The World Well Lost?

February 15, 2020

John Dryden

John Dryden (1631–1700).  All for Love.

The romantic and heedless loves of Antony and Cleopatra figure prominently in history, literature, and drama. Dryden made a fascinating play from the story of Antony, who sacrificed the leadership of Rome, reputation, and life itself for love of the Egyptian queen, who followed him in death.
(Mark Antony offers Cæsar crown at Rome, Feb. 15, 44 B. C.)

Vol. 18, pp. 53-69 of The Harvard Classics


At one door enter CLEOPATRA, CHARMION, IRAS, and ALEXAS, a Train of Egyptians: at the other ANTONY and Romans. The entrance on both sides is prepared by music; the trumpets first sounding on ANTONY’S part: then answered by timbrels, etc., on CLEOPATRA’S. CHARMION and IRAS hold a laurel wreath betwixt them. A Dance of Egyptians. After the ceremony, CLEOPATRA crowns ANTONY.

 Ant.  I thought how those white arms would fold me in,
And strain me close, and melt me into love;
So pleased with that sweet image, I sprung forwards,
And added all my strength to every blow.

  Cleo.  Come to me, come, my soldier, to my arms!
You’ve been too long away from my embraces;
But, when I have you fast, and all my own,
With broken murmurs, and with amorous sighs,
I’ll say, you were unkind, and punish you,
And mark you red with many an eager kiss.

  Ant.  My brighter Venus!

  Cleo.  O my greater Mars!

  Ant.  Thou join’st us well, my love!
Suppose me come from the Phlegræan plains,
Where gasping giants lay, cleft by my sword,
And mountain-tops paired off each other blow,
To bury those I slew. Receive me, goddess!
Let Cæsar spread his subtle nets; like Vulcan,
In thy embraces I would be beheld
By heaven and earth at once;
And make their envy what they meant their sport?
Let those, who took us, blush; I would love on,
With awful state, regardless of their frowns,
As their superior gods.
There’s no satiety of love in thee:
Enjoyed, thou still art new; perpetual spring
Is in thy arms; the ripened fruit but falls,
And blossoms rise to fill its empty place;
And I grow rich by giving.
Enter VENTIDIUS, and stands apart

  Alex.  Oh, now the danger’s past, your general comes!
He joins not in your joys, nor minds your triumphs;
But, with contracted brows, looks frowning on,
As envying your success.

  Ant.  Now, on my soul, he loves me; truly loves me:
He never flattered me in any vice,
But awes me with his virtue: even this minute
Methinks, he has a right of chiding me.
Lead to the temple: I’ll avoid his presence;
It checks too strong upon me.  [Exeunt the rest.  [As ANTONY is going, VENTIDIUSpulls him by the robe.

  Vent.  Emperor!

  Ant.  ’Tis the old argument; I pr’ythee, spare me.  [Looking back.

  Vent.  But this one hearing, emperor.
  Ant.  Let go
My robe; or, by my father Hercules—

  Vent.  By Hercules’ father, that’s yet greater,
I bring you somewhat you would wish to know.

  Ant.  Thou see’st we are observed; attend me here,
And I’ll return.  [Exit.

  Vent.  I am waning in his favour, yet I love him;
I love this man, who runs to meet his ruin;
And sure the gods, like me, are fond of him:
His virtues lie so mingled with his crimes,
As would confound their choice to punish one,
And not reward the other.

  Ant.  We can conquer,
You see, without your aid.
We have dislodged their troops;
They look on us at distance, and, like curs
Scaped from the lion’s paws, they bay far off,
And lick their wounds, and faintly threaten war.
Five thousand Romans, with their faces upward,
Lie breathless on the plain.

  Vent.  ’Tis well; and he,
Who lost them, could have spared ten thousand more.
Yet if, by this advantage, you could gain
An easier peace, while Cæsar doubts the chance
Of arms—

  Ant.  Oh, think not on’t, Ventidius!
The boy pursues my ruin, he’ll no peace;
His malice is considerable in advantage.
Oh, he’s the coolest murderer! so staunch,
He kills, and keeps his temper.

