So. Enobarbus…

I’ve now watched five of the six video versions of Antony and Cleopatra thus far, and between the viewings and the readings of the play I’ve done in the last month and a third, I’m fascinated by Enobarbus.

We meet him first in Act One, Scene Two, while he’s hanging out with Cleopatra’s attendants, the soothsayer, and Mardian the Eunuch. His first line is a call for food and drink. And given the meter of the lines, I think we get a clue to his state:


/ ~ ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

Bring in the banquet quickly; wine enough
/~ / ~ / ~ /

Cleopatra’s health to drink.
  • I.ii.13-14

The first line, save for the muscularly trochaic kick off to the line, is iambic pentameter–totally expected. The next line, however, is funky: it’s short (only tetrameter) and either catalectic trochaic tetrameter or acephalous iambic tetrameter (depending how you want to look at it), much like the witches in Macbeth. So it’s a short line: there’s going to be a pause somewhere. But at the beginning or the end of the line? My vote would be beginning since the line seems to be missing an opening unstressed syllable. A slight half-beat (or beat and a half) pause between “enough” and “Cleopatra”… enough for a hiccup or a suppressed burp (or even an audible one). I would contend ol’ Enobarbus is a little intoxicated. He doesn’t speak again for over sixty lines until he says, “Hush, here comes Antony” (I.ii.78) on the entrance of…Cleopatra, about which he is corrected by Charmian. Antony doesn’t enter for nearly another ten lines.

He exits from the scene with the ladies, then returns almost fifty lines later when he speaks to Antony…in prose, and he pulls Antony, who had been soliloquizing in verse, down to his level linguistically. Is this descent needed for Enobarbus’ intoxication? Given his rather ribald discussion of women “dying” and “nothing”s, it would not surprise me, especially because of his rather thankful response to the news of Fulvia’s death. I’m not quite sure that a sober lieutenant would speak to his general in such a manner.

When next see him in Act Two, Scene Two, before the meeting between Antony and Octavian, when Lepidus tries to get Enobarbus to keep Antony calm and reined in. His response is in perfect iambic pentameter:


 ~ / ~ / ~

 I shall entreat him
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~

To answer like himself. If Caesar move him,
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

Let Antony look over Caesar’s head
~ / ~ / ~ / / / ~ /

And speak as loud as Mars. By Jupiter,
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / -~- /

Were I the wearer of Antonio’s beard,
~ / ~ / ~ /

I would not shave ’t today.
  • II.ii.3-8

With such regularity, I’d vote for sobriety here. His interjections throughout the Antony/Octavian meeting are all in prose (contrasted to the others’ verse); I don’t think this is intoxication…I think this is more a case of his statements being of a lesser (though funnier) importance than the other speakers. I find it interesting, however, that none of these are true asides (either to Antony or to the audience). Could speaking thus out of turn be evidence of intoxication? Possibly, and maybe his verse with Lepidus is hard-fought rigid “sober talking.” Or maybe it calls into question the prose rationale with Antony in Act One, Scene Two. Or maybe it’s just simple subordination.

When the leaders exit the scene, Enobarbus is left with the other lieutenants and the beginning of their scene together is shared prose. It’s only when Enobarbus launches into the “barge” speech that he jumps into verse (and we’ll talk about that speech tomorrow), and he pulls the other soldiers up to verse as well.

His next appearance is again a series of interjections into the meeting of the Second Triumvirate and Pompey, only now it’s in verse that he inserts himself into a conversation between superiors, particularly when Pompey attempts a snark attack on Antony. It’s obvious by his ability to both begin and end antilabes that Enobarbus can code switch to the appropriate speech level when the audience demands it. When the leaders leave, and it is just he and Pompey’s lieutenant on stage, all pretense is removed and they drop to prose. By the end of the scene immediately following, the feast is winding down, Enobarbus is drunk (”Strong Enobarb’s // Is weaker than the wine” [II.vii.121-22]), and again in prose.

Later when he and Agrippa are discussing the current power dynamic in the Triumvirate, they both assume verse, imitating and mocking Lepidus’ speech.

In his next appearance, in Act Three, Scene Five, something interesting takes place. In this short, two-person scene with Eros, the two men exchange news in prose, but with that out of the way Enobarbus moves into verse for commentary and action. Eros follows suit. Is this prose/verse transition a movement from past to future, or does Enobarbus take the opportunity to “pull” military rank on Eros (i.e. “at ease” versus “at attention”)?

In his next appearance as well as ALL his subsequent appearances (III.vii, III.x, III.xiii, IV.ii, IV.vi, and IV.ix), Enobarbus is exclusively in verse.

So, the further away from the time and place where he “did sleep day out of countenance and made the night light with drinking” (II.ii.187-88)–Egypt in peacetime–the less frequently Enobarbus speaks in prose.

At the opening of this entry, I said Enobarbus was drunk.

He was. He was intoxicated by that life in Egypt. And when that buzz wore off, he returned to his natural state, in verse.

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