Caesar and Cleopatra by George Bernard Shaw

ACT I An October night on the Syrian border of Egypt towards the end of the XXXIII Dynasty, in the year 706 by Roman computation, afterwards reckoned by Christian computation as 48 B.C. A great radiance of silver fire, the dawn of a moonlit night, is rising in the east. The stars and the cloudless
Caesar and Cleopatra by George Bernard Shaw
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An October night on the Syrian border of Egypt towards the end of the XXXIII Dynasty, in the year 706 by Roman computation, afterwards reckoned by Christian computation as 48 B.C. A great radiance of silver fire, the dawn of a moonlit night, is rising in the east. The stars and the cloudless sky are our own contemporaries, nineteen and a half centuries younger than we know them; but you would not guess that from their appearance. Below them are two notable drawbacks of civilization: a palace, and soldiers. The palace, an old, low, Syrian building of whitened mud, is not so ugly as Buckingham Palace; and the officers in the courtyard are more highly civilized than modern English officers: for example, they do not dig up the corpses of their dead enemies and mutilate them, as we dug up Cromwell and the Mahdi. They are in two groups: one intent on the gambling of their captain Belzanor, a warrior of fifty, who, with his spear on the ground beside his knee, is stooping to throw dice with a sly-looking young Persian recruit; the other gathered about a guardsman who has just finished telling a naughty story (still current in English barracks) at which they are laughing uproariously. They are about a dozen in number, all highly aristocratic young Egyptian guardsmen, handsomely equipped with weapons and armor, very unEnglish in point of not being ashamed of and uncomfortable in their professional dress; on the contrary, rather ostentatiously and arrogantly warlike, as valuing themselves on their military caste.

Belzanor is a typical veteran, tough and wilful; prompt, capable and crafty where brute force will serve; helpless and boyish when it will not: an effective sergeant, an incompetent general, a deplorable dictator. Would, if influentially connected, be employed in the two last capacities by a modern European State on the strength of his success in the first. Is rather to be pitied just now in view of the fact that Julius Caesar is invading his country. Not knowing this, is intent on his game with the Persian, whom, as a foreigner, he considers quite capable of cheating him.

His subalterns are mostly handsome young fellows whose interest in the game and the story symbolizes with tolerable completeness the main interests in life of which they are conscious. Their spears are leaning against the walls, or lying on the ground ready to their hands. The corner of the courtyard forms a triangle of which one side is the front of the palace, with a doorway, the other a wall with a gateway. The storytellers are on the palace side: the gamblers, on the gateway side. Close to the gateway, against the wall, is a stone block high enough to enable a Nubian sentinel, standing on it, to look over the wall. The yard is lighted by a torch stuck in the wall. As the laughter from the group round the storyteller dies away, the kneeling Persian, winning the throw, snatches up the stake from the ground.

BELZANOR. By Apis, Persian, thy gods are good to thee.

THE PERSIAN. Try yet again, O captain. Double or quits!

BELZANOR. No more. I am not in the vein.

THE SENTINEL (poising his javelin as he peers over the wall). Stand. Who goes there?

They all start, listening. A strange voice replies from without.

VOICE. The bearer of evil tidings.

BELZANOR (calling to the sentry). Pass him.

THE SENTINEL. (grounding his javelin). Draw near, O bearer of evil tidings.

BELZANOR (pocketing the dice and picking up his spear). Let us receive this man with honor. He bears evil tidings.

The guardsmen seize their spears and gather about the gate, leaving a way through for the new comer.

PERSIAN (rising from his knee). Are evil tidings, then, honorable?

BELZANOR. O barbarous Persian, hear my instruction. In Egypt the bearer of good tidings is sacrificed to the gods as a thank offering but no god will accept the blood of the messenger of evil. When we have good tidings, we are careful to send them in the mouth of the cheapest slave we can find. Evil tidings are borne by young noblemen who desire to bring themselves into notice. (They join the rest at the gate.)

THE SENTINEL. Pass, O young captain; and bow the head in the House of the Queen.

VOICE. Go anoint thy javelin with fat of swine, O Blackamoor; for before morning the Romans will make thee eat it to the very butt.

The owner of the voice, a fairhaired dandy, dressed in a different fashion to that affected by the guardsmen, but no less extravagantly, comes through the gateway laughing. He is somewhat battlestained; and his left forearm, bandaged, comes through a torn sleeve. In his right hand he carries a Roman sword in its sheath. He swaggers down the courtyard, the Persian on his right, Belzanor on his left, and the guardsmen crowding down behind him.

BELZANOR. Who art thou that laughest in the House of Cleopatra the Queen, and in the teeth of Belzanor, the captain of her guard?

THE NEW COMER. I am Bel Affris, descended from the gods.

BELZANOR (ceremoniously). Hail, cousin!

ALL (except the Persian). Hail, cousin!

PERSIAN. All the Queen’s guards are descended from the gods, O stranger, save myself. I am Persian, and descended from many kings.

BEL AFFRIS (to the guardsmen). Hail, cousins! (To the Persian, condescendingly) Hail, mortal!

BELZANOR. You have been in battle, Bel Affris; and you are a soldier among soldiers. You will not let the Queen’s women have the first of your tidings.

BEL AFFRIS. I have no tidings, except that we shall have our throats cut presently, women, soldiers, and all.

PERSIAN (to Belzanor). I told you so.

THE SENTINEL (who has been listening). Woe, alas!

BEL AFFRIS (calling to him). Peace, peace, poor Ethiop: destiny is with the gods who painted thee black. (To Belzanor) What has this mortal (indicating the Persian) told you?

BELZANOR. He says that the Roman Julius Caesar, who has landed on our shores with a handful of followers, will make himself master of Egypt. He is afraid of the Roman soldiers. (The guardsmen laugh with boisterous scorn.) Peasants, brought up to scare crows and follow the plough. Sons of smiths and millers and tanners! And we nobles, consecrated to arms, descended from the gods!

PERSIAN. Belzanor: the gods are not always good to their poor relations.

BELZANOR (hotly, to the Persian). Man to man, are we worse than the slaves of Caesar?

BEL AFFRIS (stepping between them). Listen, cousin. Man to man, we Egyptians are as gods above the Romans.

THE GUARDSMEN (exultingly). Aha!

BEL AFFRIS. But this Caesar does not pit man against man: he throws a legion at you where you are weakest as he throws a stone from a catapult; and that legion is as a man with one head, a thousand arms, and no religion. I have fought against them; and I know.

BELZANOR (derisively). Were you frightened, cousin?

The guardsmen roar with laughter, their eyes sparkling at the wit of their captain.

BEL AFFRIS. No, cousin; but I was beaten. They were frightened (perhaps); but they scattered us like chaff.

The guardsmen, much damped, utter a growl of contemptuous disgust.

BELZANOR. Could you not die?

BEL AFFRIS. No: that was too easy to be worthy of a descendant of the gods. Besides, there was no time: all was over in a moment. The attack came just where we least expected it.

BELZANOR. That shows that the Romans are cowards.

BEL AFFRIS. They care nothing about cowardice, these Romans: they fight to win. The pride and honor of war are nothing to them.

PERSIAN. Tell us the tale of the battle. What befell?

THE GUARDSMEN (gathering eagerly round Bel Afris). Ay: the tale of the battle.

BEL AFFRIS. Know then, that I am a novice in the guard of the temple of Ra in Memphis, serving neither Cleopatra nor her brother Ptolemy, but only the high gods. We went a journey to inquire of Ptolemy why he had driven Cleopatra into Syria, and how we of Egypt should deal with the Roman Pompey, newly come to our shores after his defeat by Caesar at Pharsalia. What, think ye, did we learn? Even that Caesar is coming also in hot pursuit of his foe, and that Ptolemy has slain Pompey, whose severed head he holds in readiness to present to the conqueror. (Sensation among the guardsmen.) Nay, more: we found that Caesar is already come; for we had not made half a day’s journey on our way back when we came upon a city rabble flying from his legions, whose landing they had gone out to withstand.

BELZANOR. And ye, the temple guard! Did you not withstand these legions?

BEL AFFRIS. What man could, that we did. But there came the sound of a trumpet whose voice was as the cursing of a black mountain. Then saw we a moving wall of shields coming towards us. You know how the heart burns when you charge a fortified wall; but how if the fortified wall were to charge YOU?

THE PERSIAN (exulting in having told them so). Did I not say it?

BEL AFFRIS. When the wall came nigh, it changed into a line of men–common fellows enough, with helmets, leather tunics, and breastplates. Every man of them flung his javelin: the one that came my way drove through my shield as through a papyrus–lo there! (he points to the bandage on his left arm) and would have gone through my neck had I not stooped. They were charging at the double then, and were upon us with short swords almost as soon as their javelins. When a man is close to you with such a sword, you can do nothing with our weapons: they are all too long.

THE PERSIAN. What did you do?

BEL AFFRIS. Doubled my fist and smote my Roman on the sharpness of his jaw. He was but mortal after all: he lay down in a stupor; and I took his sword and laid it on. (Drawing the sword) Lo! a Roman sword with Roman blood on it!

THE GUARDSMEN (approvingly). Good! (They take the sword and hand it round, examining it curiously.)