  Vent.  Have you no friend
In all his army, who has power to move him?
Mæcenas, or Agrippa, might do much

  Ant.  They’re both too deep in Cæsar’s interests.
We’ll work it out by dint of sword, or perish.

  Vent.  Fain I would find some other.

  Ant.  Thank thy love.
Some four or five such victories as this
Will save thy further pains.

  Vent.  Expect no more; Cæsar is on his guard:
I know, sir, you have conquered against odds;
But still you draw supplies from one poor town,
And of Egyptians: he has all the world,
And, at his beck, nations come pouring in,
To fill the gaps you make. Pray, think again.

  Ant.  Why dost thou drive me from myself, to search
For foreign aids?—to hunt my memory,
And range all o’er a waste and barren place,
To find a friend? The wretched have no friends.
Yet I had one, the bravest youth of Rome,
Whom Cæsar loves beyond the love of women:
He could resolve his mind, as fire does wax,
From that hard rugged image melt him down,
And mould him in what softer form he pleased.

  Vent.  Him would I see; that man, of all the world;
Just such a one we want.

  Ant.  He love me too;
I was his soul; he lived not but in me:
We were so closed within each other’s breasts,
The rivets were not found, that joined us first.
That does not reach us yet: we were so mixt,
As meeting streams, both to ourselves were lost;
We were one mass; we could not give or take,
But from the same; for he was I, I he.

  Vent.  He moves as I would wish him.  [Aside.

  Ant.  After this,
I need not tell his name;—’twas Dolabella.

  Vent.  He’s now in Cæsar’s camp.

  Ant.  No matter where,
Since he’s no longer mine. He took unkindly,
That I forbade him Cleopatra’s sight,
Because I feared he loved her: he confessed,
He had a warmth, which, for my sake, he stifled;
For ’twere impossible that two, so one,
Should not have loved the same. When he departed,
He took no leave; and that confirmed my thoughts.

  Vent.  It argues, that he loved you more than her,
Else he had stayed; but he perceived you jealous,
And would not grieve his friend: I know he loves you.

  Ant.  I should have seen him, then, ere now.

  Vent.  Perhaps
He has thus long been labouring for your peace.

  Ant.  Would he were here!

  Vent.  Would you believe he loved you?
I read your answer in your eyes, you would.
Not to conceal it longer, he has sent
A messenger from Cæsar’s camp, with letters.

  Ant.  Let him appear

  Vent.  I’ll bring him instantly.  [Exit VENTIDIUS, and re-enters immediately withDOLABELLA.

  Ant.  ’Tis he himself! himself, by holy friendship!  [Runs to embrace him.
Art thou returned at last, my better half?
Come, give me all myself!
Let me not live,
If the young bridegroom, longing for his night,
Was ever half so fond.

  Dola.  I must be silent, for my soul is busy
About a nobler work; she’s new come home,
Like a long-absent man, and wanders o’er
Each room, a stranger to her own, to look
If all be safe.

  Ant.  Thou hast what’s left of me;
For I am now so sunk from what I was,
Thou find’st me at my lowest water-mark.
The rivers that ran in, and raised my fortunes,
Are all dried up, or take another course:
What I have left is from my native spring;
I’ve still a heart that swells, in scorn of fate,
And lifts me to my banks.

  Dola.  Still you are lord of all the world to me.

  Ant.  Why, then I yet am so; for thou art all.
If I had any joy when thou wert absent,
I grudged it to myself; methought I robbed
Thee of thy part. But, O my Dolabella!
Thou has beheld me other than I am.
Hast thou not seen my morning chambers filled
With sceptred slaves, who waited to salute me?
With eastern monarchs, who forgot the sun,
To worship my uprising?—menial kings
Ran coursing up and down my palace-yard,
Stood silent in my presence, watched my eyes,
And, at my least command, all started out,
Like racers to the goal.

  Dola.  Slaves to your fortune.

  Ant.  Fortune is Cæsar’s now; and what am I?

  Vent.  What you have made yourself; I will not flatter.

  Ant.  Is this friendly done?

