He left this man to guard the Roman frontiers.
SERAPION. You seem to know him well.
ALEXAS. Too well. I saw him at Cilicia first,
When Cleopatra there met Antony:
A mortal foe was to us, and Egypt.
But,—let me witness to the worth I hate,—
A braver Roman never drew a sword;
Firm to his prince, but as a friend, not slave,
He ne’er was of his pleasures; but presides
O’er all his cooler hours, and morning counsels:
In short the plainness, fierceness, rugged virtue,
Of an old true-stampt Roman lives in him.
His coming bodes I know not what of ill
To our affairs. Withdraw to mark him better;
And I’ll acquaint you why I sought you here,
And what’s our present work.
[They withdraw to a corner of the stage; and VENTIDIUS,
with the other, comes forward to the front.]
VENTIDIUS. Not see him; say you?
I say, I must, and will.
GENTLEMAN. He has commanded,
On pain of death, none should approach his presence.
VENTIDIUS. I bring him news will raise his drooping spirits,
Give him new life.
GENTLEMAN. He sees not Cleopatra.
VENTIDIUS. Would he had never seen her!
GENTLEMAN. He eats not, drinks not, sleeps not, has no use
Of anything, but thought; or if he talks,
‘Tis to himself, and then ’tis perfect raving:
Then he defies the world, and bids it pass,
Sometimes he gnaws his lips, and curses loud
The boy Octavius; then he draws his mouth
Into a scornful smile, and cries, “Take all,
The world’s not worth my care.”
VENTIDIUS. Just, just his nature.
Virtue’s his path; but sometimes ’tis too narrow
For his vast soul; and then he starts out wide,
And bounds into a vice, that bears him far
From his first course, and plunges him in ills:
But, when his danger makes him find his faults,
Quick to observe, and full of sharp remorse,
He censures eagerly his own misdeeds,
Judging himself with malice to himself,
And not forgiving what as man he did,
Because his other parts are more than man.—
He must not thus be lost.
[ALEXAS and the Priests come forward.]
ALEXAS. You have your full instructions, now advance,
Proclaim your orders loudly.
SERAPION. Romans, Egyptians, hear the queen’s command.
Thus Cleopatra bids: Let labour cease;
To pomp and triumphs give this happy day,
That gave the world a lord: ’tis Antony’s.
Live, Antony; and Cleopatra live!
Be this the general voice sent up to heaven,
And every public place repeat this echo.
VENTIDIUS. Fine pageantry!
SERAPION. Set out before your doors
The images of all your sleeping fathers,
With laurels crowned; with laurels wreath your posts,
And strew with flowers the pavement; let the priests
Do present sacrifice; pour out the wine,
And call the gods to join with you in gladness.
VENTIDIUS. Curse on the tongue that bids this general joy!
Can they be friends of Antony, who revel
When Antony’s in danger? Hide, for shame,
You Romans, your great grandsires’ images,
For fear their souls should animate their marbles,
To blush at their degenerate progeny.
ALEXAS. A love, which knows no bounds, to Antony,
Would mark the day with honours, when all heaven
Laboured for him, when each propitious star
Stood wakeful in his orb, to watch that hour
And shed his better influence. Her own birthday
Our queen neglected like a vulgar fate,
That passed obscurely by.
VENTIDIUS. Would it had slept,
Divided far from his; till some remote
And future age had called it out, to ruin
Some other prince, not him!
ALEXAS. Your emperor,
Though grown unkind, would be more gentle, than
To upbraid my queen for loving him too well.
VENTIDIUS. Does the mute sacrifice upbraid the priest!
He knows him not his executioner.
Oh, she has decked his ruin with her love,
Led him in golden bands to gaudy slaughter,
And made perdition pleasing: She has left him
The blank of what he was.
I tell thee, eunuch, she has quite unmanned him.
Can any Roman see, and know him now,
Thus altered from the lord of half mankind,
Unbent, unsinewed, made a woman’s toy,
Shrunk from the vast extent of all his honours,
And crampt within a corner of the world?
Thou bravest soldier, and thou best of friends!
Bounteous as nature; next to nature’s God!
Couldst thou but make new worlds, so wouldst thou give them,
As bounty were thy being! rough in battle,
As the first Romans when they went to war;
Yet after victory more pitiful
Than all their praying virgins left at home!
ALEXAS. Would you could add, to those more shining virtues,
His truth to her who loves him.
VENTIDIUS. Would I could not!
But wherefore waste I precious hours with thee!
