“AH, SOLDIER!” I noted here that there are 7 Shakespeare plays that I have not yet seen. I have recently finished reading Antony and Cleopatra, which is one of them. So I took a particular interest in an article by Frank Kermode in the London Review of Books (May 13, 2010) which discusses two words in Antony and Cleopatra to which T. S. Eliot gives extraordinary praise. At the end of the play, after Cleopatra’s suicide, a Roman soldier enters and says to Charmian, Cleopatra’s attendant: “What work is here, Charmian? Is this well done?” Charmian says:
“It is well done, and fitting for a princess
Descended of so many royal kings.
And Charmian dies. Kermode quotes Eliot: â€˜”I could not myself … put into words the difference I feel between the passage if these two words â€œAh, soldier!â€ were omitted and with them. But I know there is a difference, and that only Shakespeare could have made it.â€™” The critic Christopher Ricks agrees with Eliot. I agree that “Ah, soldier!” is wonderful, but why? Eliot says that he can’t explain it and Kermode himself says: “Explanations of Charmianâ€™s words, her sigh, are likely to be complicated, will have to go deep.”