  Dola.  Yes; when his end is so, I must join with him;
Indeed I must, and yet you must not chide;
Why am I else your friend?

  Ant.  Take heed, young man,
How thou upbraid’st my love: The queen has eyes,
And thou too hast a soul. Canst thou remember,
When, swelled with hatred, thou beheld’st her first,
As accessary to thy brother’s death?

  Dola.  Spare my remembrance; ’twas a guilty day,
And still the blush hangs here.

  Ant.  To clear herself,
For sending him no aid, she came from Egypt.
Her galley down the silver Cydnus rowed,
The tackling silk, the streamers waved with gold;
The gentle winds were lodged in purple sails:
Her nymphs, like Nereids, round her couch were placed;
Where she, another sea-born Venus, lay.

  Dola.  No more; I would not hear it.

  Ant.  Oh, you must!
She lay, and leant her cheek upon her hand,
And cast a look so languishingly sweet,
As if, secure of all beholder’s hearts,
Neglecting, she could take them: boys, like Cupids,
Stood fanning, with their painted wings, the winds,
That played about her face. But if she smiled
A darting glory seemed to blazed abroad,
That men’s desiring eyes were never wearied,
But hung upon the object: To soft flutes
The silver oars kept time; and while they played,
The hearing gave new pleasure to the sight;
And both to thought. ’Twas heaven, or somewhat more;
For she so charmed all hearts, that gazing crowds
Stood panting on the shore, and wanted breath
To give their welcome voice.
Then, Dolabella, where was then they soul?
Was not thy fury quite disarmed with wonder?
Didst thou not shrink behind me from those eyes
And whisper in my ear—Oh, tell her not
That I accused her with my brother’s death?

  Dola.  And should my weakness be a plea for yours?
Mine was an age when love might be excused,
When kindly warmth, and when my springing youth
Made it a debt to nature. Yours—

  Vent.  Speak boldly.
Yours, he would say, in your declining age,
When no more heat was left but what you forced,
When all the sap was needful for the trunk,
When it went down, then you constrained the course,
And robbed from nature, to supply desire;
In you (I would not use so harsh a word)
’Tis but plain dotage.

  Ant.  Ha!

  Dola.  ’Twas urged too home.—
But yet the loss was private, that I made;
’Twas but myself I lost: I lost no legions;
I had no world to lose, no people’s love.

  Ant.  This from a friend?

  Dola.  Yes, Antony, a true one;
A friend so tender, that each word I speak
Stabs my own heart, before it reach your ear.
Oh, judge me not less kind, because I chide!
To Cæsar I excuse you.

  Ant.  O ye gods!
Have I then lived to be excused to Cæsar?

  Dola.  As to your equal.

  Ant.  Well, he’s but my equal:
While I wear this he never shall be more.

  Dola.  I bring conditions from him.

  Ant.  Are they noble?
Methinks thou shouldst not bring them else; yet he
Is full of deep dissembling; knows no honour
Divided from his interest. Fate mistook him;
For nature meant him from an usurer:
He’s fit indeed to buy, not conquer kingdoms.

  Vent.  Then, granting this,
What power was theirs, who wrought so hard a temper
To honourable terms?

  Ant.  I was my Dolabella, or some god.

  Dola.  Nor I, nor yet Mæcenas, nor Agrippa:
They were your enemies; and I, a friend,
Too weak alone; yet ’twas a Roman’s deed.

  Ant.  ’Twas like a Roman done: show me that man,
Who has preserved my life, my love, my honour;
Let me but see his face.

  Vent.  That task is mine,
And, Heaven, thou know’st how pleasing.  [Exit VENT.

  Dola.  You’ll remember
To whom you stand obliged?

  Ant.  When I forget it
Be thou unkind, and that’s my greatest curse.
My queen shall thank him too,

  Dola.  I fear she will not.

  Ant.  But she shall do it: The queen, my Dolabella!
Hast thou not still some grudgings of thy fever?

  Dola.  I would not see her lost.

  Ant.  When I forsake her,
Leave me my better stars! for she has truth
Beyond her beauty. Cæsar tempted her,
At no less price than kingdoms, to betray me;
But she resisted all: and yet thou chidest me
For loving her too well. Could I do so?