Thou art her darling mischief, her chief engine,
Antony’s other fate. Go, tell thy queen,
Ventidius is arrived, to end her charms.
Let your Egyptian timbrels play alone,
Nor mix effeminate sounds with Roman trumpets,
You dare not fight for Antony; go pray
And keep your cowards’ holiday in temples.
[Exeunt ALEXAS, SERAPION.]
Re-enter the Gentleman of M. ANTONY
2 Gent. The emperor approaches, and commands,
On pain of death, that none presume to stay.
1 Gent. I dare not disobey him.
[Going out with the other.]
VENTIDIUS. Well, I dare.
But I’ll observe him first unseen, and find
Which way his humour drives: The rest I’ll venture.
Enter ANTONY, walking with a disturbed motion before
ANTONY. They tell me, ’tis my birthday, and I’ll keep it
With double pomp of sadness.
‘Tis what the day deserves, which gave me breath.
Why was I raised the meteor of the world,
Hung in the skies, and blazing as I travelled,
‘Till all my fires were spent; and then cast downward,
To be trod out by Caesar?
VENTIDIUS. [aside.] On my soul,
‘Tis mournful, wondrous mournful!
ANTONY. Count thy gains.
Now, Antony, wouldst thou be born for this?
Glutton of fortune, thy devouring youth
Has starved thy wanting age.
VENTIDIUS. How sorrow shakes him!
So, now the tempest tears him up by the roots,
And on the ground extends the noble ruin.
[ANTONY having thrown himself down.]
Lie there, thou shadow of an emperor;
The place thou pressest on thy mother earth
Is all thy empire now: now it contains thee;
Some few days hence, and then ’twill be too large,
When thou’rt contracted in thy narrow urn,
Shrunk to a few ashes; then Octavia
(For Cleopatra will not live to see it),
Octavia then will have thee all her own,
And bear thee in her widowed hand to Caesar;
Caesar will weep, the crocodile will weep,
To see his rival of the universe
Lie still and peaceful there. I’ll think no more on’t.
ANTONY. Give me some music, look that it be sad.
I’ll soothe my melancholy, till I swell,
And burst myself with sighing.—
‘Tis somewhat to my humour; stay, I fancy
I’m now turned wild, a commoner of nature;
Of all forsaken, and forsaking all;
Live in a shady forest’s sylvan scene,
Stretched at my length beneath some blasted oak,
I lean my head upon the mossy bark,
And look just of a piece as I grew from it;
My uncombed locks, matted like mistletoe,
Hang o’er my hoary face; a murm’ring brook
Runs at my foot.
VENTIDIUS. Methinks I fancy
Myself there too.
ANTONY. The herd come jumping by me,
And fearless, quench their thirst, while I look on,
And take me for their fellow-citizen.
More of this image, more; it lulls my thoughts.
[Soft music again.]
VENTIDIUS. I must disturb him; I can hold no longer.
[Stands before him.]
ANTONY. [starting up]. Art thou Ventidius?
VENTIDIUS. Are you Antony?
I’m liker what I was, than you to him
I left you last.
ANTONY. I’m angry.
VENTIDIUS. So am I.
ANTONY. I would be private: leave me.
VENTIDIUS. Sir, I love you,
And therefore will not leave you.
ANTONY. Will not leave me!
Where have you learnt that answer? Who am I?
VENTIDIUS. My emperor; the man I love next Heaven:
If I said more, I think ’twere scare a sin:
You’re all that’s good, and god-like.
ANTONY. All that’s wretched.
You will not leave me then?
VENTIDIUS. ‘Twas too presuming
To say I would not; but I dare not leave you:
And, ’tis unkind in you to chide me hence
So soon, when I so far have come to see you.
ANTONY. Now thou hast seen me, art thou satisfied?
For, if a friend, thou hast beheld enough;
And, if a foe, too much.
VENTIDIUS. Look, emperor, this is no common dew.
I have not wept this forty years; but now
My mother comes afresh into my eyes;
I cannot help her softness.
ANTONY. By heavens, he weeps! poor good old man, he weeps!
The big round drops course one another down
The furrows of his cheeks.—Stop them, Ventidius,
Or I shall blush to death, they set my shame,
That caused them, full before me.
VENTIDIUS. I’ll do my best.
ANTONY. Sure there’s contagion in the tears of friends:
See, I have caught it too. Believe me, ’tis not
For my own griefs, but thine.—Nay, father!
ANTONY. Emperor! Why, that’s the style of victory;
The conqu’ring soldier, red with unfelt wounds,
Salutes his general so; but never more
Shall that sound reach my ears.
