Plutarch, The lives of the noble Grecians and Romaines, 1612 - Antony and Cleopatra, p. 922, detail.

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Date:1612

Description:Shakespeare followed this description of Cleopatra.

Shakespeare became very familiar with Plutarch’s stories, and he often followed the wording of sections in North’s translation very closely. The description of Cleopatra’s barge ‘the poop wherof was gold, the sailes of purple and the oares of silver which kept stroke in rowing after the sound of the music of flutes’ became in Enobarbus’ speech in Antony and Cleopatra: 'the barge she sat in, like a burnish’d throne burn’d on the water: the poop was beaten gold; purple the sails... the oars were silver, which to the tune of flutes kept stroke...' (2,2, lines 197-212).


[This section reads:]

The messenger sent unto Cleopatra to make this summons unto her was called Dellius, who when he had thoroughly considered her beauty, the excellent grace and sweetness of her tongue he nothing mistrusted that Antony would do any hurt to so noble a Lady, but rather assured himself that within [a] few days she should be in great favour with him. Thereupon he did her great honour and persuaded her to come to Sicily as honourably furnished as she could possibly [be], and bade her not to be afraid at all of Antony for he was a more courteous lord than any she had ever seen. Cleopatra on the other side believing Dellius' words and guessing by the former access and credit she had with Julius Caesar and C. Pompey (the son of Pompey the Great) only for her beauty, she began to have good hope that she might more easily win Antony; for Caesar and Pompey knew her when she was but a young thing and knew not than what the world meant, but now she went to Antony at the age when a woman's beauty is at the prime, and she also of best judgement. So she furnished herself with a world of gifts, store of gold and silver and of riches and other sumptuous ornaments as is credible enough she might bring from so great a house and from so wealthy and rich a realm as Egypt was. But yet she carried nothing with her wherein she trusted more than in herself, and in the charms and enchantment of her passing beauty and grace. Therefore when she was sent unto by diverse letters both from Antony himself and also from his friends she made so light of it and mocked Antony so much that she disdained to set forward otherwise but to take her barge in the river Cydnus, the poop whereof was of gold, the sails of purple and the oars of silver, which kept stroke in rowing after the sound of flutes, hautboys, citherns, viols and such other instruments as they played upon in the barge. And now for the person of herself. She was laid under a pavilion of cloth of gold of tissue, apparelled and attired like the goddess Venus [is] commonly drawn in picture[s], and hard by her on either hand of her, pretty fair boys apparelled as painters do set forth...


Full title: Plutarchus The lives of the noble Grecians and Romaines compared together Plutarch of Chaeronea. Translated out of Greeke into French by James Amiot, Abbot of Bellozane with the lives of Hannibal and Scipio African translated out of Latine into French by Charles de l'Escluse and out of French into English by Sir Thomas North, knight. London, printed by Richard Field, 1612.


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Source: The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust - Library

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