bardseyeview

A Shakespearean Glance at the People and Issues of the Day.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Antony & Cleopatra and World Domination

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We’re in ancient Rome today, visiting a scene out of the Bard's Antony and Cleopatra. The Empire is being ruled by the triumvirate of Marc Antony, Octavius Ceasar and Lepidus. This play and its events are a sequel to Julius Caesar, where the same three men avenged Julius’ death and re-established order and legitimacy (give or take) within the empire.

At the end of Act II there’s a banquet where the three co-emperors and Pompey get a bit tipsy and begin discussing Egypt:

Lep: “You’ve strange serpents there.”

Ant: “Ay, Lepidus.”

Lep: “Your serpent of Egypt is bred now
of your mud by the operation of your sun.
So is your crocodile."

Pompey: “Sit – and some wine. A health to Lepidus!”

Lep: “What manner of thing is your crocodile?”


Ant: “It is shaped, sir, like itself, and it is as
broad as it hath breadth. It is just so high as
it is, and moves with its own organs. It lives
by that which nourisheth it, and, the elements
once out of it, it transmigrates.”

Lep: “What color is it?”


Pompey (pronounced pompee) is by the way the son of an earlier emperor, also named Pompey. Indeed the Elder Pompey’s death started the ball rolling in the earlier play, Julius Caesar. Pompey the Younger, being an emperor’s son, maintains his own power center in the empire. If he wished, therefore, Pompey could call upon his father’s former followers to foment revolt. In so doing, he could conceivalby turn Rome into a hereditary empire, instead of one where the emperors are selected by the senate, or at times directly by the military. Think Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung in North Korea, or Assad the Elder and the current Baby Assad in Syria. Idiotic American liberals will add Bush the Elder and Bush the Younger, dismissing the key distinction of popular elections.

But anyway, does Pompey wish?

Menas: “Wilt thou be lord of all the world?”

Pom: “What sayest thou?”

Menas: “Wilt thou be lord of all the world. That’s twice.”

Pom: “How should that be?”

Menas: “But entertain it,
And, though thou think me poor, I am the man
Will give thee all the world.”


Pom: “Hast thou drunk well?”

Menas: “No, Pompey, I have kept me from the cup.
Thou art, if thou dar’st be, the earthly Jove.
Whate’er the ocean pales or sky inclips
Is thine, if thou wilt ha’t.”


Pom: “Show me which way.”

Menas: “These three world-sharers, these competitors,
Are in thy vessel. Let me cut the cable,
And, when we are put off, fall to their throats.
All there is thine.”


Bardseye viewers have not far to seek in substitution. Shall Menas stand for Radical Islamic theology, leading Iran’s leader/lunatic Ahmadinejad toward his dreamed of domination of the Islamic world and his devoutly-wished destruction of Israel? Shall the stubby Mr. Kim in North Korea take Chinese silence for consent and drop a nuclear weapon on Tokyo? (Bardseye has cousins in Israel and in-laws and friends in Japan, so for more than the usual number of reasons, I hope not).

Pom: “Ah, this thou shouldst have done
And not have spoke on ‘t! In me ‘tis villainy;
In thee ‘t had been good service. Thou must know,
“Tis not my profit that does lead mine homor;
Mine homor, it. Repent that e’re thy tongue
Hath so betrayed thine act. Being done unknown,
I should have found it afterwards well done,
But must condemn it now."


I will draw a few hallucinatory modern parallels for this last speech of Pompey’s – expressing regret that Menas, his homeboy, had not done the killing first and the requesting of permission later – tomorrow night, since it’s late, and I’m a decade or two behind on my beauty sleep. Till then….
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