THE PERSIAN. And your men?

BEL AFFRIS. Fled. Scattered like sheep.

BELZANOR (furiously). The cowardly slaves! Leaving the descendants of the gods to be butchered!

BEL AFFRIS (with acid coolness). The descendants of the gods did not stay to be butchered, cousin. The battle was not to the strong; but the race was to the swift. The Romans, who have no chariots, sent a cloud of horsemen in pursuit, and slew multitudes. Then our high priest’s captain rallied a dozen descendants of the gods and exhorted us to die fighting. I said to myself: surely it is safer to stand than to lose my breath and be stabbed in the back; so I joined our captain and stood. Then the Romans treated us with respect; for no man attacks a lion when the field is full of sheep, except for the pride and honor of war, of which these Romans know nothing. So we escaped with our lives; and I am come to warn you that you must open your gates to Caesar; for his advance guard is scarce an hour behind me; and not an Egyptian warrior is left standing between you and his legions.

THE SENTINEL. Woe, alas! (He throws down his javelin and flies into the palace.)

BELZANOR. Nail him to the door, quick! (The guardsmen rush for him with their spears; but he is too quick for them.) Now this news will run through the palace like fire through stubble.

BEL AFFRIS. What shall we do to save the women from the Romans?

BELZANOR. Why not kill them?

PERSIAN. Because we should have to pay blood money for some of them. Better let the Romans kill them: it is cheaper.

BELZANOR (awestruck at his brain power). O subtle one! O serpent!

BEL AFFRIS. But your Queen?

BELZANOR. True: we must carry off Cleopatra.

BEL AFFRIS. Will ye not await her command?

BELZANOR. Command! A girl of sixteen! Not we. At Memphis ye deem her a Queen: here we know better. I will take her on the crupper of my horse. When we soldiers have carried her out of Caesar’s reach, then the priests and the nurses and the rest of them can pretend she is a queen again, and put their commands into her mouth.

PERSIAN. Listen to me, Belzanor.

BELZANOR. Speak, O subtle beyond thy years.

THE PERSIAN. Cleopatra’s brother Ptolemy is at war with her. Let us sell her to him.

THE GUARDSMEN. O subtle one! O serpent!

BELZANOR. We dare not. We are descended from the gods; but Cleopatra is descended from the river Nile; and the lands of our fathers will grow no grain if the Nile rises not to water them. Without our father’s gifts we should live the lives of dogs.

PERSIAN. It is true: the Queen’s guard cannot live on its pay. But hear me further, O ye kinsmen of Osiris.

THE GUARDSMEN. Speak, O subtle one. Hear the serpent begotten!

PERSIAN. Have I heretofore spoken truly to you of Caesar, when you thought I mocked you?

GUARDSMEN. Truly, truly.

BELZANOR (reluctantly admitting it). So Bel Affris says.

PERSIAN. Hear more of him, then. This Caesar is a great lover of women: he makes them his friends and counselors.

BELZANOR. Faugh! This rule of women will be the ruin of Egypt.

THE PERSIAN. Let it rather be the ruin of Rome! Caesar grows old now: he is past fifty and full of labors and battles. He is too old for the young women; and the old women are too wise to worship him.

BEL AFFRIS. Take heed, Persian. Caesar is by this time almost within earshot.

PERSIAN. Cleopatra is not yet a woman: neither is she wise. But she already troubles men’s wisdom.

BELZANOR. Ay: that is because she is descended from the river Nile and a black kitten of the sacred White Cat. What then?

PERSIAN. Why, sell her secretly to Ptolemy, and then offer ourselves to Caesar as volunteers to fight for the overthrow of her brother and the rescue of our Queen, the Great Granddaughter of the Nile.


PERSIAN. He will listen to us if we come with her picture in our mouths. He will conquer and kill her brother, and reign in Egypt with Cleopatra for his Queen. And we shall be her guard.

GUARDSMEN. O subtlest of all the serpents! O admiration! O wisdom!

BEL AFFRIS. He will also have arrived before you have done talking, O word spinner.

BELZANOR. That is true. (An affrighted uproar in the palace interrupts him.) Quick: the flight has begun: guard the door. (They rush to the door and form a cordon before it with their spears. A mob of women-servants and nurses surges out. Those in front recoil from the spears, screaming to those behind to keep back. Belzanor’s voice dominates the disturbance as he shouts) Back there. In again, unprofitable cattle.

THE GUARDSMEN. Back, unprofitable cattle.

BELZANOR. Send us out Ftatateeta, the Queen’s chief nurse.

THE WOMEN (calling into the palace). Ftatateeta, Ftatateeta. Come, come. Speak to Belzanor.

A WOMAN. Oh, keep back. You are thrusting me on the spearheads.

A huge grim woman, her face covered with a network of tiny wrinkles, and her eyes old, large, and wise; sinewy handed, very tall, very strong; with the mouth of a bloodhound and the jaws of a bulldog, appears on the threshold. She is dressed like a person of consequence in the palace, and confronts the guardsmen insolently.

FTATATEETA. Make way for the Queen’s chief nurse.

BELZANOR. (with solemn arrogance). Ftatateeta: I am Belzanor, the captain of the Queen’s guard, descended from the gods.

FTATATEETA. (retorting his arrogance with interest). Belzanor: I am Ftatateeta, the Queen’s chief nurse; and your divine ancestors were proud to be painted on the wall in the pyramids of the kings whom my fathers served.

The women laugh triumphantly.

BELZANOR (with grim humor) Ftatateeta: daughter of a long-tongued, swivel-eyed chameleon, the Romans are at hand. (A cry of terror from the women: they would fly but for the spears.) Not even the descendants of the gods can resist them; for they have each man seven arms, each carrying seven spears. The blood in their veins is boiling quicksilver; and their wives become mothers in three hours, and are slain and eaten the next day.

A shudder of horror from the women. Ftatateeta, despising them and scorning the soldiers, pushes her way through the crowd and confronts the spear points undismayed.

FTATATEETA. Then fly and save yourselves, O cowardly sons of the cheap clay gods that are sold to fish porters; and leave us to shift for ourselves.

BELZANOR. Not until you have first done our bidding, O terror of manhood. Bring out Cleopatra the Queen to us and then go whither you will.

FTATATEETA (with a derisive laugh). Now I know why the gods have taken her out of our hands. (The guardsmen start and look at one another). Know, thou foolish soldier, that the Queen has been missing since an hour past sun down.

BELZANOR (furiously). Hag: you have hidden her to sell to Caesar or her brother. (He grasps her by the left wrist, and drags her, helped by a few of the guard, to the middle of the courtyard, where, as they fling her on her knees, he draws a murderous looking knife.) Where is she? Where is she? or– (He threatens to cut her throat.)

FTATATEETA (savagely). Touch me, dog; and the Nile will not rise on your fields for seven times seven years of famine.

BELZANOR (frightened, but desperate). I will sacrifice: I will pay. Or stay. (To the Persian) You, O subtle one: your father’s lands lie far from the Nile. Slay her.

PERSIAN (threatening her with his knife). Persia has but one god; yet he loves the blood of old women. Where is Cleopatra?

FTATATEETA. Persian: as Osiris lives, I do not know. I chide her for bringing evil days upon us by talking to the sacred cats of the priests, and carrying them in her arms. I told her she would be left alone here when the Romans came as a punishment for her disobedience. And now she is gone–run away–hidden. I speak the truth. I call Osiris to witness.

THE WOMEN (protesting officiously). She speaks the truth, Belzanor.

BELZANOR. You have frightened the child: she is hiding. Search– quick–into the palace–search every corner.

The guards, led by Belzanor, shoulder their way into the palace through the flying crowd of women, who escape through the courtyard gate.

FTATATEETA (screaming). Sacrilege! Men in the Queen’s chambers! Sa– (Her voice dies away as the Persian puts his knife to her throat.)

BEL AFFRIS (laying a hand on Ftatateeta’s left shoulder). Forbear her yet a moment, Persian. (To Ftatateeta, very significantly) Mother: your gods are asleep or away hunting; and the sword is at your throat. Bring us to where the Queen is hid, and you shall live.

FTATATEETA (contemptuously). Who shall stay the sword in the hand of a fool, if the high gods put it there? Listen to me, ye young men without understanding. Cleopatra fears me; but she fears the Romans more. There is but one power greater in her eyes than the wrath of the Queen’s nurse and the cruelty of Caesar; and that is the power of the Sphinx that sits in the desert watching the way to the sea. What she would have it know, she tells into the ears of the sacred cats; and on her birthday she sacrifices to it and decks it with poppies. Go ye therefore into the desert and seek Cleopatra in the shadow of the Sphinx; and on your heads see to it that no harm comes to her.

BEL AFFRIS (to the Persian). May we believe this, O subtle one?

PERSIAN. Which way come the Romans?

BEL AFFRIS. Over the desert, from the sea, by this very Sphinx.

PERSIAN (to Ftatateeta). O mother of guile! O aspic’s tongue! You have made up this tale so that we two may go into the desert and perish on the spears of the Romans. (Lifting his knife) Taste death.

