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Cleopatre Captive
, by Estienne Jodelle

In 1552 there was published in France a drama called Cleopatre Captive, which was the first tragedy to appear in the French language. It was written by Estienne Jodelle, ‘fieur du Lymodin,’ who was born in Paris in 1532, and died at the age of forty-one in 1573, when Shakespeare was nine years old. In construction this tragedy was modelled on the Drama of Seneca; in some respects it shows the influence of the Greek tragedians also,—the Chorus shares in the dialogue, which is rare, I think, in Seneca, and, in the Second Act, it is divided into Strophes and Antistrophes. Its Dramatis Personæ are as follows: The Shade of Antony, Cleopatra, Eras, Charmium, Octavian Cæsar, Agrippa, Proculeius, Chorus of Alexandrian Women, Seleucus. The First Scene is laid in Purgatory, and consists of a soliloquy by the Shade of Antony who laments the sad fate brought on him by the gods, through their jealousy of his greatness; he reviews his past life, and his fatal infatuation for Cleopatra, whom he bitterly denounces. Purgatorial fires having already had some effect, the Ghost laments his cruel treatment of his wife, Octavia, and furthermore,

“I chased my tender children from my side
And warmed that murderous serpent in my bosom
Which coiled about me, and deceived my soul,
While pouring deadly venom o'er my life. 1

But he is resolved that he will not remain all alone in torment; before the sun, now rising, sets, Cleopatra must die. He has appeared to her in a dream, and commanded her, after having given his corpse an honourable burial, to kill herself,

“Or' se faisant compagne en ma peine et tristesse
Qui s'est faite long temps compagne en ma liesse;

which has really a show of justice and fair play. In the next Scene Cleopatra rehearses to Eras and Charmium, the events of her life, much in the same style as Antony had narrated his past story, but, not having had as yet the advantage of Purgatorial flames, her remorse is not so deep. She refers with terror to her dream, and decides that Antony's commands must be obeyed; moreover, every horror is to be endured rather than be taken to Rome for Cæsar's triumph. The Chorus, at the close of the Act, shows a close imitation of Seneca by beginning with a description, by no means without charm, of a sunrise and an opening day. It inevitably challenges comparison with the fine description by the Chorus at the end of the First Act in the Hercules Furens, beginning, ‘Jam rara micant sidera prono Languida ‘mundo,’ etc. In the next Act Octavius boasts to Agrippa and Proculeius of his grandeur and of his mighty exploits, beginning with the self-complacent assertion that no one under heaven's cope has been so favoured by the gods as he himself. But his career will be incomplete if he cannot take Cleopatra in triumph to Rome. Proculeius describes the manner in which he captured the queen, wherein Jodelle closely follows Plutarch. Octavius bids him dispossess Cleopatra of all thoughts of suicide. In the Third Act there is a conference between Octavius and the Queen. The latter displays the letters of Julius Cæsar, wherefrom it appears that Jodelle consulted Dion Cassius as well as Plutarch. In Cleopatra's appeals, as a queen, for compassion, in her lamentations for Antony, and in her despairing commiseration of her own bitter lot, the drama rises, I think, to its highest point of tragedy. ‘Unless,’ Cleopatra, addressing Octavius, plaintively begins:

“Unless the grief, imprisoned in my breast,
Far, far surpassed this final plaint of mine
Thou wouldst not see thy poor slave at thy feet.
No words of mine are equal to the grief,
Which, throbbing, has consumed me all within,—
My tears, my moans, and all my heavy sighs.
Art thou surprised that this word “separation”
Has power to put my steadfastness to flight?
To separate! ye gods! I know its meaning!
If this sad war had only been foreseen,
It had been better for me, luckless queen,
To have separated from him during life.
His bitter grief could then have been prevented!
I could have warded off all cruel blows,
Because I had the means and chance, with hope
Of seeing in full secresy his face.
But now a hundred,—hundred-hundredfold
I've suffered from this bitter war; by it
I've lost my lands, my kingdom,—and my all!
And I have seen my life, and my support,
My joy, my universe, take his own life!
And, bleeding as he was, all cold and wan,
I strove to warm him with my own hot tears,
And almost separated myself from him
While death was separating him from me.
Ha Dieux, grands Dieux! Ha grands Dieux!
* * * * *
I needs must live; fear not I'll take my life.
I have not laid a scheme to kill myself.
But since 'tis right that I prolong my life
And that in me the love of life revive,
Vouchsafe to look upon this weakling, Cæsar,
Who casts herself once more before thy feet.
At least, O Cæsar, let my streaming tears
Induce a softness whence will spring my pardon.
Fast flowing drops will outwear e'en the flint,
Then on thy heart shall tears have no effect?

