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Queen of Cups - Cleopatra

Dramatis Personae: Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt.

Text & Context: There is no Shakespeare character more carnal than Cleopatra. In attempting to leverage her womanhood in a male world, she is a tragic figure; a circular peg in a square hole; a drop of water in a land of deserts and desertions. Passions such as she may conjure have no place in politics of Empire.  

 Overcome with male possessiveness, Antony mistakes Cleopatra's flirtation with the enemy's messenger - one of the arrows in woman's quiver - as betrayal. Instead of dry land, Antony fights on water, Cleopatra's element, not his. Antony responds to Enobarbus' desertion with a show of virtue, and Enobarbus dies of a broken heart. Expecting as much devotion from AntonyCleopatra entombs herself in the navel of the body politic and awaits Antony's return. 

 As with the symbol of her suit, cups shape and contain what would otherwise dissipate, evaporate, or spill. Turned inside out, however, the fecund becomes poisonous, the womb becomes wound, and the worm turns... Antony melts while Cleopatra succeeds at what her hapless lover could not: the male solution of violence. 

 Cleopatra, Queen of the oozing, slimy Nile, is a sacrifice; a martyr for emotion in a pathologically masculine world. She is atonement for the sin of Eve, achieved through re-enacting her death by serpent. A re-enactment she extemporally projects generations of comedians to come will one day re-enact:


Antony shall be brought drunken forth,

and I shall see some squeaking Cleopatra

boy my greatness i' th' posture of a whore.


 Indeed we see how the posturing Antony "fishes, drinks, and wastes the lamps of night in revel." Cleopatra meanwhile,  her greatness boyed and bouyed, sets her femininity loose - has it seduced out of her - thereby proving herself the better man. Repeatedly debased, physically and morally, Shakespeare lavishes Cleopatra with an effortless virility at times itself humiliating. In deed, if it weren't so otherwise overwhelming, it would reveal itself simply for what it is: unfeeling . 


 Quibbling himself, Samuel Johnson famously said a quibble was to Shakespeare "the fatal Cleopatra for which he lost the world, and was content to lose it." Yet, what profit it a man to gain a world itself lost - the stony world Samuel Johnson would have reified in words - when he can lose himself for a moment in a simple, subversive play on words, and find there the most elusive thing: a profound sense of contentment. 

Intertext: Staffs 9 Mark Antony.

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