FTATATEETA. Not from thee, baby. (She snatches his ankle from under him and flies stooping along the palace wall vanishing in the darkness within its precinct. Bel Affris roars with laughter as the Persian tumbles. The guardsmen rush out of the palace with Belzanor and a mob of fugitives, mostly carrying bundles.)

PERSIAN. Have you found Cleopatra?

BELZANOR. She is gone. We have searched every corner.

THE NUBIAN SENTINEL (appearing at the door of the palace). Woe! Alas! Fly, fly!

BELZANOR. What is the matter now?

THE NUBIAN SENTINEL. The sacred white cat has been stolen. Woe! Woe! (General panic. They all fly with cries of consternation. The torch is thrown down and extinguished in the rush. Darkness. The noise of the fugitives dies away. Dead silence. Suspense. Then the blackness and stillness breaks softly into silver mist and strange airs as the windswept harp of Memnon plays at the dawning of the moon. It rises full over the desert; and a vast horizon comes into relief, broken by a huge shape which soon reveals itself in the spreading radiance as a Sphinx pedestalled on the sands. The light still clears, until the upraised eyes of the image are distinguished looking straight forward and upward in infinite fearless vigil, and a mass of color between its great paws defines itself as a heap of red poppies on which a girl lies motionless, her silken vest heaving gently and regularly with the breathing of a dreamless sleeper, and her braided hair glittering in a shaft of moonlight like a bird’s wing.

Suddenly there comes from afar a vaguely fearful sound (it might be the bellow of a Minotaur softened by great distance) and Memnon’s music stops. Silence: then a few faint high-ringing trumpet notes. Then silence again. Then a man comes from the south with stealing steps, ravished by the mystery of the night, all wonder, and halts, lost in contemplation, opposite the left flank of the Sphinx, whose bosom, with its burden, is hidden from him by its massive shoulder.)

THE MAN. Hail, Sphinx: salutation from Julius Caesar! I have wandered in many lands, seeking the lost regions from which my birth into this world exiled me, and the company of creatures such as I myself. I have found flocks and pastures, men and cities, but no other Caesar, no air native to me, no man kindred to me, none who can do my day’s deed, and think my night’s thought. In the little world yonder, Sphinx, my place is as high as yours in this great desert; only I wander, and you sit still; I conquer, and you endure; I work and wonder, you watch and wait; I look up and am dazzled, look down and am darkened, look round and am puzzled, whilst your eyes never turn from looking out–out of the world–to the lost region–the home from which we have strayed. Sphinx, you and I, strangers to the race of men, are no strangers to one another: have I not been conscious of you and of this place since I was born? Rome is a madman’s dream: this is my Reality. These starry lamps of yours I have seen from afar in Gaul, in Britain, in Spain, in Thessaly, signalling great secrets to some eternal sentinel below, whose post I never could find. And here at last is their sentinel–an image of the constant and immortal part of my life, silent, full of thoughts, alone in the silver desert. Sphinx, Sphinx: I have climbed mountains at night to hear in the distance the stealthy footfall of the winds that chase your sands in forbidden play–our invisible children, O Sphinx, laughing in whispers. My way hither was the way of destiny; for I am he of whose genius you are the symbol: part brute, part woman, and part God–nothing of man in me at all. Have I read your riddle, Sphinx?

THE GIRL (who has wakened, and peeped cautiously from her nest to see who is speaking). Old gentleman.

CAESAR (starting violently, and clutching his sword). Immortal gods!

THE GIRL. Old gentleman: don’t run away.

CAESAR (stupefied). “Old gentleman: don’t run away!!!” This! To Julius Caesar!

THE GIRL (urgently). Old gentleman.

CAESAR. Sphinx: you presume on your centuries. I am younger than you, though your voice is but a girl’s voice as yet.

THE GIRL. Climb up here, quickly; or the Romans will come and eat you.

CAESAR (running forward past the Sphinx’s shoulder, and seeing her). A child at its breast! A divine child!

THE GIRL. Come up quickly. You must get up at its side and creep round.

CAESAR (amazed). Who are you?

THE GIRL. Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt.

CAESAR. Queen of the Gypsies, you mean.

CLEOPATRA. You must not be disrespectful to me, or the Sphinx will let the Romans eat you. Come up. It is quite cosy here.

CAESAR (to himself). What a dream! What a magnificent dream! Only let me not wake, and I will conquer ten continents to pay for dreaming it out to the end. (He climbs to the Sphinx’s flank, and presently reappears to her on the pedestal, stepping round its right shoulder.)

CLEOPATRA. Take care. That’s right. Now sit down: you may have its other paw. (She seats herself comfortably on its left paw.) It is very powerful and will protect us; but (shivering, and with plaintive loneliness) it would not take any notice of me or keep me company. I am glad you have come: I was very lonely. Did you happen to see a white cat anywhere?

CAESAR (sitting slowly down on the right paw in extreme wonderment). Have you lost one?

CLEOPATRA. Yes: the sacred white cat: is it not dreadful? I brought him here to sacrifice him to the Sphinx; but when we got a little way from the city a black cat called him, and he jumped out of my arms and ran away to it. Do you think that the black cat can have been my great-great-great-grandmother?

CAESAR (staring at her). Your great-great-great-grandmother! Well, why not? Nothing would surprise me on this night of nights.

CLEOPATRA. I think it must have been. My great-grandmother’s great-grandmother was a black kitten of the sacred white cat; and the river Nile made her his seventh wife. That is why my hair is so wavy. And I always want to be let do as I like, no matter whether it is the will of the gods or not: that is because my blood is made with Nile water.

CAESAR. What are you doing here at this time of night? Do you live here?

CLEOPATRA. Of course not: I am the Queen; and I shall live in the palace at Alexandria when I have killed my brother, who drove me out of it. When I am old enough I shall do just what I like. I shall be able to poison the slaves and see them wriggle, and pretend to Ftatateeta that she is going to be put into the fiery furnace.

CAESAR. Hm! Meanwhile why are you not at home and in bed?

CLEOPATRA. Because the Romans are coming to eat us all. YOU are not at home and in bed either.

CAESAR (with conviction). Yes I am. I live in a tent; and I am now in that tent, fast asleep and dreaming. Do you suppose that I believe you are real, you impossible little dream witch?

CLEOPATRA (giggling and leaning trustfully towards him). You are a funny old gentleman. I like you.

CAESAR. Ah, that spoils the dream. Why don’t you dream that I am young?

CLEOPATRA. I wish you were; only I think I should be more afraid of you. I like men, especially young men with round strong arms; but I am afraid of them. You are old and rather thin and stringy; but you have a nice voice; and I like to have somebody to talk to, though I think you are a little mad. It is the moon that makes you talk to yourself in that silly way.

CAESAR. What! you heard that, did you? I was saying my prayers to the great Sphinx.

CLEOPATRA. But this isn’t the great Sphinx.

CAESAR (much disappointed, looking up at the statue). What!

CLEOPATRA. This is only a dear little kitten of the Sphinx. Why, the great Sphinx is so big that it has a temple between its paws. This is my pet Sphinx. Tell me: do you think the Romans have any sorcerers who could take us away from the Sphinx by magic?

CAESAR. Why? Are you afraid of the Romans?

CLEOPATRA (very seriously). Oh, they would eat us if they caught us. They are barbarians. Their chief is called Julius Caesar. His father was a tiger and his mother a burning mountain; and his nose is like an elephant’s trunk. (Caesar involuntarily rubs his nose.) They all have long noses, and ivory tusks, and little tails, and seven arms with a hundred arrows in each; and they live on human flesh.

CAESAR. Would you like me to show you a real Roman?

CLEOPATRA (terrified). No. You are frightening me.

CAESAR. No matter: this is only a dream–

CLEOPATRA (excitedly). It is not a dream: it is not a dream. See, see. (She plucks a pin from her hair and jabs it repeatedly into his arm.)

CAESAR. Ffff–Stop. (Wrathfully) How dare you?

CLEOPATRA (abashed). You said you were dreaming. (Whimpering) I only wanted to show you–

CAESAR (gently). Come, come: don’t cry. A queen mustn’t cry. (He rubs his arm, wondering at the reality of the smart.) Am I awake? (He strikes his hand against the Sphinx to test its solidity. It feels so real that he begins to be alarmed, and says perplexedly) Yes, I–(quite panicstricken) no: impossible: madness, madness! (Desperately) Back to camp–to camp. (He rises to spring down from the pedestal.)

CLEOPATRA (flinging her arms in terror round him). No: you shan’t leave me. No, no, no: don’t go. I’m afraid–afraid of the Romans.

CAESAR (as the conviction that he is really awake forces itself on him). Cleopatra: can you see my face well?

CLEOPATRA. Yes. It is so white in the moonlight.

CAESAR. Are you sure it is the moonlight that makes me look whiter than an Egyptian? (Grimly) Do you notice that I have a rather long nose?

CLEOPATRA (recoiling, paralyzed by a terrible suspicion). Oh!

CAESAR. It is a Roman nose, Cleopatra.

CLEOPATRA. Ah! (With a piercing scream she springs up; darts round the left shoulder of the Sphinx; scrambles down to the sand; and falls on her knees in frantic supplication, shrieking) Bite him in two, Sphinx: bite him in two. I meant to sacrifice the white cat–I did indeed–I (Caesar, who has slipped down from the pedestal, touches her on the shoulder) Ah! (She buries her head in her arms.)

