Antony and Cleopatra: Return of the Badass Bawdy [EXPLICIT]


OK, it’s that time of the month, er, discussion cycle… We’re going to Bawdy-ville, located somewhere between Rome and Alexandria. So, the usual caveats apply (maybe even a little more so) for Antony and Cleopatra.

This is your last chance…

Now, Eric Partridge, he of the masterful, scholar-bating tome of titillation, Shakespeare’s Bawdy, has said of Antony and Cleopatra: “Antony’s world well lost for love of the riggish Egyptian reincarnation of Venus Aphrodite (On much the same level of bawdiness as All’s Well, Hamlet, and Lear)” (Shakespeare’s Bawdy, Partridge, Eric. New York: Routledge Classics, 2001; page 57). Hmmm, that’s an interesting statement.

And how did we feel about bawdy in those plays?

Ew. That doesn’t sound promising does it?

Well, let’s check out Antony and Cleopatra then, shall we?

Save for a tossed-off reference to “a gypsy’s lust” (I.i.10), the first scene is pretty bawdy-free.

If that first scene is relatively dry, then when we meet Charmian and the other attendants in Act One, Scene Two, we get a veritable deluge of references, subtle then ramping up to rampant. In the first speech, Charmian talks of a “husband which, you say, must change his horns for garlands” (I.ii.4-5), the usual reference to cuckoldry and the cuckold’s horns (though in this case, the adultery happens soon after the wedding, trading the wedding flowers for the horns). Later in the scene, when Charmian has been told that she will outlive Cleopatra, the attendant says, “O excellent! I love long life better than figs” (I.ii.33); figs, because of their shape, were often seen as representing testicles in specific and the male genitalia in general…so Charmian loves long life better than sex, which is saying something, at least according to Alexas, who references Charmian’s “sheets [that] are privy to [her] wishes” (I.ii.41-2).

When they talk of fortunes, Enobarbus says that his fortune will be “drunk to bed” (I.ii.46) that night, which could mean he plans on getting drunk and laid, or it could mean that he plans to get so drunk as to be an example of what the Porter discusses in Macbeth. Charmian says that Enobarbus’ “palm presages chastity” (I.ii.47), which could mean either the soothsayer will find nothing sexual in reading Enobarbus’ palm…or it could mean that his palm foretells chastity with others because of the masturbatory self-love use he’ll put to it. Regardless, Iras’ palm is “oily” (I.ii.51) or sweaty, which was supposed to mean a certain sensual and lascivious nature (remember Othello?).

When the soothsayer says that Iras and Charmian of destined to have the same fate, we get the following exchange:

Am I not an inch of fortune better than she?
Well, if you were but an inch of fortune better than I, where would you choose it?
Not in my husband’s nose.
Our worser thoughts heavens mend. Alexas—come, his fortune, his fortune! O, let him marry a woman that cannot go, sweet Isis, I beseech thee, and let her die, too, and give him a worse, and let worse follow worse, till the worst of all follow him laughing to his grave, fiftyfold a cuckold. Good Isis, hear me this prayer, though thou deny me a matter of more weight, good Isis, I beseech thee!
Amen, dear goddess, hear that prayer of the people. For, as it is a heartbreaking to see a handsome man loose-wived, so it is a deadly sorrow to behold a foul knave uncuckolded.
  • I.ii.57-72

Charmian asks Iras where she would like the extra “inch” of fortune, and Iras doesn’t want it for her husband’s nose…annnnd we now know for the attendants, size does matter. Then the two females turn their bawdy banter toward the one male attendant, Alexas, whom they want to see married to a woman who will not have sex (“cannot go”), at least not with him. But Charmian prays to Isis, Egyptian goddess of fertility, to let the wife have orgasms (“let her die, too”), then give him a worse death (after death after death) until he goes to his grave cuckolded fifty times. Iras agrees, saying that while it’s sad to see a handsome man cuckolded, it’s worse to have a foul man uncuckolded. So I guess Alexas is handsome but pretty much a dick.

