Antony and Cleopatra

by: William Shakespeare

Important Quotations Explained

2
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 barbered ten times o’er, goes to the feast,
And for his ordinary pays his heart
For what his eyes eat only.
. . .
I saw her once
Hop forty paces through the public street,
And having lost her breath, she spoke and panted,
That she did make defect perfection,
And breathless, pour forth breath.
. . .
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. For vilest things
Become themselves in her, that the holy priests
Bless her when she is riggish.
         (II.ii.225–245)

Enobarbus makes this speech, one of the most famous of the play. The lines before this oft-quoted passage begin with the description of Cleopatra floating down the Nile on her gilded barge. Enobarbus moves on to tell the men gathered on Pompey’s ship how Antony met Cleopatra. It seems that the general, particularly susceptible to the wants of women, fell under the queen’s spell immediately. Whatever power Antony had in relation to the queen, he surrenders it almost immediately—in fact, before the two even meet: “She replied / It should be better he became her guest,” and Antony, never having denied a woman’s wishes, agrees. In addition to demonstrating the queen’s power over Antony, this passage describes Cleopatra’s talent for performance. Her performance in “the public street” makes “defect”—her inability to breathe—“perfection.” Whether sitting stately on her “burnished throne” (II.ii.197) or hopping “forty paces,” Cleopatra never loses her ability to quicken the breath of her onlookers or persuade the “holy priests” to bless what they would certainly, in others, condemn.