  Dola.  Yes; there’s my reason.
Re-enter VENTIDIUS, with OCTAVIA, leading ANTONY’S two little Daughters

  Ant.  Where?—Octavia there!  [Starting back.

  Vent.  What, is she poison to you?—a disease?
Look on her, view her well, and those she brings:
Are they all strangers to your eyes? has nature
No secret call, no whisper they are yours?

  Dola.  For shame, my lord, if not for love, receive them
With kinder yes. If you confess a man,
Meet them, embrace them, bid them welcome to you.
Your arms should open, even without your knowledge,
To clasp them in; your feet should turn to wings,
To bear you to them; and your eyes dart out
And aim a kiss, ere you could reach the lips.

  Ant.  I stood amazed, to think how they came hither.

  Vent.  I sent for them; I brought them in unknown
To Cleopatra’s guards.

  Dola.  Yet, are you cold?

  Octav.  Thus long I have attended for my welcome;
Which, as a stranger, sure I might expect.
Who am I?

  Ant.  Cæsar’s sister.

  Octav.  That’s unkind.
Had I been nothing more than Cæsar’s sister,
Know, I had still remained in Cæsar’s camp:
But your Octavia, your much injured wife,
Though banished from your bed, driven from your house,
In spite of Cæsar’s sister, still is yours.
’Tis true, I have a heart disdains your coldness,
And prompts me not to seek what you should offer;
But a wife’s virtue still surmounts that pride.
I come to claim you as my own; to show
My duty first; to ask, nay beg, your kindness:
Your hand, my lord; ’tis mine, and I will have it.  [Taking his hand.

  Vent.  Do, take it; thou deserv’st it.

  Dola.  On my soul,
And so she does: she’s neither too submissive,
Nor yet too haughty; but so just a mean
Shows, as it ought, a wife and Roman too.

  Ant.  I fear, Octavia, you have begged my life.

  Octav.  Begged it, my lord?

  Ant.  Yes, begged it, my ambassadress;
Poorly and basely begged it of your brother.

  Octav.  Poorly and basely I could never beg:
Nor could my brother grant.

  Ant.  Shall I, who, to my kneeling slave, could say,
Rise up, and be a king; shall I fall down
And cry,—Forgive me, Cæsar! Shall I set
A man, my equal, in the place of Jove,
As he could give me being? No; that word,
Forgive, would choke me up,
And die upon my tongue.

  Dola.  You shall not need it.

  Ant.  I will not need it. Come, you’ve all betrayed me,—
My friend too!—to receive some vile conditions.
My wife has bought me, with her prayers and tears;
And now I must become her branded slave.
In every peevish mood, she will upbraid
The life she gave: if I but look awry,
She cries—I’ll tell my brother.

  Octav.  My hard fortune
Subjects me still to your unkind mistakes.
But the conditions I have brought are such,
Your need not blush to take: I love your honour,
Because ’tis mine; it never shall be said,
Octavia’s husband was her brother’s slave.
Sir, you are free; free, even from her you loathe;
For, though my brother bargains for your love,
Makes me the price and cement of your peace,
I have a soul like yours; I cannot take
Your love as alms, nor beg what I deserve.
I’ll tell my brother we are reconciled;
He shall draw back his troops, and you shall march
To rule the East: I may be adopt at Athens;
No matter where. I never will complain,
But only keep the barren name of wife,
And rid you of the trouble.

  Vent.  Was ever such a strife of sullen honour!
Both scorn to be obliged.

  Dola.  Oh, she has touched him in the tenderest part;
See how he reddens with despite and shame,
To be outdone in generosity!

  Vent.  See how he winks! how he dries up a tear,
That fain would fall!

  Ant.  Octavia, I have heard you, and must praise
The greatness of your soul;
But cannot yield to what you have proposed:
For I can ne’er be conquered but by love;
And you do all for duty. You would free me,
And would be dropt at Athens; was’t not so?

  Octav.  It was, my lord.

