English 366B, Section S02: Shakespeare's Histories and Tragedies   >   Antony and Cleopatra: Cleopatra To the previous page To the next page

Cleopatra in Shakespeare and Plutarch

Cleopatra hears the news of Antony's marriage to Octavia.

  • Plutarch blames Cleopatra for Antony's fall; Shakespeare?
    • See 3.7.28ff: Antony decides, responding to a dare
    • Compare "Thou canst not fear us, Pompey, with thy sails. / We'll speak with thee at sea" (2.6.24-5)
  • The first meeting of Antony and Cleopatra, as retold by Plutarch and Enobarbus: what does Shakespeare change?
    • Individual words of a highly evocative nature that are not in North: "burnished," "burned," "dimpled," "adornings," "flower-soft," "hits" (193, 194, 204, 210, 212, 214).
    • Phrases and images added: the winds are "lovesick" (196) with the perfumed sails; the water masochistically is "amorous" of the "strokes" of the oars; there is the image of small boys fanning Cleopatra, by their cooling of her cheeks making them glow, and thus seeming to heat them(207).
    • The passage is not narrated, it is spoken: (1) by Enobarbus, (2) in the company of fellow Romans, (3) just after the marriage between Antony and Octavia has been arranged.
    • The last section of the dialogue between Enobarbus and his fellow Romans does not come from Plutarch: the much-quoted phrase about Cleopatra, "Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale / Her infinite variety" (237-38), is Shakespeare's alone.
    • What is the effect of Enobarbus being the one who describes Cleopatra in such glowing terms?
    • What is the effect of the speech on our reaction to Octavia, who enters briefly with Antony in the scene which follows?
  • Rome (swords) and Egypt (serpents)
  • Why would Antony call Cleopatra his "serpent of old Nile (1.5.25)?
    • Serpent/snake as multiple symbol of sexuality and renewal rather than sin?
    • The Nile with its serpentine path and annual flood




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This page last updated on 4 March 2007. © Michael Best, 2002.