Probably because I am interested in journalism, I started to think of the messengers in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, whose job it is to enter public and private places to obtain information and deliver it to their employers, as proto-reporters. I was most impressed by the work of the messenger/reporter who appears in Act 2, Scene 5, and then again in Act 3, Scene 3. In his first appearance, the mesenger seems to disapprove of the Queen’s sexualized, over-eager demand for news, and his subsequent lines are marked by a dignified, even slightly aloof simplicity that seems more Roman than Egyptian. But when bringing home the nature of Antony and Octavia’s union, the messenger’s tone turns sharp and clever:
Messenger: Free, madam? No, I made no such report. He’s bound unto Octavia.
Cleopatra: For what good turn?
Messenger: For the best turn i’th’bed.
This last line makes me remember Peter Jennings, the former ABC News anchor: the messenger is clearly smart, but may sometimes think that he’s a little too smart for his job. Entering the scene again after being beaten by Cleopatra, he both begs her forgiveness–“I beg your highness’ pardon” (2.5.98)–and speaks his mind–“…To punish me for what you make me do / Seems much unequal” (2.5.102).
The character’s skills are most in evidence when he returns in Act 3. He’s lucky to have found information that will please Cleopatra, and he conveys it in a tempered, creative way. After reporting simply that Antony’s wife is not as tall as the Queen, and that she is also an alto, his description of Octavia’s bearing shows craft:
Messenger: She creeps.
Her motion and her station are as one.
She shows a body rather than a life,
A statue than a breather.
After likening Antony’s wife to a creeping animal, the messenger’s next three lines have a simple, sturdy cadence, bolstered by two first-syllable stresses (mo’-tion/sta’tion // bo’-dy/ra’-ther // sta’tue/brea’ther) in each. The tempered meters of the lines give them authority, and the messenger stakes his reputation on their precision. Several lines later, perhaps anticipating that Cleopatra will be displeased by Octavia’s younger age, the messenger first volunteers that the latter is a widow; adding to his report on Octavia’s hair color, he vouches that her forehead is unappealingly low. These touches, along with the understated veracity of his earlier work, satisfy the Queen.