In this one Scene there is, I think, a tragic human cry, deeper and more sincere than is to be found in the Cleopatras of many of Jodelle's successors who have achieved more fame. Octavius remains, however, unmoved, and recounts all the misdeeds in Cleopatra's career, but finally assures her that her life and the lives of her children shall be spared. Out of gratitude the queen says that she will disclose to Octavius all the gold and jewels in her treasury. Hereupon Seleucus comes forward officiously, as he does in Plutarch (in Shakespeare Cleopatra appeals to him), and asserts that Cleopatra has concealed wealth incalculable. The Scene that follows in Plutarch, where Cleopatra falls into a rage with Seleucus, proved to Jodelle too attractive to be omitted; consequently he inserted it at length, although so much action is in general alien to the Senecan tragedy. By this one venturesome stroke Jodelle has shown his appreciation of Cleopatra's nature, and has imparted action, life, and character to his drama which give it a high place, earliest though it be of French tragedies, when compared with those subsequently written under Senecan influence, with Cleopatra for a theme. As Jodelle's Works are very scarce (the first edition appeared in 1552,—my copy is dated 1583), it may not be displeasing to reprint this fragment of the Scene. Jodelle's close adherence to Plutarch can be observed only in the original French; it would be lost in a translation. Seleucus has finished his accusation and at once Cleopatra's anger breaks forth:

A faux meurdrier! a faux traistre, arraché
Sera le poil de ta teste cruelle.
Que pleust aux Dieux que ce fust ta ceruelle!
Tié traistre, tié.

O Dieux!

O chose detestable!
Vn serf vn serf!

Mais chose esmerueillable
D'vn cœur terrible.

Et quoy, m'accuses tu?
Me pensois tu veufue de ma vertu
Comme d'Antoine? a a traistre!

Retiens la,
Puissant Cesar, retiens la doncq.

Tous mes bienfaits. hou! le dueil qui m'efforce,
Donne à mon cœur langoureux telle force,
Que ie pourrois, ce me semble, froisser
Du poing tes os, & tes flancs creuasser
A coups de pied.

O quel grinsant courage!
Mais rien n'est plus furieux que la rage
D'vn cœur de femme. Et bien, quoy, Cleopatre?
Estes vous point ia saoule de le battre!
Fuy t'en, ami, fuy t'en.

Mais quoy, mais quoy?
Mon Empereur, est-il vn tel esmoy
Au monde encor que ce paillard me donne?
Sa lácheté ton esprit mesme estonne,
Comme ie croy, quand moy Roine d'ici,
De mon vassal suis accusee ainsi,
Que toy, Cesar, as daigné visiter.

—p. 225, verso, ed. 1583.

Seleucus repents, and in a dialogue with the Chorus confesses that death would be preferable to the memory which must be always his that he has so deeply wounded and offended his queen and mistress.

The Fourth Act is almost wholly given up to the bitter lamentations of Cleopatra. At the close there are four lines which I think are touching: “Car entre tout le mal, peine, douleur, encombre,
Souspirs, regrets, soucis, que i' ay souffert sans nombre,
I' estime le plus grief ce bien petit de temps
Que de toy, ô Antoine, esloigner ie me sens.

The Fifth Act is divided between Proculeius and the Chorus. The former, overwhelmed with grief, describes how he broke into the Monument and found Cleopatra and Eras dead and Charmium dying, without a trace of the cause of their death. Later on, in wondering how he shall break the news to Cæsar, he asks if it be possible that she could have died by an aspic's bite or by some secret poison. The Chorus promises to the dead Cleopatra an eternity of fame in every land which the sun beholds from his rosy dawn to his darkened rest.

Comparisons between national literatures are idle; therefore, after recalling the fact that Gorboduc, our earliest tragedy, was written in 1562, just ten years after Jodelle's Cleopatre, it seems to me a sufficient conclusion that the latter as a first essay in dramatic tragedy is an origin of which any literature might be more than contented.

M. Antoine
, by Robert Garnier

The next Tragedy, chronologically, wherein Cleopatra appears, is that by Robert Garnier, conseiller dv Roy lieutenant general criminel au siege presidial & senechaussee du Maine. It is called M. Antoine, and was published in 1578. It shared the popularity of Garnier's other plays, which during the following century were reprinted at the remarkable rate of an edition every two years.2 M. Antoine had the honour of being translated by the Countess of Pembroke, Sir Philip Sidney's sister, in 1592. To us, Shakespeare students, this translation is of importance. Its date renders it possible that it may have been read by Shakespeare. But if Shakespeare ever looked into it, I think he read no further than to the end of the Argument, where he found the statement that Garnier had drawn his material from Plutarch,—an ample notice that, in material for his play, the English dramatist could gain nothing from the French.

