“I” is for “Infatuation.”
Here’s the situation. In the play “Antony and Cleopatra,” Mark Antony, commanding general and high political figure, is the most important man in Rome. And the Roman empire covers just about the entire known world.
Antony knows he has to travel down to confront the Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra, to make sure she accepts Rome’s supremacy.
Cleopatra is aware that she must go to meet Mark Antony; he’s the one in the position of power and he won’t come to her. So she decides to make a huge production out of this meeting. What she has in mind is something spectacular.
Well aware of her beauty, she is confident that once the Roman general gets a good look at her she’ll be able to manipulate him and get what she wants. She has successfully done this before, and with a number of men.
So she sails up on the river in her royal barge – a barge like no other, past or present.
“The barge she sat in, like a burnish’d throne,
Burnt on the water. The hull was beaten gold,
Purple the sails, and so perfumed
That 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.”
Now let’s examine this passage carefully. Gold hull, purple sails, silver oars – routine stuff. I mean, who hasn’t had a barge like that?
But look what Shakespeare has added. The sails are so perfumed that the wind is in love with them. But that’s not all. The silver oars, hearing the flutes and keeping time with the beat, have caused the very water the barge is floating in to fall in love too: “As amorous of their strokes.”
This is sexual tension at its highest. When you’ve got the very wind and even the plain old river-water getting aroused, you realize that that must be a pretty attractive gal sitting there in that barge.
Anyway, as you may have guessed, Mark Antony – speaking of infatuation – falls head over heels for the Egyptian queen. But he has to get back to Rome; very important matters are waiting for him there. His career, his military standing, his high political position, all hang in the balance. He must get back.
But he can’t be bothered. He has found a more important interest.
Mark Antony: “Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide arch
Of the ranged empire fall! Here is my space.”
His space is next to Cleopatra. He can’t get enough of her. She’s like no woman he has ever seen, with her wit, her charm, her spirited personality.
“Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale
Her infinite variety.”
Then something interesting happens. What had been mere infatuation for Mark Antony turns to a deeper feeling. And this is true for the Egyptian Queen too. The man who had been just another guy she hoped to manipulate becomes her true love.
“Eternity was in our lips…”
Inevitably, Shakespeare’s play ends tragically. Mark Antony, ultimately having lost everything, commits suicide. Cleopatra decides to follow him. She says to her ladies-in-waiting:
“Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have
Immortal longings in me.”
She has the small poisonous snake known as an asp bite her breast. She dies.
The playwright sums her up with this:
“Now boast thee, death, in thy possession lies
A lass unparalleled.”
A lass unparalleled, that was Cleopatra.
1 year ago