Thursday, May 24, 2012
Antony and Cleopatra
My first unwitting contact with this play came via T.S. Eliot. There's a line in "The Wasteland" plucked directly from the play. It's actually the opening lines from the second section, A Game of Chess
The Chair she sat in, like a burnished throne,
Glowed on the marble, where the glass
Held up by standards wrought with fruited vines
From which a golden Cupidon peeped out
(Another hid his eyes behind his wing)
Doubled the flames of sevenbranched candelabra
Reflecting light upon the table as
The glitter of her jewels rose to meet it,
From satin cases poured in rich profusion.
I remember looking up the words 'burnished,' 'standards,' 'Cupidon,' & 'candelabra' after reading this passage. Which probably meant I didn't have time to look up the allusion to Antony and Cleopatra.
It wasn't until I bought this set a few years ago that I finally got around to reading the play. I had one of those moments one always has when reading one of his plays for the first time and encountering a familiar line or phrase -- "O, so that's where that comes from." Anyhow, I love this play. It's definitely one of my favorite plays by Shakespeare.
I remember I was reading it in the summer of 2007. Lori and I drove to Maine to visit Jonathan Skinner and Isabelle Pellissier. I can picture myself sitting in a chair in their living room reading. That night Jonathan brought home a digital projector from the college where he taught at the time and we watched Howard Hawk's 'Red River' projected on the living room wall. It was the first time I ever liked John Wayne.
On the drive back to Buffalo it suddenly dawned on me that it was time to leave our house in Black Rock, where we were terribly unhappy. I said as much to Lori. We put it on the market a month later.
from Antony and Cleopatra
She's a most triumphant lady, if report be square to
When she first met Mark Antony, she pursed up
his heart, upon the river of Cydnus.
There she appeared indeed; or my reporter devised
well for her.
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'er-picturing that Venus where we see
The fancy outwork 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.
O, rare for Antony!
Her gentlewomen, like the Nereides,
So many mermaids, tended her i' the eyes,
And made their bends adornings: at the helm
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 cast
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.
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,
Being barber'd ten times o'er, goes to the feast,
And for his ordinary pays his heart
For what his eyes eat only.
She made great Caesar lay his sword to bed:
He plough'd her, and she cropp'd.