CAESAR. Cleopatra: shall I teach you a way to prevent Caesar from eating you?

CLEOPATRA (clinging to him piteously). Oh do, do, do. I will steal Ftatateeta’s jewels and give them to you. I will make the river Nile water your lands twice a year.

CAESAR. Peace, peace, my child. Your gods are afraid of the Romans: you see the Sphinx dare not bite me, nor prevent me carrying you off to Julius Caesar.

CLEOPATRA (in pleading murmurings). You won’t, you won’t. You said you wouldn’t.

CAESAR. Caesar never eats women.

CLEOPATRA (springing up full of hope). What!

CAESAR (impressively). But he eats girls (she relapses) and cats. Now you are a silly little girl; and you are descended from the black kitten. You are both a girl and a cat.

CLEOPATRA (trembling). And will he eat me?

CAESAR. Yes; unless you make him believe that you are a woman.

CLEOPATRA. Oh, you must get a sorcerer to make a woman of me. Are you a sorcerer?

CAESAR. Perhaps. But it will take a long time; and this very night you must stand face to face with Caesar in the palace of your fathers.

CLEOPATRA. No, no. I daren’t.

CAESAR. Whatever dread may be in your soul–however terrible Caesar may be to you–you must confront him as a brave woman and a great queen; and you must feel no fear. If your hand shakes: if your voice quavers; then–night and death! (She moans.) But if he thinks you worthy to rule, he will set you on the throne by his side and make you the real ruler of Egypt.

CLEOPATRA (despairingly). No: he will find me out: he will find me out.

CAESAR (rather mournfully). He is easily deceived by women. Their eyes dazzle him; and he sees them not as they are, but as he wishes them to appear to him.

CLEOPATRA (hopefully). Then we will cheat him. I will put on Ftatateeta’s head-dress; and he will think me quite an old woman.

CAESAR. If you do that he will eat you at one mouthful.

CLEOPATRA. But I will give him a cake with my magic opal and seven hairs of the white cat baked in it; and–

CAESAR (abruptly). Pah! you are a little fool. He will eat your cake and you too. (He turns contemptuously from her.)

CLEOPATRA (running after him and clinging to him). Oh, please, PLEASE! I will do whatever you tell me. I will be good! I will be your slave. (Again the terrible bellowing note sounds across the desert, now closer at hand. It is the bucina, the Roman war trumpet.)


CLEOPATRA (trembling). What was that?

CAESAR. Caesar’s voice.

CLEOPATRA (pulling at his hand). Let us run away. Come. Oh, come.

CAESAR. You are safe with me until you stand on your throne to receive Caesar. Now lead me thither.

CLEOPATRA (only too glad to get away). I will, I will. (Again the bucina.) Oh, come, come, come: the gods are angry. Do you feel the earth shaking?

CAESAR. It is the tread of Caesar’s legions.

CLEOPATRA (drawing him away). This way, quickly. And let us look for the white cat as we go. It is he that has turned you into a Roman.

CAESAR. Incorrigible, oh, incorrigible! Away! (He follows her, the bucina sounding louder as they steal across the desert. The moonlight wanes: the horizon again shows black against the sky, broken only by the fantastic silhouette of the Sphinx. The sky itself vanishes in darkness, from which there is no relief until the gleam of a distant torch falls on great Egyptian pillars supporting the roof of a majestic corridor. At the further end of this corridor a Nubian slave appears carrying the torch. Caesar, still led by Cleopatra, follows him. They come down the corridor, Caesar peering keenly about at the strange architecture, and at the pillar shadows between which, as the passing torch makes them hurry noiselessly backwards, figures of men with wings and hawks’ heads, and vast black marble cats, seem to flit in and out of ambush. Further along, the wall turns a corner and makes a spacious transept in which Caesar sees, on his right, a throne, and behind the throne a door. On each side of the throne is a slender pillar with a lamp on it.)

CAESAR. What place is this?

CLEOPATRA. This is where I sit on the throne when I am allowed to wear my crown and robes. (The slave holds his torch to show the throne.)

CAESAR. Order the slave to light the lamps.

CLEOPATRA (shyly). Do you think I may?

CAESAR. Of course. You are the Queen. (She hesitates.) Go on.

CLEOPATRA (timidly, to the slave). Light all the lamps.

FTATATEETA (suddenly coming from behind the throne). Stop. (The slave stops. She turns sternly to Cleopatra, who quails like a naughty child.) Who is this you have with you; and how dare you order the lamps to be lighted without my permission? (Cleopatra is dumb with apprehension.)

CAESAR. Who is she?

CLEOPATRA. Ftatateeta.

FTATATEETA (arrogantly). Chief nurse to–

CAESAR (cutting her short). I speak to the Queen. Be silent. (To Cleopatra) Is this how your servants know their places? Send her away; and you (to the slave) do as the Queen has bidden. (The slave lights the lamps. Meanwhile Cleopatra stands hesitating, afraid of Ftatateeta.) You are the Queen: send her away.

CLEOPATRA (cajoling). Ftatateeta, dear: you must go away–just for a little.

CAESAR. You are not commanding her to go away: you are begging her. You are no Queen. You will be eaten. Farewell. (He turns to go.)

CLEOPATRA (clutching him). No, no, no. Don’t leave me.

CAESAR. A Roman does not stay with queens who are afraid of their slaves.

CLEOPATRA. I am not afraid. Indeed I am not afraid.

FTATATEETA. We shall see who is afraid here. (Menacingly) Cleopatra–

CAESAR. On your knees, woman: am I also a child that you dare trifle with me? (He points to the floor at Cleopatra’s feet. Ftatateeta, half cowed, half savage, hesitates. Caesar calls to the Nubian) Slave. (The Nubian comes to him.) Can you cut off a head? (The Nubian nods and grins ecstatically, showing all his teeth. Caesar takes his sword by the scabbard, ready to offer the hilt to the Nubian, and turns again to Ftatateeta, repeating his gesture.) Have you remembered yourself, mistress?

Ftatateeta, crushed, kneels before Cleopatra, who can hardly believe her eyes.

FTATATEETA (hoarsely). O Queen, forget not thy servant in the days of thy greatness.

CLEOPATRA (blazing with excitement). Go. Begone. Go away. (Ftatateeta rises with stooped head, and moves backwards towards the door. Cleopatra watches her submission eagerly, almost clapping her hands, which are trembling. Suddenly she cries) Give me something to beat her with. (She snatches a snake-skin from the throne and dashes after Ftatateeta, whirling it like a scourge in the air. Caesar makes a bound and manages to catch her and hold her while Ftatateeta escapes.)

CAESAR. You scratch, kitten, do you?

CLEOPATRA (breaking from him). I will beat somebody. I will beat him. (She attacks the slave.) There, there, there! (The slave flies for his life up the corridor and vanishes. She throws the snake-skin away and jumps on the step of the throne with her arms waving, crying) I am a real Queen at last–a real, real Queen! Cleopatra the Queen! (Caesar shakes his head dubiously, the advantage of the change seeming open to question from the point of view of the general welfare of Egypt. She turns and looks at him exultantly. Then she jumps down from the step, runs to him, and flings her arms round him rapturously, crying) Oh, I love you for making me a Queen.

CAESAR. But queens love only kings.

CLEOPATRA. I will make all the men I love kings. I will make you a king. I will have many young kings, with round, strong arms; and when I am tired of them I will whip them to death; but you shall always be my king: my nice, kind, wise, proud old king.

CAESAR. Oh, my wrinkles, my wrinkles! And my child’s heart! You will be the most dangerous of all Caesar’s conguests.

CLEOPATRA (appalled). Caesar! I forgot Caesar. (Anxiously) You will tell him that I am a Queen, will you not? a real Queen. Listen! (stealthily coaxing him) let us run away and hide until Caesar is gone.

CAESAR. If you fear Caesar, you are no true Queen; and though you were to hide beneath a pyramid, he would go straight to it and lift it with one hand. And then–! (He chops his teeth together.)

CLEOPATRA (trembling). Oh!

CAESAR. Be afraid if you dare. (The note of the bucina resounds again in the distance. She moans with fear. Caesar exalts in it, exclaiming) Aha! Caesar approaches the throne of Cleopatra. Come: take your place. (He takes her hand and leads her to the throne. She is too downcast to speak.) Ho, there, Teetatota. How do you call your slaves?

CLEOPATRA (spiritlessly, as she sinks on the throne and cowers there, shaking). Clap your hands.

He claps his hands. Ftatateeta returns.

CAESAR. Bring the Queen’s robes, and her crown, and her women; and prepare her.

CLEOPATRA (eagerly–recovering herself a little). Yes, the Crown, Ftatateeta: I shall wear the crown.

FTATATEETA. For whom must the Queen put on her state?

CAESAR. For a citizen of Rome. A king of kings, Totateeta.

CLEOPATRA (stamping at her). How dare you ask questions? Go and do as you are told. (Ftatateeta goes out with a grim smile. Cleopatra goes on eagerly, to Caesar) Caesar will know that I am a Queen when he sees my crown and robes, will he not?

