the emphasis was helped
Menas: These three world-sharers, these competitors,
Are in thy vessel: let me cut the cable;
And, when we are put off, fall to their throats:
All there is thine.
Pompey: Ah, this thou shouldst have done,
And not have spoke on’t! In me ’tis villany;
In thee’t had been good service. Thou must know,
’Tis not my profit that does lead mine honour;
Mine honour, it. Repent that e’er thy tongue
Hath so betray’d thine act: being done unknown,
I should have found it afterwards well done;
But must condemn it now. Desist, and drink.
– Antony and Cleopatra, 2.7
Of all of Shakespeare’s plays, Antony and Cleopatra appealed to me the least, with Romeo and Juliet coming in a close second; that, however, is not my theme. Rather, I would like to observe that until I read the play after reading more about the second triumvirate,1 I never understood why modern scholars emphasized the failure of Sextus Pompeius to take advantage of this meeting on his galley—nor why this tidbit of information was offered with a smirk and a flourish.2 Leaving out the usual self-deprecation at this junction, I will merely note that though poetry cannot necessarily alter the course of history, it can at least change the emphasis.3
- ‘Oh, look,’ said the lecturer, ‘it’s the gang-of-three.’
- Yes, thank you, I did get the sly use of Shakespeare’s description of Cleopatra’s barge (2.2 — stolen, I must add, from Plutarch) in Stoppard’s Arcadia—I’m not a complete idiot, you know.
- One could write many and learned things about the reading-plans of historians and their impact on our understanding or perception of history, but I would rather not do so just yet.