Of course, Garnier took Seneca as his model, except that he apparently thought that if one Chorus was good two would be better,—a luxury in which, I believe, Seneca never indulged. Garnier has a Chorus of Egyptians and another of Cæsar's soldiers. Inasmuch as the title of the play is M. Antoine, it will hardly suffice that Antony should be, as in Jodelle's tragedy, a Shade, which after all may be a source of regret. The living man appears only twice during the play. The First Act, of over two hundred and thirty lines, is one long lugubrious monologue by him, wherein he exalts his own fame and prowess, bewails his unjust downfall, and denounces Cleopatra's deceitful love and treachery. His second appearance is in the Third Act wherein, with Lucilius as an occasional interlocutor, he continues, in about the same number of lines, the same mournful strain, but with an open confession that he cannot emancipate himself from Cleopatra's thralldom. It is in the course of this Act that he betrays the recent reading of his Dante when he says:

“Car rien tant ne tourmente vn hōme en sa misere
Que se representer sa fortune prospere.

With an honesty beyond praise he puts these lines in quotation marks. The same honesty, I regret to say, is not shown by the First Chorus, in thus distinguishing the following lines:

“Heureux qui iamais n'eut de vie
Ou que la mort dés le berceau
Luy a, pitoyable, rauie,
L'emmaillottant dans le tombeau.

which recall the words of the Chorus: mh\ fu_nai to\n a(/ranta nika_| lo/gon, etc. in the Œdipus Coloneus of Sophocles, line 1225, et seq.

From the very structure of the dramas formed on the Seneca model, it is vain to expect any development of character beyond that which twenty-four hours may effect. Cleopatra appears in two Scenes, and what she is in the former she is in the latter,—a woman deeply in love with Antony, freely acknowledging that she entangled him in her snares (and a little proud of it), and completely heart-broken that Antony should think she had been treacherous to him. In describing her flight at Actium she utters two lines which remind us and merely remind us, of Shakespeare; in referring to Antony's pursuit, she says that he was

“‘Oublieux de sa charge, & comme si son ame
Eust esté attachée à celle de sa Dame.

The reason she gives for her flight and for her decision to be in these wars, was her extreme jealousy, lest Antony should return to Octavia. See III, vii, 23, supra.

In the Fourth Act Antony's death (described as in Plutarch), is narrated to Cæsar by Dercetas. The Fifth Act is devoted to Cleopatra, who takes leave of her children, and although continually asserting her intention to kill herself, we have no information as to when, or where, or how she at last fulfills it. The Act begins as follows:

O cruel Fortune! O accurs'd disaster!
O noxious love! O torch abominable!
O ill-starred pleasures! O caitiff beauty!
O deadly grandeur, deadly majesty!
O hapless life! O pitiable queen!
O Antony, through my fault, to be buried!
O heavens too malign! alas! all blows
And rancour of the gods are come upon us!
Ill-omened queen! O would that I had ne'er
Beheld, alas! the wandering light of day!
I am a plague and poison to my dear ones!
I've lost the ancient sceptre of my fathers!
This kingdom I've enslaved to foreign laws,
And of their heritage deprived my children.
Yet this is nought, alas! all nought, compared
With loss of you, dear spouse [Espoux], by me ensnared,
Of you, whom I misled, and then constrained
By bloody hand, to lie in mouldring tomb.
Of you whom I destroyed, of you, my dearest lord,
From whom I took all honour, empire, life!
O harmful woman! Hé! can I live on,
Locked up within this grisly, haunted tomb?
Can I breathe on? and can, oh, can my soul
Continue, in such grief, within my body?
O Atropos, O Clotho, fatal spinners!
O Styx, O Phlegethon, infernal rivers!
O Daughters of the Night!

Cleopatra confides her children to Euphronius, with the prayer that he will wander with them over the face of the earth rather than suffer them to fall into Cæsar's power. She then takes leave of them, as follows:

“Who knows but that your hands, to which false Fate
Once gave the promise of the Latin sceptre,
Shall bear, instead of it, a crooked sheep-hook,
A mattock, or a goad, or guide the plough?
Then learn to suffer, children, and forget
The glory of your birth, and bend to fate.
Adieu, my babes [enfançons] adieu, my heart's oppressed
With pity, grief; already death has pierced me!
I cannot breathe! Adieu for evermore!
Your sire or me you'll never more behold.
Adieu, sweet care, adieu!

Madame, adieu!

Hah! that voice kills me. Bons Dieux, I faint!
I can no more. I die.

Madame, would you
Succumb to sorrow? alas, pray speak to us!

Come children.

We come.