CAESAR. No. How shall he know that you are not a slave dressed up in the Queen’s ornaments?

CLEOPATRA. You must tell him.

CAESAR. He will not ask me. He will know Cleopatra by her pride, her courage, her majesty, and her beauty. (She looks very doubtful.) Are you trembling?

CLEOPATRA (shivering with dread). No, I–I–(in a very sickly voice) No.

Ftatateeta and three women come in with the regalia.

FTATATEETA. Of all the Queen’s women, these three alone are left. The rest are fled. (They begin to deck Cleopatra, who submits, pale and motionless.)

CAESAR. Good, good. Three are enough. Poor Caesar generally has to dress himself.

FTATATEETA (contemptuously). The Queen of Egypt is not a Roman barbarian. (To Cleopatra) Be brave, my nursling. Hold up your head before this stranger.

CAESAR (admiring Cleopatra, and placing the crown on her head). Is it sweet or bitter to be a Queen, Cleopatra?


CAESAR. Cast out fear; and you will conquer Caesar. Tota: are the Romans at hand?

FTATATEETA. They are at hand; and the guard has fled.

THE WOMEN (wailing subduedly). Woe to us!

The Nubian comes running down the hall.

NUBIAN. The Romans are in the courtyard. (He bolts through the door. With a shriek, the women fly after him. Ftatateeta’s jaw expresses savage resolution: she does not budge. Cleopatra can hardly restrain herself from following them. Caesar grips her wrist, and looks steadfastly at her. She stands like a martyr.)

CAESAR. The Queen must face Caesar alone. Answer “So be it.”

CLEOPATRA (white). So be it.

CAESAR (releasing her). Good.

A tramp and tumult of armed men is heard. Cleopatra’s terror increases. The bucina sounds close at hand, followed by a formidable clangor of trumpets. This is too much for Cleopatra: she utters a cry and darts towards the door. Ftatateeta stops her ruthlessly.

FTATATEETA. You are my nursling. You have said “So be it”; and if you die for it, you must make the Queen’s word good. (She hands Cleopatra to Caesar, who takes her back, almost beside herself with apprehension, to the throne.)

CAESAR. Now, if you quail–! (He seats himself on the throne.)

She stands on the step, all but unconscious, waiting for death. The Roman soldiers troop in tumultuously through the corridor, headed by their ensign with his eagle, and their bucinator, a burly fellow with his instrument coiled round his body, its brazen bell shaped like the head of a howling wolf. When they reach the transept, they stare in amazement at the throne; dress into ordered rank opposite it; draw their swords and lift them in the air with a shout of HAIL CAESAR. Cleopatra turns and stares wildly at Caesar; grasps the situation; and, with a great sob of relief, falls into his arms.


Alexandria. A hall on the first floor of the Palace, ending in a loggia approached by two steps. Through the arches of the loggia the Mediterranean can be seen, bright in the morning sun. The clean lofty walls, painted with a procession of the Egyptian theocracy, presented in profile as flat ornament, and the absence of mirrors, sham perspectives, stuffy upholstery and textiles, make the place handsome, wholesome, simple and cool, or, as a rich English manufacturer would express it, poor, bare, ridiculous and unhomely. For Tottenham Court Road civilization is to this Egyptian civilization as glass bead and tattoo civilization is to Tottenham Court Road.

The young king Ptolemy Dionysus (aged ten) is at the top of the steps, on his way in through the loggia, led by his guardian Pothinus, who has him by the hand. The court is assembled to receive him. It is made up of men and women (some of the women being officials) of various complexions and races, mostly Egyptian; some of them, comparatively fair, from lower Egypt; some, much darker, from upper Egypt; with a few Greeks and Jews. Prominent in a group on Ptolemy’s right hand is Theodotus, Ptolemy’s tutor. Another group, on Ptolemy’s left, is headed by Achillas, the general of Ptolemy’s troops. Theodotus is a little old man, whose features are as cramped and wizened as his limbs, except his tall straight forehead, which occupies more space than all the rest of his face. He maintains an air of magpie keenness and profundity, listening to what the others say with the sarcastic vigilance of a philosopher listening to the exercises of his disciples. Achillas is a tall handsome man of thirty-five, with a fine black beard curled like the coat of a poodle. Apparently not a clever man, but distinguished and dignified. Pothinus is a vigorous man of fifty, a eunuch, passionate, energetic and quick witted, but of common mind and character; impatient and unable to control his temper. He has fine tawny hair, like fur. Ptolemy, the King, looks much older than an English boy of ten; but he has the childish air, the habit of being in leading strings, the mixture of impotence and petulance, the appearance of being excessively washed, combed and dressed by other hands, which is exhibited by court-bred princes of all ages.

All receive the King with reverences. He comes down the steps to a chair of state which stands a little to his right, the only seat in the hall. Taking his place before it, he looks nervously for instructions to Pothinus, who places himself at his left hand.

POTHINUS. The King of Egypt has a word to speak.

THEODOTUS (in a squeak which he makes impressive by sheer self-opinionativeness). Peace for the King’s word!

PTOLEMY (without any vocal inflexions: he is evidently repeating a lesson). Take notice of this all of you. I am the firstborn son of Auletes the Flute Blower who was your King. My sister Berenice drove him from his throne and reigned in his stead but–but (he hesitates)–

POTHINUS (stealthily prompting).–but the gods would not suffer–

PTOLEMY. Yes–the gods would not suffer–not suffer (he stops; then, crestfallen) I forget what the gods would not suffer.

THEODOTUS. Let Pothinus, the King’s guardian, speak for the King.

POTHINUS (suppressing his impatience with difficulty). The King wished to say that the gods would not suffer the impiety of his sister to go unpunished.

PTOLEMY (hastily). Yes: I remember the rest of it. (He resumes his monotone). Therefore the gods sent a stranger, one Mark Antony, a Roman captain of horsemen, across the sands of the desert and he set my father again upon the throne. And my father took Berenice my sister and struck her head off. And now that my father is dead yet another of his daughters, my sister Cleopatra, would snatch the kingdom from me and reign in my place. But the gods would not suffer (Pothinus coughs admonitorily)–the gods– the gods would not suffer–

POTHINUS (prompting).–will not maintain–

PTOLEMY. Oh yes–will not maintain such iniquity, they will give her head to the axe even as her sister’s. But with the help of the witch Ftatateeta she hath cast a spell on the Roman Julius Caesar to make him uphold her false pretence to rule in Egypt. Take notice then that I will not suffer–that I will not suffer– (pettishly, to Pothinus)–What is it that I will not suffer?

POTHINUS (suddenly exploding with all the force and emphasis of political passion). The King will not suffer a foreigner to take from him the throne of our Egypt. (A shout of applause.) Tell the King, Achillas, how many soldiers and horsemen follow the Roman?

THEODOTUS. Let the King’s general speak!

ACHILLAS. But two Roman legions, O King. Three thousand soldiers and scarce a thousand horsemen.

The court breaks into derisive laughter; and a great chattering begins, amid which Rufio, a Roman officer, appears in the loggia. He is a burly, black-bearded man of middle age, very blunt, prompt and rough, with small clear eyes, and plump nose and cheeks, which, however, like the rest of his flesh, are in ironhard condition.

RUFIO (from the steps). Peace, ho! (The laughter and chatter cease abruptly.) Caesar approaches.

THEODOTUS (with much presence of mind). The King permits the Roman commander to enter!

Caesar, plainly dressed, but, wearing an oak wreath to conceal his baldness, enters from, the loggia, attended by Britannus, his secretary, a Briton, about forty, tall, solemn, and already slightly bald, with a heavy, drooping, hazel-colored moustache trained so as to lose its ends in a pair of trim whiskers. He is carefully dressed in blue, with portfolio, inkhorn, and reed pen at his girdle. His serious air and sense of the importance of the business in hand is in marked contrast to the kindly interest of Caesar, who looks at the scene, which is new to him, with the frank curiosity of a child, and then turns to the King’s chair: Britannus and Rufio posting themselves near the steps at the other side.

CAESAR (looking at Pothinus and Ptolemy). Which is the King? The man or the boy?

POTHINUS. I am Pothinus, the guardian of my lord the King.

Caesar (patting Ptolemy kindly on the shoulder). So you are the King. Dull work at your age, eh? (To Pothinus) your servant, Pothinus. (He turns away unconcernedly and comes slowly along the middle of the hall, looking from side to side at the courtiers until he reaches Achillas.) And this gentleman?

THEODOTUS. Achillas, the King’s general.

CAESAR (to Achillas, very friendly). A general, eh? I am a general myself. But I began too old, too old. Health and many victories, Achillas!

ACHILLAS. As the gods will, Caesar.

CAESAR (turning to Theodotus). And you, sir, are–?

THEODOTUS. Theodotus, the King’s tutor.

CAESAR. You teach men how to be kings, Theodotus. That is very clever of you. (Looking at the gods on the walls as he turns away from Theodotus and goes up again to Pothinus.) And this place?

POTHINUS. The council chamber of the chancellors of the King’s treasury, Caesar.

CAESAR. Ah! That reminds me. I want some money.

POTHINUS. The King’s treasury is poor, Caesar.

