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ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA.
In an age when the dominion of the world was submitted to the arbitrement of the sword, Antony speedily acquired the consideration which the splendour of his military talents merited. Sagacious and skilful in command, he fearlessly encountered the most imminent dangers, and cheerfully submitted to the severest privations. He lived as the comrade rather than the general of his troops; and his princely generosity in the day of prosperity, and considerate attention to their necessities and sufferings in the hour of misfortune, insured their entire devotion to his service. But the lustre of his virtues was clouded by numerous and heinous vices. The merit of his noble behaviour over the corpse of Brutus fades before his cruel persecution of, and brutal
triumph over, Cicero. His attachment and fidelity to Cæsar are too unhappily contrasted by his desertion of Fulvia, and base ingratitude to the devoted and virtuous Octavia. If we applaud his unbounded munificence, his insatiable rapacity and wanton cruelty deserve nothing less than the severest reprobation. His energy, and patient endurance of almost unexampled hardships, in war, are too strongly contrasted by his luxury, and shameful depravity, in peace. In an early association with dissolute companions, he contracted a fatal love of dissipation, which the splendour of his subsequent fortune afforded him the most unbounded means of gratifying. He was naturally open and unsuspicious, and the habitual indulgence of his passions rendered him an easy prey to the blandishments of female art. In the hands of the voluptuous, but all accomplished, Cleopatra, he lost even the power of resistance; the calls of honour, the voice of fame, and the excitements of ambition were alike powerless. In the frivolous pastimes of a female court, and the luxurious surfeits of sumptuous entertainments, the soldier who had
Quarter'd the world, and o'er green Neptune's back
was lost in the effeminate votary to sloth and sensual indulgence:
“ The triple pillar of the world transform'd
Into a strumpet's fool”. Such has history described the hero of the tragedy before us. The most repulsive feature in his character, cruelty, the dramatist has entirely suppressed, whilst he has taken frequent opportunities to enlarge upon, and give instances of, his courage, constancy, nobility, and generosity. In Julius Cæsar, indeed, Shakspeare has carried his partiality to Antony so far, that a sincere and amiable attachment to Cæsar is his prominent characteristic, and his vices are no more than lightly alluded to under the scarcely reprobative phrase, “ Antony, that revels long o'nights,” and, “a masker and a reveller." Not till our author exhibited Antony under the witchery of Cleopatra did he represent him as completely abandoned to voluptuousness. Shakspeare adopted the opinion of Plutarch that Cleopatra “ did waken and stir up many vices yet hidden in Antony, and were never seene to any: and if any sparke of goodness or hope of rising were left him, Cleopatra quenched it straight, and made it worse than before." * It will be seen from Plutarch, that the instances
Life of Antonius, 922.
given by Shakspeare of Antony's indolence and dissipation are not amusements which the probability of their occurrence suggested to the mind of the poet, but faithful copies of the grave assertions of the historian :
“ From Alexandria This is the news: he fishes, drinks, and wastes The lamps of night in revel." * Sir Thomas North's account of the fishing party reflects more honour upon the divers than any others concerned in it:
“ On a time he went to angle for fish, and when he could take none, he was as angrie as could be ; because Cleopatra stood by. Wherefore he secretly commanded the fishermen, that, when he cast in his line, they should straight dive under the water, and put a fish on his hooke which they had taken before: and so snatched
angling rod, and brought up a fish twice or thrise. Cleopatra found it straight, yet she seemed not to see it, but wondered at his excellent fishing : but when she was alone by herself own people, she told them how it was, and bad them the next morning to be on the water to see the fishing A number of people came to the haven, and got into the fisher-boats to see this fishing. Antonius then threw in his line, and Cleopatra straight commanded one of her men to
* Act I. sc. 4.
dive under the water before Antonius' men, and to put some old salt-fish upon his bait. When he had hung the fish on his hooke, Antonius thinking he had taken a fish indeed, snatched up his line presently. Then they all fell a laughing."*
Of this stroke of Cleopatra's wit, Shakspeare makes, in a subsequent passage, distinct mention:
“ 'Twas merry, when
With fervency drew up." The notoriety of Antony's drunkenness and midnight revelry precludes the necessity of quotation from Plutarch ; but it may not be amiss to produce our author's authority for so startling an allegation as “ eight wild boars roasted whole at a breakfast, and but twelve persons there." +
Philotas, a physician, being in Antonius' kitchen, saw a world of diversities of meats, and amongst others, eight wild bores rosted whole; he began to wonder at it, and said : Sure, you have a great number of guests to supper.' The cooke fell a laughing, and answered him : No (quoth he), not many guests; not above twelve in all : but yet all that is boiled or rosted must be served in whole, or else it would be marred straight.'"
Life of Antonius, 924. † Act II. sc. 2.
I Life of Antonius, 928.