VENTIDIUS. I warrant you.
ANTONY. Actium, Actium! Oh!—
VENTIDIUS. It sits too near you.
ANTONY. Here, here it lies a lump of lead by day,
And, in my short, distracted, nightly slumbers,
The hag that rides my dreams.—
VENTIDIUS. Out with it; give it vent.
ANTONY. Urge not my shame.
I lost a battle,—
VENTIDIUS. So has Julius done.
ANTONY. Thou favour’st me, and speak’st not half thou think’st;
For Julius fought it out, and lost it fairly.
VENTIDIUS. Nay, stop not.
Well, thou wilt have it,—like a coward, fled,
Fled while his soldiers fought; fled first, Ventidius.
Thou long’st to curse me, and I give thee leave.
I know thou cam’st prepared to rail.
VENTIDIUS. I did.
ANTONY. I’ll help thee.—I have been a man, Ventidius.
VENTIDIUS. Yes, and a brave one! but—
ANTONY. I know thy meaning.
But I have lost my reason, have disgraced
The name of soldier, with inglorious ease.
In the full vintage of my flowing honours,
Sat still, and saw it prest by other hands.
Fortune came smiling to my youth, and wooed it,
And purple greatness met my ripened years.
When first I came to empire, I was borne
On tides of people, crowding to my triumphs;
The wish of nations, and the willing world
Received me as its pledge of future peace;
I was so great, so happy, so beloved,
Fate could not ruin me; till I took pains,
And worked against my fortune, child her from me,
And returned her loose; yet still she came again.
My careless days, and my luxurious nights,
At length have wearied her, and now she’s gone,
Gone, gone, divorced for ever. Help me, soldier,
To curse this madman, this industrious fool,
Who laboured to be wretched: Pr’ythee, curse me.
VENTIDIUS. You are too sensible already
Of what you’ve done, too conscious of your failings;
And, like a scorpion, whipt by others first
To fury, sting yourself in mad revenge.
I would bring balm, and pour it in your wounds,
Cure your distempered mind, and heal your fortunes.
ANTONY. I know thou would’st.
VENTIDIUS. I will.
ANTONY. Ha, ha, ha, ha!
VENTIDIUS. You laugh.
ANTONY. I do, to see officious love.
Give cordials to the dead.
VENTIDIUS. You would be lost, then?
ANTONY. I am.
VENTIDIUS. I say you are not. Try your fortune.
ANTONY. I have, to the utmost. Dost thou think me desperate,
Without just cause? No, when I found all lost
Beyond repair, I hid me from the world,
And learnt to scorn it here; which now I do
So heartily, I think it is not worth
The cost of keeping.
VENTIDIUS. Caesar thinks not so;
He’ll thank you for the gift he could not take.
You would be killed like Tully, would you? do,
Hold out your throat to Caesar, and die tamely.
ANTONY. No, I can kill myself; and so resolve.
VENTIDIUS. I can die with you too, when time shall serve;
But fortune calls upon us now to live,
To fight, to conquer.
ANTONY. Sure thou dream’st, Ventidius.
VENTIDIUS. No; ’tis you dream; you sleep away your hours
In desperate sloth, miscalled philosophy.
Up, up, for honour’s sake; twelve legions wait you,
And long to call you chief: By painful journeys
I led them, patient both of heat and hunger,
Down form the Parthian marches to the Nile.
‘Twill do you good to see their sunburnt faces,
Their scarred cheeks, and chopt hands: there’s virtue in them.
They’ll sell those mangled limbs at dearer rates
Than yon trim bands can buy.
ANTONY. Where left you them?
VENTIDIUS. I said in Lower Syria.
ANTONY. Bring them hither;
There may be life in these.
VENTIDIUS. They will not come.
ANTONY. Why didst thou mock my hopes with promised aids,
To double my despair? They’re mutinous.
VENTIDIUS. Most firm and loyal.
ANTONY. Yet they will not march
To succour me. O trifler!
VENTIDIUS. They petition
You would make haste to head them.
ANTONY. I’m besieged.
VENTIDIUS. There’s but one way shut up: How came I hither?
ANTONY. I will not stir.
VENTIDIUS. They would perhaps desire
A better reason.
ANTONY. I have never used
My soldiers to demand a reason of
My actions. Why did they refuse to march?
VENTIDIUS. They said they would not fight for Cleopatra.
ANTONY. What was’t they said?
VENTIDIUS. They said they would not fight for Cleopatra.