CAESAR. Yes: I notice that there is but one chair in it.

RUFIO (shouting gruffly). Bring a chair there, some of you, for Caesar.

PTOLEMY (rising shyly to offer his chair). Caesar–

CAESAR (kindly). No, no, my boy: that is your chair of state. Sit down.

He makes Ptolemy sit down again. Meanwhile Rufio, looking about him, sees in the nearest corner an image of the god Ra, represented as a seated man with the head of a hawk. Before the image is a bronze tripod, about as large as a three-legged stool, with a stick of incense burning on it. Rufio, with Roman resourcefulness and indifference to foreign superstitions, promptly seizes the tripod; shakes off the incense; blows away the ash; and dumps it down behind Caesar, nearly in the middle of the hall.

RUFIO. Sit on that, Caesar.

A shiver runs through the court, followed by a hissing whisper of Sacrilege!

CAESAR (seating himself). Now, Pothinus, to business. I am badly in want of money.

BRITANNUS (disapproving of these informal expressions). My master would say that there is a lawful debt due to Rome by Egypt, contracted by the King’s deceased father to the Triumvirate; and that it is Caesar’s duty to his country to require immediate payment.

CAESAR (blandly). Ah, I forgot. I have not made my companions known here. Pothinus: this is Britannus, my secretary. He is an islander from the western end of the world, a day’s voyage from Gaul. (Britannus bows stiffly.) This gentleman is Rufio, my comrade in arms. (Rufio nods.) Pothinus: I want 1,600 talents.

The courtiers, appalled, murmur loudly, and Theodotus and Achillas appeal mutely to one another against so monstrous a demand.

POTHINUS (aghast). Forty million sesterces! Impossible. There is not so much money in the King’s treasury.

CAESAR (encouragingly). ONLY sixteen hundred talents, Pothinus. Why count it in sesterces? A sestertius is only worth a loaf of bread.

POTHINUS. And a talent is worth a racehorse. I say it is impossible. We have been at strife here, because the King’s sister Cleopatra falsely claims his throne. The King’s taxes have not been collected for a whole year.

CAESAR. Yes they have, Pothinus. My officers have been collecting them all the morning. (Renewed whisper and sensation, not without some stifled laughter, among the courtiers.)

RUFIO (bluntly). You must pay, Pothinus. Why waste words? You are getting off cheaply enough.

POTHINUS (bitterly). Is it possible that Caesar, the conqueror of the world, has time to occupy himself with such a trifle as our taxes?

CAESAR. My friend: taxes are the chief business of a conqueror of the world.

POTHINUS. Then take warning, Caesar. This day, the treasures of the temples and the gold of the King’s treasury will be sent to the mint to be melted down for our ransom in the sight of the people. They shall see us sitting under bare walls and drinking from wooden cups. And their wrath be on your head, Caesar, if you force us to this sacrilege!

CAESAR. Do not fear, Pothinus: the people know how well wine tastes in wooden cups. In return for your bounty, I will settle this dispute about the throne for you, if you will. What say you?

POTHINUS. If I say no, will that hinder you?

RUFIO (defiantly). No.

CAESAR. You say the matter has been at issue for a year, Pothinus. May I have ten minutes at it?

POTHINUS. You will do your pleasure, doubtless.

CAESAR. Good! But first, let us have Cleopatra here.

THEODOTUS. She is not in Alexandria: she is fled into Syria.

CAESAR. I think not. (To Rufio) Call Totateeta.

RUFIO (calling). Ho there, Teetatota.

Ftatateeta enters the loggia, and stands arrogantly at the top of the steps.

FTATATEETA. Who pronounces the name of Ftatateeta, the Queen’s chief nurse?

CAESAR. Nobody can pronounce it, Tota, except yourself. Where is your mistress?

Cleopatra, who is hiding behind Ftafateeta, peeps out at them, laughing. Caesar rises.

CAESAR. Will the Queen favor us with her presence for a moment?

CLEOPATRA (pushing Ftatateeta aside and standing haughtily on the brink of the steps). Am I to behave like a Queen?


Cleopatra immediately comes down to the chair of state; seizes Ptolemy and drags him out of his seat; then takes his place in the chair. Ftatateeta seats herself on the step of the loggia, and sits there, watching the scene with sybilline intensity.

PTOLEMY (mortified, and struggling with his tears). Caesar: this is how she treats me always. If I am a King why is she allowed to take everything from me?

CLEOPATRA. You are not to be King, you little cry-baby. You are to be eaten by the Romans.

CAESAR (touched by Ptolemy’s distress). Come here, my boy, and stand by me.

Ptolemy goes over to Caesar, who, resuming his seat on the tripod, takes the boy’s hand to encourage him. Cleopatra, furiously jealous, rises and glares at them.

CLEOPATRA (with flaming cheeks). Take your throne: I don’t want it. (She flings away from the chair, and approaches Ptolemy, who shrinks from her.) Go this instant and sit down in your place.

CAESAR. Go, Ptolemy. Always take a throne when it is offered to you.

RUFIO. I hope you will have the good sense to follow your own advice when we return to Rome, Caesar.

Ptolemy slowly goes back to the throne, giving Cleopatra a wide berth, in evident fear of her hands. She takes his place beside Caesar.

CAESAR. Pothinus–

CLEOPATRA (interrupting him). Are you not going to speak to me?

CAESAR. Be quiet. Open your mouth again before I give you leave; and you shall be eaten.

CLEOPATRA. I am not afraid. A queen must not be afraid. Eat my husband there, if you like: he is afraid.

CAESAR (starting). Your husband! What do you mean?

CLEOPATRA (pointing to Ptolemy). That little thing.

The two Romans and the Briton stare at one another in amazement.

THEODOTUS. Caesar: you are a stranger here, and not conversant with our laws. The kings and queens of Egypt may not marry except with their own royal blood. Ptolemy and Cleopatra are born king and consort just as they are born brother and sister.

BRITANNUS (shocked). Caesar: this is not proper.

THEODOTUS (outraged). How!

CAESAR (recovering his self-possession). Pardon him. Theodotus: he is a barbarian, and thinks that the customs of his tribe and island are the laws of nature.

BRITANNUS. On the contrary, Caesar, it is these Egyptians who are barbarians; and you do wrong to encourage them. I say it is a scandal.

CAESAR. Scandal or not, my friend, it opens the gate of peace. (He rises and addresses Pothinus seriously.) Pothiuus: hear what I propose.

RUFIO. Hear Caesar there.

CAESAR. Ptolemy and Cleopatra shall reign jointly in Egypt.

ACHILLAS. What of the King’s younger brother and Cleopatra’s younger sister?

RUFIO (explaining). There is another little Ptolemy, Caesar: so they tell me.

CAESAR. Well, the little Ptolemy can marry the other sister; and we will make them both a present of Cyprus.

POTHINUS (impatiently). Cyprus is of no use to anybody.

CAESAR. No matter: you shall have it for the sake of peace.

BRITANNUS (unconsciously anticipating a later statesman). Peace with honor, Pothinus.

POTHINUS (mutinously). Caesar: be honest. The money you demand is the price of our freedom. Take it; and leave us to settle our own affairs.

THE BOLDER COURTIERS (encouraged by Pothinus’s tone and Caesar’s quietness). Yes, yes. Egypt for the Egyptians!

The conference now becomes an altercation, the Egyptians becoming more and more heated. Caesar remains unruffled; but Rufio grows fiercer and doggeder, and Britannus haughtily indignant.

RUFIO (contemptuously). Egypt for the Egyptians! Do you forget that there is a Roman army of occupation here, left by Aulus Gabinius when he set up your toy king for you?

ACHILLAS (suddenly asserting himself). And now under my command. I am the Roman general here, Caesar.

CAESAR (tickled by the humor of the situation). And also the Egyptian general, eh?

POTHINUS (triumphantly). That is so, Caesar.

CAESAR (to Achillas). So you can make war on the Egyptians in the name of Rome and on the Romans–on me, if necessary–in the name of Egypt?

ACHILLAS. That is so, Caesar.

CAESAR. And which side are you on at present, if I may presume to ask, general?

ACHILLAS. On the side of the right and of the gods.

CAESAR. Hm! How many men have you?

ACHILLAS. That will appear when I take the field.

RUFIO (truculently). Are your men Romans? If not, it matters not how many there are, provided you are no stronger than 500 to ten.

POTHINUS. It is useless to try to bluff us, Rufio. Caesar has been defeated before and may be defeated again. A few weeks ago Caesar was flying for his life before Pompey: a few months hence he may be flying for his life before Cato and Juba of Numidia, the African King.

ACHILLAS (following up Pothinus’s speech menacingly). What can you do with 4,000 men?

THEODOTUS (following up Achillas’s speech with a raucous squeak). And without money? Away with you.

ALL THE COURTIERS (shouting fiercely and crowding towards Caesar). Away with you. Egypt for the Egyptians! Begone.

Rufio bites his beard, too angry to speak. Caesar sits on comfortably as if he were at breakfast, and the cat were clamoring for a piece of Finnan-haddie.

CLEOPATRA. Why do you let them talk to you like that Caesar? Are you afraid?