  Ant.  Then I must be obliged
To one who loves me not; who, to herself,
May call me thankless and ungrateful man:—
I’ll not endure it; no.

  Vent.  I am glad it pinches there.  [Aside.

  Octav.  Would you triumph o’er poor Octavia’s virtue?
That pride was all I had to bear me up;
That you might think you owed me for your life,
And owed it to my duty, not my love.
I have been injured, and my haughty soul
Could brook but ill the man who slights my bed.

  Ant.  Therefore you love me not.

  Octav.  Therefore, my lord,
I should not love you.

  Ant.  Therefore you would leave me?

  Octav.  And therefore I should leave you—if I could.

  Dola.  Her soul’s too great, after such injuries,
To say she loves; and yet she lets you see it.
Her modesty and silence plead her cause.

  Ant.  O Dolabella, which way shall I turn?
I find a secret yielding in my soul;
But Cleopatra, who would die with me,
Must she be left? Pity pleads for Octavia;
But does it not plead more for Cleopatra?

  Vent.  Justice and pity both plead for Octavia;
For Cleopatra, neither.
One would be ruined with you; but she first
Had ruined you: The other, you have ruined,
And yet she would preserve you.
In everything their merits are unequal.

  Ant.  O my distracted soul!

  Octav.  Sweet Heaven compose it!—
Come, come, my lord, if I can pardon you,
Methinks you should accept it. Look on these;
Are they not yours? or stand they thus neglected,
As they are mine? Go to him, children, go;
Kneel to him, take him by the hand, speak to him;
For you may speak, and he may own you too,
Without a blush; and so he cannot all
His children: go, I say, and pull him to me,
And pull him to yourselves, from that bad woman.
You, Agrippina, hang upon his arms;
And you, Antonia, clasp about his waist:
If he will shake you off, if he will dash you
Against the pavement, you must bear it, children;
For you are mine, and I was born to suffer.  [Here the Children go to him, etc.

  Vent.  Was ever sight so moving?—Emperor!

  Dola.  Friend!

  Octav.  Husband!
Both Child. Father!

  Ant.  I am vanquished: take me,
Octavia; take me, children: share me all.  [Embracing them.
I’ve been a thriftless debtor to your loves,
And run out much, in riot, from your stock;
But all shall be amended.

  Octav.  O blest hour!

  Dola.  O happy change!

  Vent.  My joy stops at my tongue;
But it has found two channels here for one,
And bubbles out above.

  Ant.  [to OCTAV.]. This is thy triumph; lead me where thou wilt;
Even to thy brother’s camp.
  Octav.  All there are yours.
Enter ALEXAS hastily

  Alex.  The queen, my mistress, sir, and yours—

  Ant.  ’Tis past.—
Octavia, you shall stay this night: To-morrow,
Cæsar and we are one.  [Exit leading OCTAVIA; DOLABELLA and the Children follow.

  Vent.  There’s news for you; run, my officious eunuch,
Be sure to be the first; haste forward:
Haste, my dear eunuch, haste.  [Exit.

  Alex.  This downright fighting fool, this thick-skulled hero,
This blunt, unthinking instrument of death,
With plain dull virtue has outgone my wit.
Pleasure forsook my earliest infancy;
The luxury of others robbed my cradle,
And ravished thence the promise of a man.
Cast out from nature, disinherited
Of what her meanest children claim by kind,
Yet greatness kept me from contempt: that’s gone.
Had Cleopatra followed my advice,
Then he had been betrayed who now forsakes.
She dies for love; but she has known its joys:
Gods, is this just, that I, who know no joys,
Must die, because she loves?

O madam, I have seen what blasts my eyes!
Octavia’s here.

  Cleo.  Peace with that raven’s note.
I know it too; and now am in
The pangs of death.

  Alex.  You are no more a queen;
Egypt is lost.

  Cleo.  What tell’st thou me of Egypt?
My life, my soul is lost! Octavia has him!—
O fatal name to Cleopatra’s love!
My kisses, my embraces now are hers;
While I—But thou hast seen my rival; speak,
Does she deserve this blessing? Is she fair?
Bright as a goddess? and is all perfection
Confined to her? It is. Poor I was made
Of that coarse matter, which, when she was finished,
The gods threw by for rubbish.

