AC Passage for Emphasis (Eli)



Messenger He’s married, madam.
CLEOPATRA Rogue, thou hast lived too long.
[Draws a knife]
Messenger Nay, then I’ll run.
What mean you, madam? I have made no fault.
CHARMIAN Good madam, keep yourself within yourself:
The man is innocent.
CLEOPATRA Some innocents ‘scape not the thunderbolt.
Melt Egypt into Nile! and kindly creatures
Turn all to serpents! Call the slave again:
Though I am mad, I will not bite him: call.
CHARMIAN He is afeard to come.
CLEOPATRA I will not hurt him.
These hands do lack nobility, that they strike
A meaner than myself; since I myself
Have given myself the cause.
[Re-enter CHARMIAN and Messenger]
Come hither, sir.
Though it be honest, it is never good
To bring bad news: give to a gracious message.
An host of tongues; but let ill tidings tell
Themselves when they be felt.
Messenger I have done my duty.
CLEOPATRA Is he married?
I cannot hate thee worser than I do,
If thou again say ‘Yes.’
Messenger He’s married, madam.
CLEOPATRA The gods confound thee! dost thou hold there still?
Messenger Should I lie, madam?
CLEOPATRA O, I would thou didst,
So half my Egypt were submerged and made
A cistern for scaled snakes! Go, get thee hence:
Hadst thou Narcissus in thy face, to me
Thou wouldst appear most ugly. He is married?
Messenger I crave your highness’ pardon.
CLEOPATRA He is married?
Messenger Take no offence that I would not offend you:
To punish me for what you make me do. 125
Seems much unequal: he’s married to Octavia.
CLEOPATRA O, that his fault should make a knave of thee,
That art not what thou’rt sure of! Get thee hence:
The merchandise which thou hast brought from Rome
Are all too dear for me: lie they upon thy hand,
And be undone by ’em!
[Exit Messenger]
CHARMIAN Good your highness, patience.

In truth I’m interested in the whole of 2.5, but this is an exemplary passage. The scene begins with Cleopatra’s call “music, moody food / Of us that trade in love” – an odd internal echo of Orsino’s famous opening speech in Twelfth Night – passes through the comic-erotic-nostalgic reminiscence about Antony and the salt fish, and then develops into a violent farce of a messenger scene. Cleopatra wants to script what the messenger will say and in attempting to do so delays and disrupts his report. When he finally does get to the gist of his dispatch, she attacks him and drives him from the stage before calling him back to repeat it again and again. As often happens in Love’s Labour’s Lost, the language here develops a kind of self-consciousness or meta-textuality. The passage plays at being a messenger scene. It  also is asking something about the limits of communication—about whether it’s possible to have dialogue, to convey and receive packets of information. Dialogue in elsewhere in the play can have a fragmented quality: there are so many scenes of little reports and retorts on seemingly inconsequential subjects that leave one puzzled about the semantic/dramatic purpose. Act II, with its recurrent trope of the ‘hoop’ (cf. 2.2.122, 2.4.37) and its uneasy commingling of speeches with conversation seems to be asking something about how language between people holds—or doesn’t hold—together. Perhaps Cleopatra’s call for music is a call for another mode of communication altogether?

Leave a Reply