Antony and Cleopatra: one last thing about Octavia

Yesterday, I looked at Octavia’s four appearances in Antony and Cleopatra, and that truly bizarre exchange with her brother Octavian Caesar in Act Three, Scene Two.

Today, just one more thing about her (not from Shakespeare, but from history)…

Octavia, as I mentioned yesterday, was Octavian’s older sister by 6 years.

As is mentioned by Menas in Act Two, Scene Six, Octavia had another husband: “she was the wife of Caius Marcellus” (II.vi.109). Was. Past tense.

So let’s look a bit into her past.

She had been married to Caius Marcellus sometime before 54 BCE. We know it was before this time because in that year Julius Caesar’s daughter Julia, who was Pompey the Great’s wife, died. And to keep political alliances, Caesar wanted Octavia to divorce her husband, and marry Pompey. She didn’t want to. And Pompey married the widowed daughter of the other First Triumvir Crassus instead. There’s some debate as to the motivation here: some believe it was a snub of Julius Caesar, others believe that he did this so that Octavia’s marriage could remain intact.

Regardless, she was still married to Caius Marcellus in 40 BCE around the time the play begins…that is, until he died in March of that year. So she was freed up, and was married off to Antony in October of that year for the purposes of stabilizing a political alliance.

Well, maybe I shouldn’t have said “freed up” because her marriage had to be decreed by the Roman Senate before it could take place. Why? You may ask. Because Octavia was pregnant with her late husband’s child. Antony and Octavia married and later in the year, Claudia Marcella Minor was born.

Does Shakespeare mention ANY of this? No (in much the same way that he doesn’t mention Brutus and Portia’s possible pregnancy the night before the assassination in Julius Caesar) and she would have been obviously pregnant–I mean, yuuuuuuuge–at the wedding in October of 40 BCE). Was Shakespeare even aware of it? Maybe, but who knows. Regardless, the history makes for some wonderful subtext for a director or actor.

I mean…How would a pregnancy change that whisper-in-the-ear moment from Act Three, Scene Two??? What “husband’s house” is she talking about?

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