« AnteriorContinua »
Shakspeare has very concisely expressed the disgust which Octavius would naturally feel at his coadjutor's degrading irregularities :
“ Let us grant, it is not Amiss to tumble on the bed of Ptolemy; To give a kingdom for a mirth; to sit And keep the turn of tippling with a slave; To reel the streets at noon, and stand the buffet With knaves that smell of sweat: say, this becomes him, (As his composure must be rare indeed Whom these things cannot blemish,) yet must Antony No way excuse his soils, when we do bear So great weight in his lightness.”
I shall quote some passages from Plutarch in illustration of this account of Anthony.
“ Furthermore, things that seeme intollerable in other men, as to boast commonly, to jest with one or other, to drinke like a good fellow with every body, to sit with the souldiers when they dine, and to eate and drinke with them souldierlike, it is incredible what wonderful love it wan him amongst them." + Standing 66 the buffet with knaves that smell of sweat," has reference to another princely amusement in which Antony delighted Sometime, also, when he would go up and downe the city disguised like a slave in the night, and would peere into poore men's windowes and their shops, and scold and braule with them within the house; Cleopatra would be * Act 1. sc. 4.
+ Life of Antonius, 923.
also in a chamber-maide's array, and amble up and downe the streets with him, so that often times Antonius bare away both mocks and blows." *
In the first scene of the play, Antony proposes such an expedition to the beauteous partner of his pleasures :
To-night we'll wander through the streets, and note The qualities of people. Come, my queen; Last night you did desire it: The extent and effect of Antony's fatal infatuation by Cleopatra, are forcibly stated in Plutarch:
6 Now Antonius was so ravished with the love of Cleopatra, that though his wife Fulvia had great wars, and much ado with Cæsar for his affaires, and that the army of the Parthians was now assembled in Mesopotamia, ready to invade Syria: yet (as though all this had nothing touched him) he yielded himselfe to go with Cleopatra into Alexandria, where he spent and lost in childish sports, (as a man might say) and idle pastimes, the most precious thing a man can spend, and that is, Time. For they made an order between them, which they called Amimetobion, (as much as to say, no life comparable and matchable with it) one feasting each other by turnes, and in cost exceeding all measure and reason.'
* Life of Antonius, 923.
Shakspeare's expression of Antony's devoted. ness to the delights of love, and of the oblivion of his projects of ambition, is extremely spirited *; but the passage most strongly expressive of the entire subjection of his reason to his passions, is his reply to Cleopatra's petition for pardon, when her indiscretion had effected his utter ruin :
“ Fall not a tear I say ; one of them rates
All that is won and lost: Give me a kiss ;
Even this repays me." + The opinion entertained by the dramatic Antony of the worthlessness of Cleopatra, is a circumstance entirely of the poet's own creation. Antony describes her as “ cunning past man's thought," and designates her in terms which, to the mind of a lover, would naturally communicate feelings of unmingled disgust. “ I found you as a morsel, cold upon
Dead Cæsar's trencher : nay, you were a fragment Of Cneius Pompey's; besides what hotter hours, Unregister'd in vulgar fame, you have Luxuriously pick'd out: - For, I am sure, Though you can guess what temperance should be, You know not what it is." I He is fully alive to, and bitterly laments
*“ Let Rome in Tyber melt! and the wide arch
Act I. sc. 1. and the subsequent passages. + Act III. sc. 9.
† Act III. sc. 11.
the folly and degradation of his conduct; but his firmest resolves are feebly opposed against the potent spell of his
“grave charm,Whose beck'd forth his wars, and call’d them home; Whose bosom was his crownet, his chief end."
The opinions and actions of Shakspeare's Antony, therefore, are diametrically opposed to each other; but there is no inconsistency in his conduct. The licentiousness of Cleopatra is the link which binds her to the heart of Antony: dissolute and voluptuous himself, her depravity is congenial to his nature: that which others would have revolted from, is to him a spell. Of the “ beauty, wisdom, and modesty,” of that
gem of women,” Octavia, he makes small account; her “ holy, cold, and still conversation” has no charms for a constitution in every respect the reverse; the “ Egyptian dish” alone is food for a palate which banquets on the leavings of half a dozen predecessors. But, what was grateful to his appetite did not command the approbation of his judgment. History has alike recorded Antony's intellectual ability and his corporeal frailty: a victim to the latter, enough of the former doubtless survived to impress on his memory the deepest sense of his folly, the weakness and the unworthiness of his infatu
ation. Shakspeare read the inmost thoughts of Antony; he has given them an everlasting record; and the pages on which they are impressed, will long be referred to as instructive lessons against the indulgence of the passions, and the sacrifice of the judgment to the will.
Shakspeare has not been successful in conveying an idea of the elegance of Cleopatra's mind. Neither her manners, thoughts, nor language, impress us with a conviction of her possessing those accomplishments which he ascribes to her. Mark the model that Shakspeare had before him. “ Now her beauty (as it is reported) was not so passing, as unmatchable of other women, nor yet such as upon present view did enamour men with her: but so sweet was her company and conversation, that a man could not possibly but be taken. And besides her beauty, the good grace she had to talke and discourse, her curteous nature that tempered her words and deeds, was a spur that pricked to the quick. Furthermore, besides all these, her voice and words were marvellous pleasant: for her tong was an instrument of musick to divers sports and pastimes, the which she easily turned into any language that pleased her. unto few barbarous people by interpreter, but