This passage, as in the whole play, acts out the love-hate relationship between Egypt and Rome, the two countries which embodies values and morals on the opposing ends of a continuum.
From the very presence of a soothsayer on the Egyptian side and the absence of a similar figure on the Roman side, the image that Egypt is mystical and that its people believe in a certain amount of fatalism is formed.
Soothsayer: Your fortunes are alike
Iras: But how, but how? give me particulars
In Iras’s eagerness to glimpse her future through the soothsayer, we can see the superstitious and fluidity of Egyptian thinking. This is because fortune-telling is essentially an open-ended and subjective business, with prophecies open to many interpretations. This is in direct contrast to the Roman way of thinking which is grounded on facts and the tangible present. As it is evident from the exchange between the messenger and Antony, which is composed of facts like ‘His conquering banner shook from Syria to Lydia and to Ioni’.
Contrast the serious subject matter( military and politics) of their conversation with the bawdy content of Charmain’s and Iras’s teasing banter about ‘cuckold’ and one can only infer that Egypt is the land of pleasure, of sexually liberated inhabitants, of wise-cracking and merry-making while Rome is where serous business gets done and conventional values like sexual purity and polite refrain is upheld.
Much can also be gleaned from the style of their communication. The Roman way is straightforward, devoid of fanciful euphemisms (e.g. “a woman that cannot go” refers to a sexually inept woman) that characterizes the Egyptian’s. From this we see the sensuality of Egyptian language and collaterally, their way of thinking, which is livelier compared to the stoic nature of Rome.
The presentation of Egypt as hedonistic and sexually immoral and of Rome as abstemious and chaste can similarly be seen from Iras’s sexually implicit choice of where to...