Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Fascinating Character of Cleopatra

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Antony and Cleopatra is a play by Shakespeare that I have always wanted to read. For some strange reason it is not commonly taught in English classes so I’ve never had much of an opportunity to read it (I mean, who reads Shakespeare on their own time, right?)

One of the things that struck me when I was doing a little bit of previewing the play was how the role of Cleopatra has come to be seen over the years. There is a very interesting Wikipedia page section all about how the views of Cleopatra have evolved.

One view depicts her as the “manipulative seductress” that you see for most of the play. She sends a servant to tell Antony that she is dead just so that she can see his reaction. She knows what will hurt him the most and told Mardian to say “that the last I spoke was ‘Antony’ and word it, prithee, piteously” (4.13.11-12). She knows exactly how to push Antony’s buttons and keep him attached to her. She is dramatic all of the time and pulls Antony into her sensual world of luxury.

The other view places her as the skilled leader who betrays her lover in order to do what she thinks is necessary to save her country from Caesar. Her fleet turns against Antony in the heat of a naval battle. On Slack, Maddie pointed this out because this is one of the only moments where we see personal sacrifice on the part of the leader. She loves Antony but sides with Caesar to save Egypt. 
Neither Antony nor Caesar seem to have this ability to do what is right despite their personal feelings.

I love the character of Cleopatra because she can be interpreted in so many different ways. She is one of Shakespeare’s most complex characters and sends a message of passion, strength, and intelligence to women.

One of my most recent favorite books is a fictionalized version based on Cleopatra, Antony, and their children. It’s Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran and I think it also gives us an interesting look at Cleopatra and her character in fiction. I think a lot could be learned about her character from analyzing a wide variety of performances and adaptations of Cleopatra of which there are many.


  1. I haven't read the play, but this blog post makes me want to. Cleopatra as a feminist icon would definitely be an interesting paper, because it would involve tension between traditional feminine sensuality and untraditional female leadership roles that require her to put her country before her heart. I liked this blog post on the subject:
    And there's a paper floating around titled "Politicizing the Body and Sexualizing the Text: A Feminist Study of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra" by Arup Mondal that brought up an interesting point, about Cleopatra being a foil to the recently deceased virgin queen Elizabeth.

    1. Wow. That article looks super interesting and definitely would help if I wrote a paper on Cleopatra! Thanks Micah! :)

  2. That's really interesting how, as you pointed out, "[Cleopatra] can be interpreted in so many different ways." If you wanted to pursue the idea that she "sends a message of passion, strength, and intelligence to women," I would suggest this article by W. Ralph Eubanks (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130976125). He explains, kind of like you talked about, how some think of her as a temptress, but really she is so much more. He references this book, which also would be helpful to your research. It is Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff. She claims, "Shakespeare attested to Cleopatra's infinite variety. He had no idea." She goes on to say how Cleopatra has had "one of the busiest afterlives in history--she has gone on to become an asteroid, a video game, a cliche, a cigarette, a slot machine, a strip club, a synonym for Elizabeth Taylor." Hopefully this helps.