Cleopatra Through Antony And Cleopatra Of Shakespeare English Literature Essay

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1st Jan 1970 English Literature Reference this


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Cassius Dio also commented on Cleopatra’s allure in Was Cleopatra beautiful?: For she was a woman of surpassing beauty, and at that time, when she was in the prime of her youth, she was most striking; she also possessed a most charming voice and knowledge of how to make herself agreeable to everyone. Being brilliant to look upon and to listen to, with the power to subjugate everyone, even a love-sated man already past his prime, she thought that it would be in keeping with her role to meet Caesar, and she reposed in her beauty all her claims to the throne.”

These accounts influenced later cultural depictions of Cleopatra, which typically present her using her charms to influence the most powerful men in the Western world. Cleopatra indeed became one of the most influential women as winning attraction and love of two powerful men: Caesar and Marc Antony.

In many depictions, the special stress on her beauty and seductive qualities; however, may mislead Cleopatra’s intelligence – the main factor in her way of taking power, wielding and maintaining it efficiently. Her smarts seems to be impressive the moment she appeared so charmingly from a carpet sent to Caesar as a way of introducing herself, which was regarded as the event that changed the ancient history . It is said that Cleopatra could speak fluently up to nine languages. Moreover, Cleopatra was believed to be a scholar in many domains including science mathematics, and philosophy. She was remembered as the authors of a variety of books in weights, measures, coins and cosmetics. Her intelligence was also indicated by her becoming the leader of Egypt when she was just 18 years old and the strong political power she held over Egypt during her reign.

Her great beauty, in combination with sharp intellectual mind, became endless inspiration for artists all over the world. Masterpieces created based on her life are plentiful, ranging from literature, music, cinema, fashion to painting and sculpture.


Drama is one of the most efficient procedures used to transfer history to the next generations in which Cleopatra and her legendary life is no exception. In this type of literature, there have been a lot of works inspired with theme of this historic woman. Beside All for Love (1678) of Dryden, Caesar (1901) of George Bernard Shaw, The Death of Cleopatre of Ahmed Shawqi, Antony and Cleopatra (1607) of William Shakespeare seemed to be the most popular and famous one. In this part, the summary as well as the reflection of Cleopatra in this drama will be discussed.

Antony and Cleopatra (1606) is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, which was first printed in the First Folio of 1623. Based on Life of Mark Antony of Plutarch, which was translated by Thomas North in 1579, Shakespeare wrote this drama. This work had great influence on not only artistic but also historical views over Cleopatra of many intellectuals. The main story of this was the affair of Mark Antony and Cleopatra, their blind love leading to failure and death. In this drama, the author stressed many themes including love, friendship, political power, aspiration and disaster.

The story happened in the time of the Final War of the Roman Republic, presenting the relationship between Cleopatra and Antony from the time of the Parthian War to her dead because of committing suicide. Mark Antony, besides Octavian and Lepidus, was one of one of three Triumvirs of Rome. Being charmed by Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt forgot his army responsibility. He then was called back to Rome to help Octavian fight against pirates. He was also encouraged to marry Octavian’s sister. Cleopatra knew this and she was very angry. Antony then came back to Alexandria to confirm their love and political power to Egypt and Roman Empire. Afterwards, there was conflict between Antony and Octavian, leading to a war during which Cleopatra ran, leaving Antony behind. Due to being adverse, he was passive and lost. Octavian advised Cleopatra to give up Antony and come with him. While she was being hesitated, Antony discovered the truth. However, he still forgave her and they then agreed to fight Octavian together once again. In the second one, the circumstance went the same. Finally, both Antony and Cleopatra died.

Different perspectives over Cleopatra through Antony and Cleopatra of Shakespeare

As the role of Cleopatra was so complex in this drama, she has been evaluated in different ways. The two most trends are considering her as a manipulative seductress and the other is a skilled leader. Through the 19th and 20th, the first viewpoint outweighed the second one, especially in the Roman world. The famous English poet T.S. Eliot considered her as “devouring sexuality” that “diminishes her power.” In his writing about Antony and Cleopatra, he usually called her “thing”, which meant no more than material, not a person. Besides, Professor Javier Jiménez-Belmonte from Fordham University made a connection between Cleopatra and a serpent, which meant an “original sin”. Being seen as the symbolization of sin, ambition and feminist weakness, the serpent was frequently used by scholars to reduce Cleopatra political status and stress that she was just a manipulative seductress.

Conversely, some other scholars supposed the masterpiece of Shakespeare did portray Cleopatra as a “powerful romantic heroine” that led by the powerful motivation of pride and love. We may find in her the encapsulation of good and bad, in other words the sophistication of the psyche of a woman. She might silently and gently, even effortlessly, transfer from an angry and influential queen to a sweet, sexy and irresistible seduction. Even when she was in the role of a warrior, she rarely forgot her feminine vulnerability. However, that’s not all bad as she did that mainly for the sake of her country…….

In addition, according to Doris Adler, it was unable to grasp Cleopatra’s character. His idea was clear in “The Unlacing of Cleopatra”. He supposed the image of Cleopatra would be distorted if it is extracted from the cultural environment leading to its formation on stage. Nevertheless, in order to enhance knowledge about the broader background, the separation as well as sophisticated examination in each aspect split from its main milieu. Therefore, the image of Cleopatra under the isolated condition and examination may be understood as an effort to get better understanding of her great influence on culture and artistic theatre. Moreover, the viewpoint about Cleopatra, in a positive way, is continuously changed over the time.


Cleopatra has become the endless inspiration for artists not only in the field of drama but also opera in which a lot of authors succeeded in writing about her life. Out of these, there were three most popular ones, including Carl Heinrich Graun with Cesare e Cleopatra, Johann Adolph Hasse with Antonio e Cleopatra and Samuel Barber with Antony and Cleopatra.

Carl Heinrich Graun (1704-1759) was a German. He was both composer and singer. Together with Johann Adolph Hasse, he was regarded as the greatest opera composer in Italy at that time. Cesare e Cleopatra is an three acts musical drama whose libretto was conducted by Giovan Gualberto Bottarelli. It was first performed on December 7th, 1742 as congratulation on the opening of Berlin Royal Opera House, under the commission of King Frederick.

Johann Adolph Hasse (1699-1783) was an German musician. He also took part in singing and teaching music. He was famous for his prolific works in two main subjects: opera and sacred music. Antonio e Cleopatra, his first devotion for the stage of Neapoleon, was composed in 1725. The two main singers performing this were Vittoria Tesi, with rich contralto voice, and Carlo Broschi, a specialized in castrato virtuoso singer. Having poor development in terms of plot and stage directions, however, this opera was usually described as a cantata.

Samuel Osborne Barber II (1910-1981), an American composer receiving the Pulitzer Prize for music two times, was well-known for his music of orchestral, piano and opera works. Antony and Cleopatra was a three-act opera based on the Shakespeare’s masterpiece which has the same tittle. Prepared and directed by Franco Zeffirelli, its showcase was on September 16, 1966 in New York City. It received bad feedback on the music and staging, unclear intentions, contradiction in styles despite good sets and costumes. Bernard Holland commented on the New York Times that it was “crushed, to all appearances, beneath the grandeurs of Zeffirelli’s behemoth staging.” The opera then was revised in 1975 with much better quality. In 1983, this revised version was performed in Italy and the USA, in which was well received by the critics: “a sign of Mr. Barber’s exceptional gifts that he could express such eloquent things by such simple means.” (New York Times). On January 2010, the City Opera of New York brought it back to the audiences once more to inaugurate the international series of Barber’s centennial birthday.

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