Caesar and Cleopatra

by George Bernard Shaw

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Act 1. Caesar is alone at night in the Egyptian desert, apostrophizing a statue of the Sphinx. Caesar is startled when a young girl, Cleopatra, addresses him from the paws of the Sphinx. He climbs up to her, thinking he is dreaming. She is full of superstitions about cats and Nile water. She tells Caesar she is there because the Romans are coming to eat her people. Caesar sees that he is not dreaming and identifies himself to Cleopatra as a Roman. She is terror-stricken, but Caesar tells her that he will eat her unless she can show herself to him as a woman, not a girl. Cleopatra puts herself in the hands of this Roman and they move to her throne room. Caesar tries to persuade Cleopatra to act like a queen; Ftatateeta enters and begins to order Cleopatra about until the nurse is chased from the room. Caesar orders Cleopatra’s servants to dress her in her royal robes. When Roman soldiers enter and salute Caesar, Cleopatra finally realizes who he is and, with a sob of relief, falls into his arms.

Act 2. The ten-year-old king Ptolemy is delivering a speech from the throne in Alexandria, prompted by his tutor and guardian. Caesar enters and demands taxes, then calls for Cleopatra. Rufio reminds Caesar that there is a Roman army of occupation in Egypt, commanded by Achillas and supporting the Egyptians, while Caesar has only four thousand men. Achillas and Pothinus suggest that they hold the upper hand, but when Roman troops enter, the Egyptians back off. Lucius Septimius and Pothinus remind Caesar that they decapitated Pompey to ingratiate themselves with Caesar, who is horrified to hear of the act. All the Egyptians but Ptolemy leave, and Rufio again protests against Caesar’s clemency. Ptolemy is escorted out. Cleopatra and Caesar discuss how much Cleopatra has grown, and Caesar promises to send strong young Mark Antony to Cleopatra. A wounded Roman soldier enters to inform Caesar that the Roman army of occupation has come; Caesar orders that all the ships be burned except those that are to carry the Romans to the lighthouse on an island in the harbor. As Caesar starts to arm himself, Pothinus enters, followed by Theodotus with the news that the great library in Alexandria is burning. After Pothinus and Theodotus leave, Cleopatra helps Caesar put on his armor and makes fun of his baldness. Caesar and Rufio leave to lead the troops to the Pharos.

Act 3. On a quay in front of Cleopatra’s palace, Apollodorus, who brings carpets for Cleopatra to look at, argues with the Roman sentinel. Cleopatra wants to be rowed to the lighthouse, but the sentinel refuses to allow it. Cleopatra thereupon says she will make a present of a carpet to Caesar, and secretly she is rolled up in one and put in a boat that is sailing for the lighthouse that the Egyptians begin to attack. When Apollodorus enters with the carpet, which is unrolled and reveals Cleopatra, Caesar regards the young woman as a nuisance. The Egyptians cut off the Romans and are approaching. Several Roman ships approach, whereupon Apollodorus, Caesar, and Rufio dive into the sea to swim to them. Cleopatra is tossed into the sea as well and carried along.

Act 4 . Six months later, Cleopatra and her serving women are discussing Caesar when Ftatateeta brings in Pothinus, who is now a prisoner of the Romans and wants to make a deal with Cleopatra. After Rufio and Caesar enter, Rufio brings Pothinus to talk to Caesar privately. Pothinus finally blurts out...

(This entire section contains 821 words.)

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that Cleopatra wants Caesar out of the way so that she can rule alone. Cleopatra denies this, but Caesar knows it is true. When Pothinus leaves, Cleopatra orders Ftatateeta to kill him. Caesar, Rufio, and Apollodorus, just returned for a banquet, hear a terrible scream. Apollodorus, sent to investigate, reports that Pothinus was assassinated and that the city, in an uproar, is blaming Caesar. Cleopatra admits that she gave the order, but Caesar cannot make her understand that this is not his way of governing. Lucius Septimius approaches Caesar and tells him that the relief army under Mithridates is near. Realizing that the Egyptian army left to fight Mithridates, Caesar leaves, intending to meet Mithridates and fight the Egyptian army. When Rufio learns that Ftatateeta killed Pothinus, he kills her.

Act 5. Having won the battle, Caesar prepares to return to Rome. He appoints Rufio to be the Roman governor of Egypt, praises Britannus for his conduct in the battle, and leaves Apollodorus in charge of Egyptian art. Cleopatra, in mourning for Ftatateeta, pleads for revenge against Rufio, who admitted to killing Ftatateeta; since it was a justified slaying, Caesar denies Cleopatra’s plea. He says that Cleopatra learned little from him but again promises to send her Mark Antony. Caesar boards the ship to a salute from the Roman soldiers. Cleopatra remains behind, saddened but content.