  Alex.  She is indeed a very miracle.

  Cleo.  Death to my hopes, a miracle!

  Alex.  A miracle;  [Bowing.
I mean of goodness; for in beauty, madam,
You make all wonders cease.

  Cleo.  I was too rash:
Take this in part of recompense. But, oh!  [Giving a ring.
I fear thou flatterest me.

  Char.  She comes! she’s here!

  Iras.  Fly, madam, Cæsar’s sister!

  Cleo.  Were she the sister of the thunderer Jove,
And bore her brother’s lightning in her eyes,
Thus would I face my rival.  [Meets OCTAVIA with VENTIDIUS. OCTAVIA bears up to her. Their Trains come up on either side.

  Octav.  I need not ask if you are Cleopatra;
Your haughty carriage—

  Cleo.  Shows I am a queen:
Nor need I ask you, who you are.

  Octav.  A Roman:
A name, that makes and can unmake a queen.

  Cleo.  Your lord, the man who serves me, is a Roman.

  Octav.  He was a Roman, till he lost that name,
To be a slave in Egypt; but I come
To free him thence.

  Cleo.  Peace, peace, my lover’s Juno.
When he grew weary of that household clog,
He chose my easier bonds.

  Octav.  I wonder not
Your bonds are easy: you have long been practised
In that lascivious art: He’s not the first
For whom you spread your snares: Let Cæsar witness.

  Cleo.  I loved not Cæsar; ’twas but gratitude
I paid his love: The worst your malice can,
Is but to say the greatest of mankind
Has been my slave. The next, but far above him
In my esteem, is he whom law calls yours,
But whom his love made mine.

  Octav.  I would view nearer  [Coming up close to her.
That face, which has so long usurped my right,
To find the inevitable charms, that catch
Mankind so sure, that ruined my dear lord.

  Cleo.  Oh, you do well to search; for had you known
But half these charms, you had not lost his heart.

  Octav.  Far be their knowledge from a Roman lady,
Far from a modest wife! Shame of our sex,
Dost thou not blush to own those black endearments,
That make sin pleasing?

  Cleo.  You may blush, who want them.
If bounteous nature, if indulgent Heaven
Have given me charms to please the bravest man,
Should I not thank them? Should I be ashamed,
And not be proud? I am, that he has loved me;
And, when I love not him, Heaven change this face
For one like that.

  Octav.  Thou lov’st him not so well.

  Cleo.  I love him better, and deserve him more.

  Octav.  You do not; cannot: You have been his ruin.
Who made him cheap at Rome, but Cleopatra?
Who made him scorned abroad, but Cleopatra?
At Actium, who betrayed him? Cleopatra.
Who made his children orphans, and poor me
A wretched widow? only Cleopatra.

  Cleo.  Yet she, who loves him best, is Cleopatra.
If you have suffered, I have suffered more.
You bear the specious title of a wife
To gild your cause, and draw the pitying world
To favour it: the world condemns poor me.
For I have lost my honour, lost my fame,
And stained the glory of my royal house,
And all to bear the branded name of mistress.
There wants but life, and that too I would lose
For him I love.

  Octav.  Be’t so, then; take thy wish.  [Exit with her Train.

  Cleo.  And ’tis my wish,
Now he is lost for whom alone I lived.
My sight grows dim, and every object dances,
And swims before me, in the maze of death.
My spirits, while they were opposed, kept up;
They could not sink beneath a rival’s scorn!
But now she’s gone, they faint.

  Alex.  Mine have had leisure
To recollect their strength, and furnish counsel,
To ruin her, who else must ruin you.

  Cleo.  Vain promiser!
Lead me, my Charmion; nay, your hand too, Iras.
My grief has weight enough to sink you both.
Conduct me to some solitary chamber,
And draw the curtains round;
Then leave me to myself, to take alone
My fill of grief:

  There I till death will his unkindness weep;

  As harmless infants moan themselves asleep.  [Exeunt.

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