Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare

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9-10 ‘I take no pleasure/In aught an eunuch has’ – Cleopatra’s earthy sensuality.

17-18 ‘Yet have I fierce affections, and think/What Venus did with Mars’ – ‘affections’ = sexual desires. A powerful image of frustration. Mardian’s very presence before Cleopatra – in place of Antony – is a symbol of her sexual famine – something Mardian also feels, but with no hope of fulfilment. Mars has already been associated with Antony (I.i.4) and Cleopatra is suitably Venus-like. Note that it is the female (Venus) who takes the sexual initiative, or even has power over, the male (Mars).

21 ‘O happy horse, to bear the weight of Antony!’ - a wonderfully sensual line. The somewhat martial ‘Roman’ image of Antony on his horse is undermined in a typically ‘Egyptian,’ sensual manner.

23 ‘The demi-Atlas of this earth’ – because, with Octavius, he holds sway over the known world. Atlas bore the weight of the heavens.

25 ‘“Where’s my serpent of old Nile?”’ – The serpents themselves were believed to be bred from fertile mud, and were venomous, as Cleopatra’s death will confirm. The image also suggests the sinuous sensuality and devilish temptation presented by Cleopatra, always associated with the Nile’s fecundity.

26-7 ‘Now I feed myself/With most delicious poison’ – a further prolepsis of Cleopatra’s death.

33-4 ‘and die/With looking on his life’ – Cleopatra seen as both a force of life and a force of death (as with many pagan goddesses).

36 ‘great med’cine’ – the panacea or philosophers’ stone of the alchemists.

51-2 ‘Like to the time...nor merry’ – the stoic composure fits with the ‘firm Roman’ side to Antony.

70 ‘I will give thee bloody teeth’ – the great energy and vigour of Cleopatra, as well as her violent unpredictability.

78 ‘Or I’ll unpeople Egypt’ – by sending all its inhabitants as messengers. Another extraordinarily passionate outburst.


A scene with Pompey and the pirates which serves to emphasise Antony’s status and importance to Rome at this point in the play. Octavius is still seen as the junior party in the division of the Republic at this stage (with Lepidus of no discernible importance).

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William Shakespeare
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