Now, ol’ Enobarbus had been sexually silent during this time (for the most part, save that “drunk” remark earlier), but by the time he returns to see Antony later in the scene, it seems that the ladies have rubbed off on him (pardon the pun), as his speech is somewhat salacious. When Antony tells his lieutenant of his decision to leave Egypt, despite the hardships it will cause the ladies here, Enobarbus responds,

Under a compelling occasion, let women die. It were pity to cast them away for nothing, though between them and a great cause, they should be esteemed nothing. Cleopatra, catching but the least noise of this, dies instantly. I have seen her die twenty times upon far poorer moment. I do think there is mettle in death which commits some loving act upon her, she hath such a celerity in dying.
She is cunning past man’s thought.
Alack, sir, no, her passions are made of nothing but the finest part of pure love. We cannot call her winds and waters sighs and tears; they are greater storms and tempests than almanacs can report. This cannot be cunning in her; if it be, she makes a shower of rain as well as Jove.
Would I had never seen her!
O, sir, you had then left unseen a wonderful piece of work, which not to have been blest withal would have discredited your travel.
Fulvia is dead.
Fulvia is dead.
Why, sir, give the gods a thankful sacrifice. When it pleaseth their deities to take the wife of a man from him, it shows to man the tailors of the Earth; comforting therein, that when old robes are worn out, there are members to make new. If there were no more women but Fulvia, then had you indeed a cut, and the case to be lamented. This grief is crowned with consolation; your old smock brings forth a new petticoat, and indeed the tears live in an onion that should water this sorrow.
The business she hath broachèd in the state
Cannot endure my absence.
And the business you have broached here cannot be without you, especially that of Cleopatra’s, which wholly depends on your abode.
No more light answers.
  • I.ii.137-175

In the opening speech by Enobarbus, yes, he could be talking about death and the concept of nothingness. But we really need to remember the death=orgasm link as well as something we learned in Much Ado About Nothing, namely that “nothing” could also be slang for the ol’ lady parts, the vajayjay, you know what I’m talking about.

I really wanted to find a “cunning” angle for the next two speeches, but all I could find was deceitful. Sorry, it’s true.

But after speaking of Cleopatra’s beauty and Fulvia’s death, Enobarbus goes into full-on double-entendre mode. Gods are the “tailors” for the men of the earth. Why? Because when the “old robes are worn out,” the tailors can make new ones for the members of mankind. Completely clean, if you want it to be. Or, if you’re like me, “robes” are something that cover a “member” just as a pussy covers a cock. Then he goes on to say that if there was only Fulvia in the world, then yes, Antony had suffered a loss or “cut” and his situation or “case” would be sad. Again, completely clean, if you want. But it could also mean that Antony may have lost a pussy he had (“cut”), and that pussy in general (“case” [Bawdy, 96]) is to be mourned. Enobarbus notes that the grief he feels is covered by sympathy, though: the old smock gone, a new petticoat comes in. You know where I’m going here: “smock” is like “robe” which is pussy, and so is “petticoat.” Oh, and any consolation coming on top of and around his grief…has no sexual connotation, I’m sure.


I think the bawdy is catching because even Antony’s response contains code: “broach” is to start (as in an endeavor–which is the clean interpretation here), but it also has a sexual meaning of having sex with. So Antony could be saying, “The sex she has started (with me) here in Egypt cannot bear me leaving.” Or it could be clean. But chances are that Enobarbus’ response is not: “The sex you’ve started here cannot go without you, especially Cleopatra’s sex which depends on you being inside (‘abode’) her hole (‘wholly,’ a ridiculous pun).” I say that even if Antony’s line is clean, he now understands (finally) the dirty aspect of Enobarbus’ speech, as he cuts off the dialog with “No more light answers,” with “light” meaning “sexually immoral” (Bawdy, 177).

And that, my friends, is just the first two scenes of the play. Smoke ’em if ya got ’em.

When Antony and Cleopatra meet in the next scene, there’s another bit of bawdy double entendre, when she mocks his leaving, by telling him to do some role-playing. Antony says that this will “heat [his] blood” (I.iii.80), which could mean either anger-heat or horny-heat. She mocks again. He attempts to swear by his “sword” (I.iii.82), which could mean both sword and cock; her response, “And target” (I.iii.82) can be either shield or pussy.

When we meet Octavian in Rome in the next scene, we find him railing on Antony’s sexual impropriety: “lightness…voluptuousness” (I.iv.25, 26).

Act One, Scene Five takes us back to Alexandria and Cleopatra, who wants to be entertained, but not by her eunuch’s singing, saying, “I take no pleasure // In aught an eunuch has” (I.v.9-10) or doesn’t have (is probably more to the point[lessness of a eunuch]). When he tells her that he does have affections, she asks, “Indeed?” to which he responds, “Not in deed, madam; for I can do nothing // But what indeed is honest to be done” (I.v.14-16). He can do no deed, in the castrated state he’s in. Cleopatra cannot abide such trimmed talk and immediate imagines Antony on his horse: “O happy horse, to bear the weight of Antony” (I.v.21)…the weight she longs to bear in bed again.

That’s a lot of bawdy. And we’re only at the end of Act One.

This old guy’s refractory period isn’t what it used to be…methinks the rest of the play will have to come another day…

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