The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra
Contrasting Regions Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
I will tell you.
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 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. For her own person,
It beggar'd all description. She did lie
In her pavilion, cloth-of-gold, of tissue,
O'erpicturing that Venus where we see
The fancy out-work nature. On each side her
Stood pretty dimpled boys, like smiling Cupids,
With divers-colour'd fans, whose wind did seem
To glow the delicate cheeks which they did cool,
And what they undid did. (2.2.191)
Egypt is the seat of decadence, but there’s more tied into this Orientalism than material excess. Enobarbus’s description betrays the fact that the winds and waters, even the creatures of heavenly thoughts (like cherubs and mermaids) attend to the Queen. He touches on the heart of Orientalism’s duality. It might seem contrary to man’s living that he be so decked with material goods (instead of human assets, like love, honor, etc.), but actually the Orientalist view is that nature is lush and when people revel in that lushness, they worship nature, not man. Unlike the Roman view, celebrating the good and rich world around you doesn’t detract from your goodness, but is a necessary part of it.
This is not yet an Alexandrian feast.
It ripens towards it. Strike the vessels, ho!
Here's to Caesar!
I could well forbear't.
It's monstrous labour when I wash my brain
And it grows fouler.
Be a child o' th' time.
Possess it, I'll make answer.
But I had rather fast from all four days
Than drink so much in one.
[To ANTONY] Ha, my brave emperor!
Shall we dance now the Egyptian Bacchanals
And celebrate our drink?
Let's ha't, good soldier.
Come, let's all take hands,
Till that the conquering wine hath steep'd our sense
In soft and delicate Lethe. (2.7.197)
Antony encourages the group gathered after the truce with Pompey to have an Egyptian time. This doesn’t just mean decadence, but actual happiness. He meets friends who were former foes, and an Egyptian celebration of their truce doesn’t debase their new amity, but only increases it through their mutual happiness. When Antony suggests that Caesar stop complaining about how "he really shouldn’t drink anymore," he tells Caesar to "be a child of the time," meaning he should seize the day and enjoy their good fortune. Their differences are highlighted here – Antony earnestly celebrates like an Egyptian, while Caesar keeps his Roman wits about him, and might even now be planning his treachery against Pompey, Antony, and Lepidus. Antony, by contrast, takes the magnanimous position that they should forget about it over a drink, and be honest friends.
Contemning Rome, he has done all this and more
In Alexandria. Here's the manner of't:
I' th' market-place, on a tribunal silver'd,
Cleopatra and himself in chairs of gold
Were publicly enthron'd; at the feet sat
Caesarion, whom they call my father's son,
And all the unlawful issue that their lust
Since then hath made between them. Unto her
He gave the stablishment of Egypt; made her
Of lower Syria, Cyprus, Lydia,
This in the public eye?
I' th' common show-place, where they exercise.
His sons he there proclaim'd the kings of kings:
Great Media, Parthia, and Armenia,
He gave to Alexander; to Ptolemy he assign'd
Syria, Cilicia, and Phoenicia. She
In th' habiliments of the goddess Isis
That day appear'd; and oft before gave audience,
As 'tis reported, so. (3.6.1)
Caesar rankles at the power Antony is taking, but it seems what really gets to him is the fact that all of this is done with such decadence. Cleopatra is dressed as Isis, the thrones are of gold, and worst of all, the lovers proclaimed their power in the public market place, where common people might exercise. To use and claim power in such an irreverent way is anathema to Caesar; Antony has officially separated himself from the austerity, temperance, and respect that traditionally define Roman values concerning the display and acquisition of power.