A little of the Green Eyed Monster

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Tis the season to be merry – or so they say. But in fact of course Christmas is a time fraught with familial and other social pressures. When it is all too easy to compare oneself with others. So this week I thought I would share with you one of my favourite moments from Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra one in which Shakespeare seems to me to capture perfectly the desire to know and not know details of someone you are jealous of.

Cleopatra has just heard that her lover Antony has taken a new wife in Rome. Cleopatra wants to know what the other woman is like, but at the same time she dreads what she will hear.  This is the extract edited for brevity but I think you will get the flavour of it.

CLEOPATRA

Is she as tall as me?

Messenger

She is not, madam.

CLEOPATRA

Didst hear her speak? is she shrill-tongued or low?

Messenger

Madam, I heard her speak; she is low-voiced.

CLEOPATRA

That’s not so good: he cannot like her long.

[…]dull of tongue, and dwarfish!

CLEOPATRA

Guess at her years, I prithee.

Messenger

And I do think she’s thirty.

CLEOPATRA

Bear’st thou her face in mind? is’t long or round?

Messenger

Round even to faultiness.

CLEOPATRA

For the most part, too, they are foolish that are so.

Cleopatra is being very canny here actually. Everything she hears, the good and the bad, she turns to a fault consistently setting her self above Antony’s new wife. When she cannot do that, perhaps in her age, she simply ignores the other woman’s virtues. But what is so moving about this passage, so poignant is that Cleopatra’s very need to be so self promotional points to her desperation to convince herself that Antony cannot love his new wife long. It is the combination of confidence and vulnerability in the piece which makes it for me one of the most touchingly human in the whole of Shakespeare’s cannon. An unusual choice perhaps but there it is.

Is there a passage which seems to speak to you particularly eloquently about the human condition? If so do share it.

My next post will be written in 2011 so I’d like to wish you all a very happy new year, one with no touch of the green eyed monster!

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Author:Liz Dollimore

Someone who loves listening to people talk about Shakespeare Liz tweets at @shakespeareBT
  • Duncan

    Kids today??!!?? Arnchasickofem???!!! There they all are a stealin’ and a fightin’, a rockin’ and a rollin’, when they’d be better off at home under the duvet!!??!. Why don’t you leave that old guy alone, put a sock in it and tie a knot in it, eh lads???!!!???

    Or as Shakespeare put it far better…

    I would there were no age between ten and three-and-twenty, or that youth would sleep out the rest; for there is nothing in the between but getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry, stealing, fighting. Hark you now! Would any but these boiled brains of nineteen and two-and-twenty hunt this weather?

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