The Eunuch’s Voice

Shakespeare, Poet, Writer, Author

 

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.

Drama, Comedy And Tragedy, Theater

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

The Maid’s Account

A post from Maggie, one of my adult students.  I think this is a great idea. See what you think. Of course you’ll know the play … won’t you!

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There is so much being talked about Shakespeare at the moment that it encouraged me to go back and read some of my favourite plays. I started thinking about the role of some of the minor characters in his plays, and wondering what their story might have been. This is a short piece written from the perspective of a lady’s maid, who is gossiping with a friend. It will soon become clear which lady she’s talking about.

Maggie

The Maid’s Account

I’ve lasted a long time as her serving woman, longer than all the others put together. She’s not easy of course, very beautiful women often aren’t, and she is a beauty. Headstrong though. I’ve always thought that she’s the boss, he’s always been willing to do anything for her. Besotted with her and she’s obsessed with him, at it all the time. Children have to fend for themselves, poor little devils. That’s the trouble with the higher ups, they get someone else to do all that for them, and they haven’t worked out what they’re missing. She wasn’t as bad as some though, she nursed her babies herself, which was a surprise to everyone by all accounts.

That night though, something was going on. I’m not a superstitious person but the wind was howling and birds were calling, in the middle of the night when they should have been silent. I could hear the two of them creeping around and her voice telling him to be a man. Well he was a man afterwards all right. My God, they excelled that night in the bed department, even for them.

She told me later, much later, when she had started walking and  talking  in her sleep, that she always thought her husband was a good man, but he didn’t have the edge that would make him a powerful man.

‘And you know Elspeth, powerful men are very virile. Don’t you think so?’

Well, I didn’t know how to answer that one. I hardly get to see my Bert, I’m stuck in the bloody castle all the time at her Ladyship’s beck and call. It’s a wonder to me we’ve got any children at all. My Bert’s not like his Lordship though. He’s a gentle soul, not the brightest, but he’ll do me.

Anyway, I was telling you about that night. He came on ahead of the rest of them. You could see she was made up about something, she’d had a letter from him, sent on ahead. Turns out he’d had a promotion, and then the king himself was coming to visit. The kitchen staff were all of a flurry, preparing a big feast. Not everyone seemed pleased though. One in particular, the one who disappeared the following night, he was doing a lot of muttering to himself. Then of course the king’s two sons ran off early hours of the morning, after their father had been found with his throat cut. Everyone started saying that they must have killed him, but I never believed that. It’s surprising what you see and hear when no one thinks you’re important.

I saw her, my Lady that is, washing his Lordship’s face and hands, telling him to change quickly in to his nightclothes. I hardly dare tell you what happened, or what I believe happened, but he’s gone off now anyway, left her to her own devices, which she hasn’t been very happy about.

She talks to me when I do her hair. Tells me all sorts. After she’d told me about her wanting him to be a powerful man, she said that she’d lost him like that. He’d overtaken her, turned in to something she wasn’t expecting. I’m not that clever but it sounded to me as if she was sorry she’d encouraged him, because now he couldn’t stop and she’d gone to bits.

‘Look after your children Elspeth’ she’d said.

‘I’ve said some terrible things about mine and now I’m sorry.’

I overheard that too, all that business about dashing their brains out if she had to. All talk probably.

The country’s gone to the dogs of course, his Lordship seems to be creating chaos and mayhem wherever he goes. I heard a terrible story about someone’s wife and children all being killed, a good man he was too. Did you hear about it? It was all the talk here, but then that’s to be expected with him being the culprit more than likely.

Last night I found her wandering about again, all that beautiful red hair flowing down her back, her feet bare, in her nightdress, wringing and rubbing her hands as if she was trying to scrub them clean. Poor soul. They sent word to him and the doctor came out, but there’s nothing to be done for her. He asked me to take away everything that she might do herself a mischief with, so there’s not much left in her room. I had an aunt like that, but no matter how careful we were she managed to do herself in eventually. People with very troubled minds usually find a way.

Did you hear that noise? Sounds as if she’s creeping about again. I’d better check that she’s all right. Don’t go, I’ll be back in a minute and then you can give me all your news.

© Maggie Himsworth 2016

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And the answer: ? printed in 1623 after Shakespeare’s death.

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