Caesar’s Same-Sex-Food-Sex Dilemma
Early English Studies, vol. 2 (2008)
Often disjointed, temporally inconsistent, and metaphorically mixed, Shakespeare’s sprawling Antony and Cleopatra frequently challenges as much as it entertains. However, consistency is seen in the near constant deployment of food and, more precisely, food metaphors, throughout the play. Just as Cleopatra is thematically imbricated with banqueting and revelry, Caesar’s designs on Antony are also couched in terms of food, though in a much more sober and reserved manner. Specifically, the austerity of Caesar’s “strange flesh” speech stands in sharp contrast to Cleopatra’s wanton excesses. Because food is also inextricable from Cleopatra’s sexuality, this analysis will posit that Shakespeare likewise posits a sexual dimension into Caesar’s speech. In support of this argument, other instances of samesex desire will be evaluated within Shakespeare’s canon. More importantly, the social values associated with this instance of same-sex desire would have been recognized by a Jacobean audience. Thus, the dual allegorical construction of food and sexuality bridges the time period between the Renaissance and Rome to establish a harmonious and universal message about the “strange flesh” associated with desire.