CAESAR. Why, my dear, what they say is quite true.

CLEOPATRA. But if you go away, I shall not be Queen.

CAESAR. I shall not go away until you are Queen.

POTHINUS. Achillas: if you are not a fool, you will take that girl whilst she is under your hand.

RUFIO (daring them). Why not take Caesar as well, Achillas?

POTHINUS (retorting the defiance with interest). Well said, Rufio. Why not?

RUFIO. Try, Achillas. (Calling) Guard there.

The loggia immediately fills with Caesar’s soldiers, who stand, sword in hand, at the top of the steps, waiting the word to charge from their centurion, who carries a cudgel. For a moment the Egyptians face them proudly: then they retire sullenly to their former places.

BRITANNUS. You are Caesar’s prisoners, all of you.

CAESAR (benevolently). Oh no, no, no. By no means. Caesar’s guests, gentlemen.

CLEOPATRA. Won’t you cut their heads off?

CAESAR. What! Cut off your brother’s head?

CLEOPATRA. Why not? He would cut off mine, if he got the chance. Wouldn’t you, Ptolemy?

PTOLEMY (pale and obstinate). I would. I will, too, when I grow up.

Cleopatra is rent by a struggle between her newly-acquired dignity as a queen, and a strong impulse to put out her tongue at him. She takes no part in the scene which follows, but watches it with curiosity and wonder, fidgeting with the restlessness of a child, and sitting down on Caesar’s tripod when he rises.

POTHINUS. Caesar: if you attempt to detain us–

RUFIO. He will succeed, Egyptian: make up your mind to that. We hold the palace, the beach, and the eastern harbor. The road to Rome is open; and you shall travel it if Caesar chooses.

CAESAR (courteously). I could do no less, Pothinus, to secure the retreat of my own soldiers. I am accountable for every life among them. But you are free to go. So are all here, and in the palace.

RUFIO (aghast at this clemency). What! Renegades and all?

CAESAR (softening the expression). Roman army of occupation and all, Rufio.

POTHINUS (desperately). Then I make a last appeal to Caesar’s justice. I shall call a witness to prove that but for us, the Roman army of occupation, led by the greatest soldier in the world, would now have Caesar at its mercy. (Calling through the loggia) Ho, there, Lucius Septimius (Caesar starts, deeply moved): if my voice can reach you, come forth and testify before Caesar.

CAESAR (shrinking). No, no.

THEODOTUS. Yes, I say. Let the military tribune bear witness.

Lucius Septimius, a clean shaven, trim athlete of about 40, with symmetrical features, resolute mouth, and handsome, thin Roman nose, in the dress of a Roman officer, comes in through the loggia and confronts Caesar, who hides his face with his robe for a moment; then, mastering himself, drops it, and confronts the tribune with dignity.

POTHINUS. Bear witness, Lucius Septimius. Caesar came hither in pursuit of his foe. Did we shelter his foe?

LUCIUS. As Pompey’s foot touched the Egyptian shore, his head fell by the stroke of my sword.

THEODOTUS (with viperish relish). Under the eyes of his wife and child! Remember that, Caesar! They saw it from the ship he had just left. We have given you a full and sweet measure of vengeance.

CAESAR (with horror). Vengeance!

POTHINUS. Our first gift to you, as your galley came into the roadstead, was the head of your rival for the empire of the world. Bear witness, Lucius Septimius: is it not so?

LUCIUS. It is so. With this hand, that slew Pompey, I placed his head at the feet of Caesar.

CAESAR. Murderer! So would you have slain Caesar, had Pompey been victorious at Pharsalia.

LUCIUS. Woe to the vanquished, Caesar! When I served Pompey, I slew as good men as he, only because he conquered them. His turn came at last.

THEODOTUS (flatteringly). The deed was not yours, Caesar, but ours–nay, mine; for it was done by my counsel. Thanks to us, you keep your reputation for clemency, and have your vengeance too.

CAESAR. Vengeance! Vengeance!! Oh, if I could stoop to vengeance, what would I not exact from you as the price of this murdered man’s blood. (They shrink back, appalled and disconcerted.) Was he not my son-in-law, my ancient friend, for 20 years the master of great Rome, for 30 years the compeller of victory? Did not I, as a Roman, share his glory? Was the Fate that forced us to fight for the mastery of the world, of our making? Am I Julius Caesar, or am I a wolf, that you fling to me the grey head of the old soldier, the laurelled conqueror, the mighty Roman, treacherously struck down by this callous ruffian, and then claim my gratitude for it! (To Lucius Septimius) Begone: you fill me with horror.

LUCIUS (cold and undaunted). Pshaw! You have seen severed heads before, Caesar, and severed right hands too, I think; some thousands of them, in Gaul, after you vanquished Vercingetorix. Did you spare him, with all your clemency? Was that vengeance?

CAESAR. No, by the gods! Would that it had been! Vengeance at least is human. No, I say: those severed right hands, and the brave Vercingetorix basely strangled in a vault beneath the Capitol, were (with shuddering satire) a wise severity, a necessary protection to the commonwealth, a duty of statesmanship–follies and fictions ten times bloodier than honest vengeance! What a fool was I then! To think that men’s lives should be at the mercy of such fools! (Humbly) Lucius Septimius, pardon me: why should the slayer of Vercingetorix rebuke the slayer of Pompey? You are free to go with the rest. Or stay if you will: I will find a place for you in my service.

LUCIUS. The odds are against you, Caesar. I go. (He turns to go out through the loggia.)

RUFIO (full of wrath at seeing his prey escaping). That means that he is a Republican.

LUCIUS (turning defiantly on the loggia steps). And what are you?

RUFIO. A Caesarian, like all Caesar’s soldiers.

CAESAR (courteously). Lucius: believe me, Caesar is no Caesarian. Were Rome a true republic, then were Caesar the first of Republicans. But you have made your choice. Farewell.

LUCIUS. Farewell. Come, Achillas, whilst there is yet time.

Caesar, seeing that Rufio’s temper threatens to get the worse of him, puts his hand on his shoulder and brings him down the hall out of harm’s way, Britannus accompanying them and posting himself on Caesar’s right hand. This movement brings the three in a little group to the place occupied by Achillas, who moves haughtily away and joins Theodotus on the other side. Lucius Septimius goes out through the soldiers in the loggia. Pothinus, Theodotus and Achillas follow him with the courtiers, very mistrustful of the soldiers, who close up in their rear and go out after them, keeping them moving without much ceremony. The King is left in his chair, piteous, obstinate, with twitching face and fingers. During these movements Rufio maintains an energetic grumbling, as follows:–

RUFIO (as Lucius departs). Do you suppose he would let us go if he had our heads in his hands?

CAESAR. I have no right to suppose that his ways are any baser than mine.

RUFIO. Psha!

CAESAR. Rufio: if I take Lucius Septimius for my model, and become exactly like him, ceasing to be Caesar, will you serve me still?

BRITANNUS. Caesar: this is not good sense. Your duty to Rome demands that her enemies should be prevented from doing further mischief. (Caesar, whose delight in the moral eye-to-business of his British secretary is inexhaustible, smiles intelligently.)

RUFIO. It is no use talking to him, Britannus: you may save your breath to cool your porridge. But mark this, Caesar. Clemency is very well for you; but what is it for your soldiers, who have to fight tomorrow the men you spared yesterday? You may give what orders you please; but I tell you that your next victory will be a massacre, thanks to your clemency. I, for one, will take no prisoners. I will kill my enemies in the field; and then you can preach as much clemency as you please: I shall never have to fight them again. And now, with your leave, I will see these gentry off the premises. (He turns to go.)

CAESAR (turning also and seeing Ptolemy). What! Have they left the boy alone! Oh shame, shame!

RUFIO (taking Ptolemy’s hand and making him rise). Come, your majesty!

PTOLEMY (to Caesar, drawing away his hand from Rufio). Is he turning me out of my palace?

RUFIO (grimly). You are welcome to stay if you wish.

CAESAR (kindly). Go, my boy. I will not harm you; but you will be safer away, among your friends. Here you are in the lion’s mouth.

PTOLEMY (turning to go). It is not the lion I fear, but (looking at Rufio) the jackal. (He goes out through the loggia.)

CAESAR (laughing approvingly). Brave boy!

CLEOPATRA (jealous of Caesar’s approbation, calling after Ptolemy). Little silly. You think that very clever.

CAESAR. Britannus: Attend the King. Give him in charge to that Pothinus fellow. (Britannus goes out after Ptolemy.)

RUFIO (pointing to Cleopatra). And this piece of goods? What is to be done with HER? However, I suppose I may leave that to you. (He goes out through the loggia.)

CLEOPATRA (flushing suddenly and turning on Caesar). Did you mean me to go with the rest?

CAESAR (a little preoccupied, goes with a sigh to Ptolemy’s chair, whilst she waits for his answer with red cheeks and clenched fists). You are free to do just as you please, Cleopatra.

CLEOPATRA. Then you do not care whether I stay or not?

CAESAR (smiling). Of course I had rather you stayed.

CLEOPATRA. Much, MUCH rather?

CAESAR (nodding). Much, much rather.

CLEOPATRA. Then I consent to stay, because I am asked. But I do not want to, mind.

