Shakespeare 2018 Week 2: Heading into Egypt!

We accelerated our entry into the world of Cleopatra today by looking closely at the scene (in Act 2.2) where Enobarbus describes Cleopatra in terms that evoke her amazing attractive power:

The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne

Burned on the water. The poop was beaten gold,

Purple the sails, and so perfumed that

The winds were lovesick with them….

Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale

Her infinite variety. Other women cloy

The appetites they feed, but she makes hungry

Where most she satisfies….

In its sound patterning (alliteration, assonance, consonance, rhythm, rhyme…), its extraordinarily imaginative imagery, Enobarbus’s language brings her presence to life in a way that outstrips the greatest visual artist (Boticelli The Birth of Venus 1485) of the day:


As Enobarbus says in line 210 (Act 2.2): She did lie/ In her pavilion -cloth of gold, of tissue-/ O’er picturing that Venus where we see/ The fancy outwork nature.  Here is one artist who attempted to present visually what Shakespeare so brilliantly presented in words:

Alma Tadema

This is Alma Tadema’s famous 1883 depiction of Antony’s first glimpse of Cleopatra in her barge: “She did lie/ In her pavilion – cloth of gold, of tissue- O’er picturing that Venus….”

Alma Tadema comes close to capturing the visual imagery in Shakespeare’s words, but he does not, cannot, capture the magical power of the animated word soundings which bring the scene vividly and animatedly to life.  As was so often said in the Renaissance, poetry, drama, literature was a speaking picture. And pictures, despite their often intense beauty can never speak! Alleluia Shakespeare!

Enjoy reading to the end of this amazing play! See you all next week.


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