Why should they fight indeed, to make her conquer,
And make you more a slave? to gain you kingdoms,
Which, for a kiss, at your next midnight feast,
You’ll sell to her? Then she new-names her jewels,
And calls this diamond such or such a tax;
Each pendant in her ear shall be a province.
ANTONY. Ventidius, I allow your tongue free licence
On all my other faults; but, on your life,
No word of Cleopatra: she deserves
More worlds than I can lose.
VENTIDIUS. Behold, you Powers,
To whom you have intrusted humankind!
See Europe, Afric, Asia, put in balance,
And all weighed down by one light, worthless woman!
I think the gods are Antonies, and give,
Like prodigals, this nether world away
To none but wasteful hands.
ANTONY. You grow presumptuous.
VENTIDIUS. I take the privilege of plain love to speak.
ANTONY. Plain love! plain arrogance, plain insolence!
Thy men are cowards; thou, an envious traitor;
Who, under seeming honesty, hast vented
The burden of thy rank, o’erflowing gall.
O that thou wert my equal; great in arms
As the first Caesar was, that I might kill thee
Without a stain to honour!
VENTIDIUS. You may kill me;
You have done more already,—called me traitor.
ANTONY. Art thou not one?
VENTIDIUS. For showing you yourself,
Which none else durst have done? but had I been
That name, which I disdain to speak again,
I needed not have sought your abject fortunes,
Come to partake your fate, to die with you.
What hindered me to have led my conquering eagles
To fill Octavius’ bands? I could have been
A traitor then, a glorious, happy traitor,
And not have been so called.
ANTONY. Forgive me, soldier;
I’ve been too passionate.
VENTIDIUS. You thought me false;
Thought my old age betrayed you: Kill me, sir,
Pray, kill me; yet you need not, your unkindness
Has left your sword no work.
ANTONY. I did not think so;
I said it in my rage: Pr’ythee, forgive me.
Why didst thou tempt my anger, by discovery
Of what I would not hear?
VENTIDIUS. No prince but you
Could merit that sincerity I used,
Nor durst another man have ventured it;
But you, ere love misled your wandering eyes,
Were sure the chief and best of human race,
Framed in the very pride and boast of nature;
So perfect, that the gods, who formed you, wondered
At their own skill, and cried—A lucky hit
Has mended our design. Their envy hindered,
Else you had been immortal, and a pattern,
When Heaven would work for ostentation’s sake
To copy out again.
ANTONY. But Cleopatra—
Go on; for I can bear it now.
VENTIDIUS. No more.
ANTONY. Thou dar’st not trust my passion, but thou may’st;
Thou only lov’st, the rest have flattered me.
VENTIDIUS. Heaven’s blessing on your heart for that kind word!
May I believe you love me? Speak again.
ANTONY. Indeed I do. Speak this, and this, and this.
Thy praises were unjust; but, I’ll deserve them,
And yet mend all. Do with me what thou wilt;
Lead me to victory! thou know’st the way.
VENTIDIUS. And, will you leave this—
ANTONY. Pr’ythee, do not curse her,
And I will leave her; though, Heaven knows, I love
Beyond life, conquest, empire, all, but honour;
But I will leave her.
VENTIDIUS. That’s my royal master;
And, shall we fight?
ANTONY. I warrant thee, old soldier.
Thou shalt behold me once again in iron;
And at the head of our old troops, that beat
The Parthians, cry aloud—Come, follow me!
VENTIDIUS. Oh, now I hear my emperor! in that word
Octavius fell. Gods, let me see that day,
And, if I have ten years behind, take all:
I’ll thank you for the exchange.
ANTONY. O Cleopatra!
ANTONY. I’ve done: In that last sigh she went.
Caesar shall know what ’tis to force a lover
From all he holds most dear.
VENTIDIUS. Methinks, you breathe
Another soul: Your looks are more divine;
You speak a hero, and you move a god.
ANTONY. Oh, thou hast fired me; my soul’s up in arms,
And mans each part about me: Once again,
That noble eagerness of fight has seized me;
That eagerness with which I darted upward
To Cassius’ camp: In vain the steepy hill
Opposed my way; in vain a war of spears
Sung round my head, and planted on my shield;
I won the trenches, while my foremost men
Lagged on the plain below.
VENTIDIUS. Ye gods, ye gods,
For such another honour!
ANTONY. Come on, my soldier!
Our hearts and arms are still the same: I long
Once more to meet our foes; that thou and I,
Like Time and Death, marching before our troops,
May taste fate to them; mow them out a passage,
And, entering where the foremost squadrons yield,
Begin the noble harvest of the field.
Categories: English Literature