Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare

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ACT ONE, SCENE TWO

With the opposing themes of Rome and Egypt clearly established in Scene One, Scene Two shows how they foment a conflict in Antony’s mind. It is significant that this is stimulated by problems related to his wife, Fulvia, and this, in itself, puts him in mind of responsibilities he has forgotten. Fulvia’s death, of course, frees him to marry Cleopatra. His desire to return to Rome is, perhaps, in part a recognition that he is not yet so ready to commit himself to her as his words in Scene One would suggest. The humorous interlude with the soothsayer that opens the scene already suggests that the conflict between worlds established in Scene One could lead to future tragedy.

1 ‘Lord Alexas’ etc. – the kind of idle prattle that characterises Cleopatra’s court as either a place of decadence, or a place where people have fun and enjoy life, depending on your point of view.

29 ‘marry me with Octavius Caesar’ – Charmian, naturally enough as Cleopatra’s companion, sees the way to prosperity for women as marriage with powerful men.

31 ‘You shall outlive the lady whom you serve’ – this is an early indication of the tragedy to come. The presence of the soothsayer adds an element of fatalism to these early scenes.

45-6 ‘Mine,…drunk to bed’ – neatly characterises Enobarbus.

47-50 ‘There’s a palm...presageth famine’ – a moist palm was a sign of lust. Charmian’s ‘o’erflowing Nilus’ is a sexually charged image typical of the play. It is set, imaginatively, against ‘famine.’

52 ‘fruitful prognostication’ – again the emphasis is on the fruitfulness of sexual activity, rather than the moral laxity implied by Iras’ ‘oily palm.’

59-61 ‘Well...husband’s nose’ – bawdy phallic humour.

64 ‘a woman that cannot go, sweet Isis’ – The great goddess of love and fertility associated here with infertility as a curse (cf. the phrases ‘to be several months gone with child’ or ‘she’s far gone’). The implication is that a sterile woman will sleep around, in an effort to bear a child, or, possibly, because she does not fear pregnancy.

83 ‘A Roman thought hath strook him’ – first indication to the audience of Antony’s divided nature.

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William Shakespeare