CAESAR. That is quite understood. (Calling) Totateeta.

Ftatateeta, still seated, turns her eyes on him with a sinister expression, but does not move.

CLEOPATRA (with a splutter of laughter). Her name is not Totateeta: it is Ftatateeta. (Calling) Ftatateeta. (Ftatateeta instantly rises and comes to Cleopatra.)

CAESAR (stumbling over the name). Ftatafeeta will forgive the erring tongue of a Roman. Tota: the Queen will hold her state here in Alexandria. Engage women to attend upon her; and do all that is needful.

FTATATEETA. Am I then the mistress of the Queen’s household?

CLEOPATRA (sharply). No: I am the mistress of the Queen’s household. Go and do as you are told, or I will have you thrown into the Nile this very afternoon, to poison the poor crocodiles.

CAESAR (shocked). Oh no, no.

CLEOPATRA. Oh yes, yes. You are very sentimental, Caesar; but you are clever; and if you do as I tell you, you will soon learn to govern.

Caesar, quite dumbfounded by this impertinence, turns in his chair and stares at her.

Ftatateeta, smiling grimly, and showing a splendid set of teeth, goes, leaving them alone together.

CAESAR. Cleopatra: I really think I must eat you, after all.

CLEOPATRA (kneeling beside him and looking at him with eager interest, half real, half affected to show how intelligent she is). You must not talk to me now as if I were a child.

CAESAR. You have been growing up since the Sphinx introduced us the other night; and you think you know more than I do already.

CLFOPATRA (taken down, and anxious to justify herself). No: that would be very silly of me: of course I know that. But, (suddenly) are you angry with me?


CLEOPATRA (only half believing him). Then why are you so thoughtful?

CAESAR (rising). I have work to do, Cleopatra.

CLEOPATRA (drawing back). Work! (Offended) You are tired of talking to me; and that is your excuse to get away from me.

CAESAR (sitting down again to appease her). Well, well: another minute. But then–work!

CLFOPATRA. Work! What nonsense! You must remember that you are a King now: I have made you one. Kings don’t work.

CAESAR. Oh! Who told you that, little kitten? Eh?

CLEOPATRA. My father was King of Egypt; and he never worked. But he was a great King, and cut off my sister’s head because she rebelled against him and took the throne from him.

CAESAR. Well; and how did he get his throne back again?

CLEOPATRA (eagerly, her eyes lighting up). I will tell you. A beautiful young man, with strong round arms, came over the desert with many horsemen, and slew my sister’s husband and gave my father back his throne. (Wistfully) I was only twelve then. Oh, I wish he would come again, now that I am a Queen. I would make him my husband.

CAESAR. It might be managed, perhaps; for it was I who sent that beautiful young man to help your father.

CLEOPATRA (enraptured). You know him!

CAESAR (nodding). I do.

CLEOPATRA. Has he come with you? (Caesar shakes his head: she is cruelly disappointed.) Oh, I wish he had, I wish he had. If only I were a little older; so that he might not think me a mere kitten, as you do! But perhaps that is because YOU are old. He is many, MANY years younger than you, is he not?

CAESAR (as if swallowing a pill). He is somewhat younger.

CLEOPATRA. Would he be my husband, do you think, if I asked him?

CAESAR. Very likely.

CLEOPATRA. But I should not like to ask him. Could you not persuade him to ask me–without knowing that I wanted him to?

CAESAR (touched by her innocence of the beautiful young man’s character). My poor child!

CLEOPATRA. Why do you say that as if you were sorry for me? Does he love anyone else?

CAESAR. I am afraid so.

CLEOPATRA (tearfully). Then I shall not be his first love.

CAESAR. Not quite the first. He is greatly admired by women.

CLEOPATRA. I wish I could be the first. But if he loves me, I will make him kill all the rest. Tell me: is he still beautiful? Do his strong round arms shine in the sun like marble?

CAESAR. He is in excellent condition–considering how much he eats and drinks.

CLEOPATRA. Oh, you must not say common, earthly things about him; for I love him. He is a god.

CAESAR. He is a great captain of horsemen, and swifter of foot than any other Roman.

CLEOPATRA. What is his real name?

CAESAR (puzzled). His REAL name?

CLEOPATRA. Yes. I always call him Horus, because Horus is the most beautiful of our gods. But I want to know his real name.

CAESAR. His name is Mark Antony.

CLEOPATRA (musically). Mark Antony, Mark Antony, Mark Antony! What a beautiful name! (She throws her arms round Caesar’s neck.) Oh, how I love you for sending him to help my father! Did you love my father very much?

CAESAR. No, my child; but your father, as you say, never worked. I always work. So when he lost his crown he had to promise me 16,000 talents to get it back for him.

CLEOPATRA. Did he ever pay you?

CAESAR. Not in full.

CLEOPATRA. He was quite right: it was too dear. The whole world is not worth 16,000 talents.

CAESAR. That is perhaps true, Cleopatra. Those Egyptians who work paid as much of it as he could drag from them. The rest is still due. But as I most likely shall not get it, I must go back to my work. So you must run away for a little and send my secretary to me.

CLEOPATRA (coaxing). No: I want to stay and hear you talk about Mark Antony.

CAESAR. But if I do not get to work, Pothinus and the rest of them will cut us off from the harbor; and then the way from Rome will be blocked.

CLEOPATRA. No matter: I don’t want you to go back to Rome.

CAESAR. But you want Mark Antony to come from it.

CLEOPATRA (springing up). Oh yes, yes, yes: I forgot. Go quickly and work, Caesar; and keep the way over the sea open for my Mark Antony. (She runs out through the loggia, kissing her hand to Mark Antony across the sea.)

CAESAR (going briskly up the middle of the hall to the loggia steps). Ho, Britannus. (He is startled by the entry of a wounded Roman soldier, who confronts him from the upper step.) What now?

SOLDIER (pointing to his bandaged head). This, Caesar; and two of my comrades killed in the market place.

CAESAR (quiet but attending). Ay. Why?

SOLDIER. There is an army come to Alexandria, calling itself the Roman army.

CAESAR. The Roman army of occupation. Ay?

SOLDIER. Commanded by one Achillas.


SOLDIER. The citizens rose against us when the army entered the gates. I was with two others in the market place when the news came. They set upon us. I cut my way out; and here I am.

CAESAR. Good. I am glad to see you alive. (Rufio enters the loggia hastily, passing behind the soldier to look out through one of the arches at the quay beneath.) Rufio, we are besieged.

RUFIO. What! Already?

CAESAR. Now or tomorrow: what does it matter? We SHALL be besieged.

Britannus runs in.


CAESAR (anticipating him). Yes: I know. (Rufio and Britannus come down the hall from the loggia at opposite sides, past Caesar, who waits for a moment near the step to say to the soldier.) Comrade: give the word to turn out on the beach and stand by the boats. Get your wound attended to. Go. (The soldier hurries out. Caesar comes down the hall between Rufio and Britannus) Rufio: we have some ships in the west harbor. Burn them.

RUFIO (staring). Burn them!!

CAESAR. Take every boat we have in the east harbor, and seize the Pharos–that island with the lighthouse. Leave half our men behind to hold the beach and the quay outside this palace: that is the way home.

RUFIO (disapproving strongly). Are we to give up the city?

CAESAR. We have not got it, Rufio. This palace we have; and–what is that building next door?

RUFIO. The theatre.

CAESAR. We will have that too: it commands the strand, for the rest, Egypt for the Egyptians!

RUFIO. Well, you know best, I suppose. Is that all?

CAESAR. That is all. Are those ships burnt yet?

RUFIO. Be easy: I shall waste no more time. (He runs out.)

BRITANNUS. Caesar: Pothinus demands speech of you. It’s my opinion he needs a lesson. His manner is most insolent.

CAESAR. Where is he?

BRITANNUS. He waits without.

CAESAR. Ho there! Admit Pothinus.

Pothinus appears in the loggia, and comes down the hall very haughtily to Caesar’s left hand.

CAESAR. Well, Pothinus?

POTHINUS. I have brought you our ultimatum, Caesar.

CAESAR. Ultimatum! The door was open: you should have gone out through it before you declared war. You are my prisoner now. (He goes to the chair and loosens his toga.)

POTHINUS (scornfully). I YOUR prisoner! Do you know that you are in Alexandria, and that King Ptolemy, with an army outnumbering your little troop a hundred to one, is in possession of Alexandria?

CAESAR (unconcernedly taking off his toga and throwing it on the chair). Well, my friend, get out if you can. And tell your friends not to kill any more Romans in the market place. Otherwise my soldiers, who do not share my celebrated clemency, will probably kill you. Britannus: Pass the word to the guard; and fetch my armor. (Britannus runs out. Rufio returns.) Well?

RUFIO (pointing from the loggia to a cloud of smoke drifting over the harbor). See there! (Pothinus runs eagerly up the steps to look out.)

CAESAR. What, ablaze already! Impossible!

RUFIO. Yes, five good ships, and a barge laden with oil grappled to each. But it is not my doing: the Egyptians have saved me the trouble. They have captured the west harbor.

CAESAR (anxiously). And the east harbor? The lighthouse, Rufio?