All For Love begins with a series of dark omens. In the play’s opening scene, two priests of the Temple of Isis, Serapion and Myris, recount the appearance of various frightening signs in nature that all seem to prophesy Egypt’s doom. One of these omens involves water. Terrified, they discuss how the Nile overflowed and then suddenly retreated, leaving behind “monstrous” seals and sea-horses. From the play’s first act, then, water symbolizes the unstoppable tide of fate. Despite their efforts to prevent it, Serapion and Myris fear that Egypt will be overcome by a dark destiny. And indeed, this does come to pass, since Antony and Cleopatra’s love affair wreaks disaster on Egypt—which is conquered by Octavius and made into a province of the Roman Empire.
Later in the play, however, water also symbolizes renewal and rebirth. Devastated at his military defeat by Octavius, Antony expresses the wish that he could be a shepherd, not an emperor. He imagines himself leading a simple life, his “uncombed locks, matted like mistletoe” while “a murmuring brook / Runs at my foot.” Here the “murmuring” water stands, not for the tide of fate, but for the calm passage of life away from the violence and frenzy that characterizes the lives of powerful monarchs. Unlike the devastating flood of the Nile, a large river, this small brook merely “murmurs” softly. In Antony’s fantasy of a shepherd’s life, water brings renewal and tranquility, not destruction. Water thus symbolizes both the inevitability of Antony’s tragic fate and the peace that he longs for in a simpler life.