Charmion and Eras at last succeed in reviving the Queen. Thereupon all three begin to bewail Antony, and continue so doing for seventy lines, during which Charmion is fearful lest their tears should give out, and suggests that they keep on crying ‘tant qu'aurons quelque humeur.’ At the end of the seventieth line occurs the following passage which I think noteworthy. It is Cleopatra who is speaking:

“By our true loves, I pray thee, Antony,
By our two hearts, once kindled with sweet flames,
Our holy marriage [Par nostre saint Hymen] and the tender pity
For our small children, pledges of our love,
That to thine ears my mournful voice may fly
And that on Pluto's shore thou wilt escort me,
Thy wife, thy friend; hear thou, O Antony,
Where'er thou art these sobbing sighs of mine.

It is not a little remarkable, I think, that in more than one of these early versions Cleopatra refers to Antony as her husband. Here we find an open reference to their ‘holy marriage.’ No other version that I can recall has spoken thus explicitly. Cleopatra continues:

“Till now, I've lived as was decreed by Fate,
I now have run my wingéd course of years;
I've flourish'd; and I've reign'd; I've taken vengeance
On that proud foe, who holds me still in scorn.
Happy, thrice-happy had it been for me
If never fleet of Rome had touch'd these shores!
And now of me a phantom great shall go
Beneath the world, to bury all my woe!

Cleopatra here anticipates the line which Virgil, in the Fourth Book of the Æneid, will put into Dido's mouth, ‘Et nunc magna mei sub terras ibit imago.’ The queen continues in this strain for about twenty lines; among them are the following: “Le plus aigre tourment qu'en mon ame ie sente,
Est ce peu que ie suis de toy, mon cœur, absente.
” which show that she had been lately reading her Jodelle. She then concludes: “Since I no more can sprinkle him with tears,—
Ah woe, those founts in me are all drawn dry,—
What is there left, alas! but lavish kisses?
O fairest eyes, my light, then let me kiss you!
O brow, proud honour's seat! fair, warlike face!
O neck! O arms! O breast where death
Just now, black deed, has struck the murderous blow!
A thousand kisses, and yet thousands more,
Accept as my last duty to your fame.
And in such office let my nerveless frame
Breathe forth my soul and wither on thy breast.

And this is all. With this line the Tragedy ends.

Cleopatra's character is not altogether colourless, but is as far removed as possible from any Shakespearian glow. Her love is boundless, her self-reproach endless, her self-abasement abysmal, her knowledge of mythology extensive, and, had we not had some experience with Jodelle, we should consider her achievement in soliloquy phenomenal. After your spirit is once fairly broken, you can read on and on with a tepid gentle excitement that is not unpleasing. The Choruses are always lyric, with occasional passages of genuine poetry. In all the incidents of the play Plutarch is closely followed, and at all times there is a subtle consciousness that you are in the hands of a scholar.

M. Antoine
, translated by Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke

The familiar fact has been already mentioned that this tragedy of Garnier was ‘done into English’ by Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke. It was published in 1592. That it is ‘done into English’ is true, but it is done into awkward English, which well might merit a stronger adjective when we recall some of the finished poetry of her brother, Philip. She sedulously maintains the ten syllables of an iambic pentameter; but to do this, all customary order of words is at times violated. In the following selection I think and I hope I have given the translation at its best. Passages written in stichomythia are unusually difficult to translate. The original French is throughout (except in the Choruses) in rhymed Alexandrines. With a few exceptions, her Ladyship uses rhyme only in the stichomythic passages. Charmian and Eras are dissuading Cleopatra from suicide:

Que sert à son malheur [i. e. Antony's] cette amour eternelle?

Qu'elle serue, ou soit vaine, elle doit estre telle.

C'est mal fait de se perdre en ne profitāt point.

Ce n'est mal fait de suyure vn amy si conioint.

Mais telle affection n' amoindrist pas sa peine.

Sans telle affection ie serois inhumaine.

Inhumain est celuy qui se brasse la mort.

Inhumain n'est celuy qui de miseres sort.

Viuez pour vos enfans. Cl. Ie mourray pour leur pere.

O mere rigoureuse! Cl. Espouse debonnaire!

Les voulez-vous priuer du bien de leurs ayeux?

Les en priué-ie? non, c'est la rigueur des dieux.

The translation of the Countess of Pembroke is as follows:

What helps his wrack this euer-lasting loue?

Help, or help not, such must, such ought I proue.

Ill done to loose your selfe, and to no ende.

How ill thinke you to follow such a frende?

But this your loue nought mitigates his paine.

Without this loue I should be inhumaine.

Inhumaine he, who his owne death pursues.

Not inhumaine who miseries eschues.

Liue for your sonnes. Cl. Nay, for their father die.

Hard hearted mother! Cl. Wife kind-hearted I.

Then will you them depriue of royall right?

hide References (3 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (3):
    • William Shakespeare, Anthony and Cleopatra, 1.2
    • William Shakespeare, Anthony and Cleopatra, 1.5
    • William Shakespeare, Anthony and Cleopatra, 5.2
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