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

Shakespeare and Plutarch on Cleopatra

. . . [Cleopatra] disdained to set forward otherwise, but to take her barge in the river of Cydnus, the poop whereof was of gold, the sails of purple, and the oars of silver, which kept stroke in rowing after the sound of the music of lutes, hautboys, citherns, viols, and such other instruments as they played upon in the barge. And now for the person of herself: she was laid under a pavilion of cloth of gold of tissue, appareled and attired like the goddess Venus commonly drawn in picture; and hard by her, on either hand of her, pretty fair boys appareled as painters do set forth god Cupid, with little fans in their hands, with the which they fanned wind upon her. Her ladies and gentlewomen also, the fairest of them were appareled like the nymphs Nereides (which are the mermaids of the waters) and like the Graces, some steering the helm, others tending the tackle and ropes of the barge, out of the which there came a wonderful passing sweet savor of perfumes that perfumed the wharf's side, pestered with innumerable multitudes of people. Some of them followed the barge all alongst the river's side; others also ran out of the city to see her coming in. So that in the end, there ran such multitudes of people one after another to see her that Antonius was left post alone in the market place in his imperial seat to give audience, and there went a rumor in the people's mouths that the goddess Venus was come to play with the god Bacchus for the general good of all Asia. When Cleopatra landed, Antonius sent to invite her to supper to him. But she sent him word again, he should do better rather to come and sup with her. Antonius, therefore, to show himself courteous unto her at her arrival, was contented to obey her, and went to supper to her, where he found such passing sumptuous fare that no tongue can express it.
[Enobarbus:] The barge she sat in, like a burnish'd throne, 
Burn'd on the water: the poop was beaten gold; 
Purple the sails, and so perfumed that195
The winds were love-sick with them; the oars were silver, 
Which to the tune of flutes kept stroke, and made 
The water which they beat to follow faster, 
As amorous of their strokes. For her own person, 
It beggar'd all description: she did lie200
In her pavilion--cloth-of-gold of tissue-- 
O'er-picturing that Venus where we see 
The fancy outwork nature: on each side her 
Stood pretty dimpled boys, like smiling Cupids, 
With divers-color'd fans, whose wind did seem 
To glow the delicate cheeks which they did cool,205
And what they undid did. 
Agrippa:                  O, rare for Antony! 
Enobarbus: Her gentlewomen, like the Nereides, 
So many mermaids, tended her i' the eyes, 
And made their bends adornings: at the helm210
A seeming mermaid steers: the silken tackle 
Swell with the touches of those flower-soft hands, 
That yarely frame the office. From the barge 
A strange invisible perfume hits the sense 
Of the adjacent wharfs. The city cast215
Her people out upon her; and Antony, 
Enthroned i' the market-place, did sit alone, 
Whistling to the air; which, but for vacancy, 
Had gone to gaze on Cleopatra too, 
And made a gap in nature. 
Agrippa:                  Rare Egyptian!220
Enobarbus: Upon her landing, Antony sent to her, 
Invited her to supper: she replied, 
It should be better he became her guest; 
Which she entreated: our courteous Antony, 
Whom ne'er the word of 'No' woman heard speak, 225
Being barber'd ten times o'er, goes to the feast, 
And for his ordinary pays his heart 
For what his eyes eat only. 

 

 

 

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