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Professor Th. Zielinski of St. Petersburg suggests a peculiar interpretation of this passage in his Marginalien (Philologus, N.F., Band xviii. 1905). He starts from the assertion that Shakespeare had in his mind Ovid's Epistle from Dido (Heroid. vii.) when he composed the parting scene between Antony and Cleopatra. This statement is neither self-evident nor initially probable. Shakespeare was no doubt acquainted with portions of Ovid both in the original and in translation, but there is not much indication that his knowledge extended to the Heroides. Mr. Churton Collins, indeed, in his plea for Shakespeare's familiarity with Latin, calls attention to the well-known pair of quotations from these poems, the one in 3 Henry VI., the other in the Taming of the Shrew. But though Mr. Collins makes good his general contention, he hardly strengthens it with these examples: for Shakespeare's share in both plays is so uncertain that no definite inference can be drawn from them. Apart from these more than doubtful instances, there seems to be no reference in Shakespeare to the Heroides, either in the Latin of Ovid or in the English of Turberville; and it would be strange to find one cropping up here.

But Professor Zielinski gives his arguments, and one of them is certainly plausible. He quotes:

What says the married woman? You may go:
Would she had never given you leave to come;

(A. and C. I., iii. 20.)
and compares

“Sed iubet ire deus.” Vellem vetuisset adire.

Her. VII. 37.)
[p. 654] There is a coincidence, but it is not very close, and scarcely implies imitation. Moreover, it becomes even less striking in the English version; which, after all, Shakespeare is more likely to have known, if he knew the poem at all:
But God doth force thee flee; would God had kept away
Such guilefull guests, and Troians had in Carthage made no stay.1
Professor Zielinski's next argument is singularly unconvincing. He says: “The situation (ie. in the Epistle and in the Play) is parallel even in details, as everyone will tell himself: moreover the poet himself confesses it:”

Where souls do couch on flowers, we'll hand in hand,
And with our sprightly port make the ghosts gaze:
Dido and her Aeneas shall want troops
And all the haunt be ours.

But in the first place this has reference not to the separation but to the reunion: and in the second place, of the reunion there is no word in the Epistle. I cannot therefore see how Shakespeare's lines can be taken as a confession of indebtedness to Ovid. But these analogies, real or imaginary, lead up to Professor Zielinski's main point. He quotes as what he calls the “Motiv des Kindes” and considers the distinctive feature of Ovid's treatment, Dido's reproach:

Forsitan et gravidam Didon, scelerate, relinquas,
Parsque tui lateat corpore clausa meo.

He admits that it is not easy to find this Motiv in the play, but argues that Shakespeare was always very reticent in such regards. Then he proceeds: “Hier nun war Kleopatra tatsächlich schwanger, als Antonius sie verliess: Plutarch setzt es c. 36 voraus, und Shakespeare wird es gewusst haben, da er Act III. die Kinder erwähnt. Sollte er in der grossen Abschieds-scene das dankbare Motiv haben entgehen lassen? Sehn wir zu. Kleopatra spielt die nervöse, ihr ist bald gut, bald schlecht: ‘schnür mich auf.. . nein, lass es sein.’ Ihre ungerechten Vorwürfe bringen den Antonius endlich auf; er will gehn. Sie halt [p. 655] ihn zurück: courteous lord, one word. Wir erwarten eine wichtige Erklärung; was wird das ‘eine Wort’ sein?
Sir, you and I must part-but that's not it:
Sir, you and I have loved-but there's not it;
That you know well: something it is I would-
O, my oblivion is a very Antony,
And I am all forgotten.
Es ist für den klassischen Philologen erheiternd und tröstlich, die Commentare zum hervorgehoben verse zu lesen: dieselben Torheiten, wie bei uns, wenn einer das erklären muss, was er selber nicht versteht. Man wollte sogar oblivion hinausconjiciren: andere befehlen es=memory zu nehmen. Was wird dadurch gewonnen? Ich verlange das versprochene “eine wort.” -- “ Ja, das hat sie eben vergessen” --Ich danke. Nein, sie hat es ausgesprochen: ihr “Vergessen” war in der Tat “ein echter Antonius,” wenn auch ein ganz kleiner. Und als der Freund die Anspielung nicht versteht--I should take you for idleness itself-fährt sie bitter fort:
‘Tis sweating labour
To bear such idleness so near the heart,
As Cleopatra this.
(das this mit discret hinweisender Geberde) . . . Es ware Mangel an Zartgefühl, mehr zu verlangen.-Und wirklich, besser als die Erklärer hat ein Dichter den Dichter verstanden; ich meine Puschkin, der in einer Stelle seiner lieblichen “Nixe” (Rusalka) die oben ausgeschriebenen Worte der Kleopatra offenbar nachahmen wollte:

Leb‘ wohl.

Nein, wart .. ich muss dir etwas sagen ...
Weiss nimmer was.

So denke nach!

Für dich
Wär ich bereit . . . Nein das ist's nicht . . . So wart doch.
Ich kann's nicht glauben, dass du mich auf ewig
Verlassen willst . . . Nein, das ist's immer nicht . . .
Jetzt hab‘ ich's: heut war's, dass zum ersten Mal
Dein kind sich unter'm Herzen mir bewegte.

” This is very ingenious, and the parallel from Puschkin is very interesting. What makes one doubtful is that from first to last Shakespeare slurs over the motherhood of Cleopatra, to which the other tragedians of the time give great prominence. On the whole he obliterates even those references that Plutarch makes to this aspect of his heroine, [p. 656] and it would therefore be odd if he went out of his way to invent an allusion which does not fit in with the rest of the picture, and which is without consequence and very obscure. If one were forced to conjecture the “missing word,” it would be more plausible to suppose that she both wishes and hesitates to suggest marriage with Antony. At the close, her exclamation:

Husband, I come:
Now to that name my courage prove my title!

shows that she recognises the dignity of the sanction. At the outset, she feels the falsity of her position, as we see from her reference to “the married woman”; and in Plutarch Shakespeare had read the complaint of her partisans, that “Cleopatra, being borne a Queene of so many thousands of men, is onely named Antonius Leman.” In Rome the marriage is assumed to be quite probable; and in this very scene Antony, after announcing the removal of the grand impediment by Fulvia's death, has just professed his unalterable devotion to his Queen. Why should there not be a marriage, unless he regards her merely as a mistress; and why should she not propose it, except that she fears to meet with this rebuff? The “sweating labour ” she bears would thus be her unsanctioned love and its disgrace.

This, however, is not put forward as a serious interpretation, but only as a theory quite as possible as Professor Zielinski's. The most obvious and the most satisfactory way is to suppose, as probably almost every reader does and has done, that she is merely making pretexts to postpone the separation. And there is surely no great difficulty about the phrase: “My oblivion is a very Antony.” Here too the obvious explanation is the most convincing: “My forgetfulness is as great as Antony's own.” [p. 657]

1 The Heroycall Epistles of the learned poet Publius Ouidius Naso in English verse: set out and translated by George Turberville, gent, etc. Transcribed from a copy in the Bodleian, which Malone, who owned it, conjecturally dated 1569.

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    • Ovid, Epistulae, 7
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