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Shakespeare Connected - Ageless Cleopatra

“Where art thou, death?”

Nicholas Rowe’s 1709 version of Shakespeare’s works boasts a single copper engraving for each play. The image opposite the tragedy’s frontispiece depicts the most famous moment in the play, when Cleopatra kills herself using a poisonous asp.

Here, Cleopatra looks less obviously Egyptian than in other representations. The costume is contemporary to Rowe and the setting is ambiguous, combining both ancient Egyptian and oriental designs. 

We can’t be sure how the thirty-nine-year-old Cleopatra died; she may have been murdered. Plutarch introduced the idea of the asp bite, though he specified Cleopatra’s arm. By Shakespeare’s time, people assumed that an asp bit her breast – a more sensual finale.

 

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Nicholas Rowe's Antony and Cleopatra Frontispiece, 1709.

 

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