The Masks of Anthony and Cleopatra

By Marvin Rosenberg; Mary Rosenberg | Go to book overview

Act 2, Scene iii

Beerbohm Tree, often ready to minimize language in favor of spectacle, celebrated Octavia’s wedding with a Roman festival: four processions, a choir of thirty boys, followed by a ballet. Shakespeare had the opposite in mind.

Enter Anthony, Caesar, Octavia between them.

This bare post-betrothal party, perhaps the shortest in all drama, is as methodical as the arrangement for the marriage. In this very abrupt scene Octavia gets to speak one full line and two halves, and after her “Good night, sir,” off she goes with her brother. The mode is contextual: again what sustains the scene is the building tensions among the characters.*

Much unspoken subtext energizes the few moments. Caesar’s affection for his sister may be measured by how content he seems with the actual marriage he arranged, and what happens to him as he comes to accept it. A young Caesar has gloried in this union; more often Caesar has been “watchful,” has held his sister’s hand as they entered and then held it longer than necessary. Anthony has sometimes seemed almost a third party in this marriage; in Chicago he stood at the far end of the stage throughout the scene.

He remains reserved when Octavia shows herself indeed “holy, cold, and still.” Enobarbus, in 2.6, will so describe her conversation, perhaps doubling the word to include his metaphor for her imagined sexual intercourse. In this scene she has little opportunity to let us know who she is: usually not cold, though she has seemed frigid; but otherwise fitting the description. The more so, by contrast, seen so soon after Enobarbus’s blazing color portrait of Cleopatra.

In Italy, Octavia waited for Caesar to step aside, then, warm and active, playing against the text, went straight up to Anthony and kissed him on the lips. Ah, the Italians! This is not Shakespeare. Be Octavia, properly Roman, suddenly told you are to marry a man you have never seen. You may resent being

*The scene has sometimes been cut, as in Ashland 2003. (See “A Note on the Historical Cleopatra,” p. 486n.) Nor need it necessarily represent a wedding. Caesar has spoken in 2.2.179–80 of inviting Anthony to “my sister’s view, / Whither straight I’ll lead you.” This then could be a preliminary introduction of the two parties, the actual wedding to take place later, offstage.

-174-

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The Masks of Anthony and Cleopatra
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 7
  • Preface 9
  • Acknowledgments 17
  • Introduction 21
  • Act One 39
  • Act I, Scene I 41
  • Anthony 70
  • Cleopatra 80
  • Act I, Scene II 86
  • Act I, Scene III 104
  • Octavius 118
  • Act I, Scene IV 123
  • Act I, Scene V 133
  • Act Two 143
  • Act II, Scene I 145
  • Act II, Scene II 151
  • Act 2, Scene III 174
  • Act II, Scene IV 180
  • Act II, Scene V 181
  • Act 2, Scene VI 197
  • Act II, Scene VII 207
  • Act Three 225
  • Act III, Scene I 227
  • Act III, Scene II 231
  • Act III, Scene III 239
  • Act III, Scene IV 246
  • Act III, Scene V 251
  • Act III, Scene VI 254
  • Act III, Scene VII 262
  • Act III, Scenes VIII, IX, and X 272
  • Act III, Scene XI 278
  • Act III, Scene XII 288
  • Act III, Scene XIII 293
  • Act Four 315
  • Act IV, Scene I 317
  • Act IV, Scene II 320
  • Act IV, Scene III 326
  • Act IV, Scene IV 329
  • Act IV, Scene V 335
  • Act IV, Scene VI 337
  • Act IV, Scene VII 341
  • Act IV, Scene VIII 344
  • Act IV, Scene IX 349
  • Act IV, Scenes X, XI, XII, and XIII 352
  • Act IV, Scene XIV 362
  • Act IV, Scene XV 379
  • Act Five 393
  • Act V, Scene I 395
  • Act V, Scene II 403
  • Is Anthony and Cleopatra a Tragedy? 473
  • Epilogue 480
  • A Note on the Historical Cleopatra 69 Bc–30 BC 482
  • Critical and Theatrical Bibliographies 489
  • Critical Bibliography 491
  • Theatrical Bibliography 532
  • Index 597
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