How does Shakespeare use language to convey Enobarbus’s wonder at Cleopatra and her effect on her environment and on Antony?
Antony and Cleopatra is an historical tragedy by William Shakespeare first performed in the early 1600’s. Cleopatra, one of the most seductive women of all time, renowned for her allure was Queen of Egypt and a lover of Julius Ceasar. She was very aware of her beauty and used it to toy with many men. One of these was Mark Antony – a Roman leader and one of the Triumvirates (one of three rulers of Rome alongside Julius Ceasar). At the time Egypt was under Roman rule having been conquered by their great armies. In Act Two, Scene Two Enobarbus is sitting at a table with two other Roman men (Agrippa and Mecaenas). They are both confused and curious as to Antony’s behaviour around Cleopatra. Enobarbus is attempting to explain why Antony appears to be acting like a fool rather than as a leader of Rome.
Enobarbus makes it quite clear that, in his opinion, Antony fell in love with Cleopatra the first moment he laid eyes on her, “She pursed up his heart upon the river of Cydnus.” Her “triumphant” demeanour appears to have captivated Antony even before they had met and Enobarbus conveys that wonder through his vivid language.
This is a preview of the whole essay
Through Enobarbus Shakespeare conveys to the audience that she is a regal and powerful woman, “The barge she sat in, like a burnish’d throne, burn’d on the water . . . purple the sails.” The sight of luxury and royalty would have had an amorous effect on the poor people of Egypt as they were not used to seeing such things. The references to heat i.e. burn’d, to which the Egyptians were very used to with the sun beating down each day, conveys the fact that Cleopatra is hot i.e. sexy and exotic. It also gives me the impression that, whilst she may be beautiful surrounded by her gold and silver, you may be burned if you get too close, but this is something that Antony appears to find attractive. “The oars were silver, which to the tune of flutes kept stroke.” This quote conveys to me that Cleopatra could have had an innocent side or at least tried to portray this through a beautiful, peaceful sound.
Cleopatra creates atmosphere merely by being so beautiful and rich, “and so perfumed that the winds were love-sick with them.” The smell from the perfumed sails would have resonated in people’s nostrils. They would know when she was approaching and when she had previously been purely by the smell.
Through Enobarbus Shakespeare conveys his sense of awe at her appearance through both her posture and her clothes, “She did lie in her pavilion – cloth of gold of tissue.” By lying down she conveyed the position of master over slaves, wanting for nothing and reemphasising her power. Comparing her clothes to tissue conveyed that they were flimsy and possibly see-through, which would have made her very sexy and alluring. Also, comparing Cleopatra to Venus, the Roman God of love, holds her in the same vein as a god, “O’er picturing that Venus where we see the fancy outwork nature.”
Agrippa appears to act in a jealous way, “O, rare for Antony!” as if suggesting that the Roman leader was extremely fortunate to be receiving Cleopatra’s attention. Although Agrippa later conveys her uniqueness among her race, “Rare Egyptian!” his jealously later raises its ugly head again when he appears to question her character, “Royal wench!” Initially Agrippa appears to understand why Antony had fallen head over heels for Cleopatra, but is then reduced to name calling.
Cleopatra’s servants are described as mermaids, “A seeming mermaid steers the silken tackle.” and cupids, “Stood pretty dimpled boys, like smiling Cupids.” Mermaids our beautiful creatures, which legend says bewitch ordinary folk and tempt them to join them at sea. This can be compared to Cleopatra tempting and alluring Antony. Cupids are the sign of love and they can also make people fall in love – just like Antony and Cleopatra.
Cleopatra’s cleverly orchestrated arrival effect the environment in several ways. The strong smell of the perfume creates a pleasant atmosphere and the sweet sounding flutes are very satisfying to the ear. The people are not only captivated by the smells and the sounds but also by the amazing sight of the regal colours, throne-like barge and the entourage of servants. Antony himself is drawn in by her beauty and, no doubt, the fact that she is wearing very little at all! He is also intrigued by the fact that everyone has gone to see Cleopatra’s arrival rather than going to greet him.
Enobarbus informs us that Cleopatra once hopped through the streets, “I saw her once hop forty paces and having lost her breath, she spoke and panted, that she did make defect perfection and breathless, power breathe forth.” He conveys to us that she is a beautiful and sexy queen – and she knows it! This is clearly demonstrated in the way that she teases Antony both in her behaviour and by the fact that she refuses his invitation (a girl had never said no to a Roman warlord before). She is truly a “Royal Wench”!
In this short piece of writing Shakespeare clearly uses Enobarbus to convey Cleopatra’s wonder and the effect this has on the environment and Antony. Despite the fact that in Shakespeare’s time language was the only tool available to create special effects, he uses this so well that the reader is transported back in time and made to feel that he was actually there experiencing the vivid colours and great detail. The words appear to bring the story to life and captivate the reader.
1st Draft as at 12/12/2006