This piece is delivered by Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt in a Shakespearean play, Antony and Cleopatra. Cleopatra’s lover, Marc Antony, has been defeated by Julius Caesar’s successor, Octavius or August Caesar. Rather than brought to Rome as spoils of war, Cleopatra asks her handmaids to bring her asp (a snake). Cleopatra, in her room, kills herself.
This Knot of Life at Once Untie
Act 5. Scene 2.
Give me my robe, put on my crown—I have
Immortal longings in me. Now no more
The juice of Egypt’s grape shall moist this lip.
Yare, yare, good Iras, quick—methinks I hear
Antony call; I see him rouse himself
To praise my noble act; I hear him mock
The luck of Caesar, which the gods give men
To excuse their after wrath. Husband, I come!
Now to that name my courage prove my title!
I am fire and air—my other elements
I give to baser life. So, have you done?
Come then and take the last warmth of my lips.
Farewell, kind Charmian; Iras, long farewell.
[Kisses them. Iras falls and dies]
Have I the aspic in my lips? Dost fall?
If thou and nature can so gently part,
The stroke of death is as a lover’s pinch,
Which hurts and is desired. Dost thou lie still?
If thus thou vanishest, thou tellst the world
It is not worth leave-taking.
If she first meet the curlèd Antony,
He’ll make demand of her, and spend that kiss
Which is my heaven to have. Come, thou mortal wretch,
[To an asp which she applies to her breast]
With thy sharp teeth this knot intrinsicate
Of life at once untie. Poor venomous fool,
Be angry, and dispatch. O, couldst thou speak,
That I might hear thee call great Caesar ass
For those who want to read modernized texts side-by-side Shakespeare’s writings, you can look up the No Fear, Shakespeare series.