her landing Antony sent to 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,
ten times o’er, goes to the feast,
his ordinary pays his heart
For what his eyes
. . .
saw her once
Hop forty paces through the public
And having lost her breath, she spoke
That she did make defect perfection,
breathless, pour forth breath.
. . .
cannot wither her, nor custom stale
variety. Other women cloy
The appetites they
feed, but she makes hungry
Where most she
satisfies. For vilest things
in her, that the holy priests
Bless her when
she is riggish.
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.