Another of Maggie Himsworth’s fascinating slants on one of Shakespeare’s minor characters. Here’s what she says about this month’s post.
Antony and Cleopatra is one of my favourite plays. Mardian, the head eunuch, doesn’t make many appearances, but this is what I think he might have said if he’d been given a voice.
I don’t understand it. Here I am, stuck in this tomb, with three dead women, the queen herself and her two ladies in waiting. They’ve cheated Caesar of his prize at least. Slippery as a snake that one, he’s not a man who keeps his promises. His father was a better man, or so I’ve heard.
My great queen, dead. By her own hand, well, the serpent’s teeth actually, but you know what I mean. She couldn’t wait to get to Antony, jealous that Iras would get there first and get the first kiss.
Those three used to torment me, but I was fond of them.
‘I take no pleasure in anything you’ve got Mardian’ she used to say, and they’d all laugh. Give them an extra inch and they wouldn’t stick it on their husband’s nose – how rude. But they always talked like that, women together, just as coarse as a group of men.
I always knew though that love between her and Antony would be their downfall. I say love, it might just as easily have been lust, what do I know, or perhaps it was a mixture of both. When she turned her ships and he followed, it was the end for Enobarbus. There was never anyone so loyal to Antony and for him to go over to Caesar’s camp, well, it killed him. I have to say though, Antony never held it against him, was magnanimous, but of course that made it worse.
Antony knew he had lost his honour, and that was more precious to him than anything, even his gypsy queen. He was a broken man. I don’t think she understood that. She was good at playing both sides, she knew how to get the best deal for herself, but for Antony, something was right or wrong. Maybe that’s the difference between men and women, not that I would know as I’m neither. Women have been used to being, what shall I say, adaptable? She had to live by her wits and her wiles, it was all she had.
Octavia I feel sorry for. Used by her brother and used by her husband. She must have known that Antony’s interest lay in Egypt, not with her. But then, she had no choice. It’s only men who have choices, women and eunuchs must do what they can.
I often used to wonder if I could have been an Antony. Great soldier, great general, great leader of men. Great lover of course, but that part goes way beyond my imagination. I like to think that I could have been some of those things at least, instead of being stuck in this place where I fit neither with men nor with women.
How we laughed though, when the messenger arrived to tell her that Antony was married. We didn’t laugh to her face of course, that would have been suicide, but we all thought she was going to kill him she was so mad with jealousy.
‘Tell me about Octavia’s voice, is she tall, does she have a round face’.
I don’t know whether he told her the truth or not, but he managed to save his own skin.
But that’s all gone now. Enobarbus dead, dead, my queen, all died by their own hand. What a waste. Maybe it’s easier to be who I am. I’ll never know the extremes of passion but perhaps that’s a good thing. I think I’ve had quite enough excitement in my life without even looking for it. I have no one now to serve, no master or mistress. Perhaps, just for once, I could do what I want to do. Go back to my family if I can find them. Live a quiet life.
They’re over there now, Caesar and his men. He wanted to parade her through the streets of Rome so that everyone would say what a great man he is. I’m pleased he didn’t get the chance. She outwitted him after all. I wonder if I could leave without them noticing?
© Maggie Himsworth 2016