Shakespeare Quotes

Salad days

Charmian:
O that brave Caesar!

Cleopatra:
Be chok'd with such another emphasis!
Say "the brave Antony."

Charmian:
The valiant Caesar!

Cleopatra:
By Isis, I will give thee bloody teeth,
If thou with Caesar paragon again
My man of men.

Charmian:
By your most gracious pardon,
I sing but after you.

Cleopatra:
My salad days,
When I was green in judgment, cold in blood,
To say as I said then!

Antony And Cleopatra Act 1, scene 5, 67–75

"Salad days" has probably generated as much confusion as any phrase in this book, excepting perhaps "hoist with his own petard." Some believe that "salad" refers to the sort of meal one was once, in less lavish (or more diet-conscious) days, forced to subsist on. Others think of their salad days as times of youthful innocence and indulgence, of brightly colored, freshly grown adventures. But the inventor of the phrase had neither romantic poverty nor flaming youth in mind.

By "salad days" Cleopatra refers to a time not when she had to eat salad, but when she was like salad. From the fifteenth century on, "salad" could mean any raw vegetable; metaphorically, the young Cleopatra was as "green" (inexperienced) and "cold" (passionless) as a piece of lettuce. At least, this is how she now explains her youthful affair with Julius Caesar.

The queen's attendant Charmian mocks her gushing tributes to her current lover, Marc Antony, comparing them to her past praises of the "valiant Caesar." Cleopatra, now middle-aged, snorts at the comparison. Her affair with Caesar, she insists, was never real, and her words then were meaningless. Her "judgment" (discretion, taste) and "blood" (passion) have matured; she portrays her "salad days" as a time of unreflective indulgence.

Themes: innocence, expressions and idioms, time

Speakers: Cleopatra, Charmian