Sex, manipulation, selfishness, obsession, and dramatic interactions are all present in "Antony and Cleopatra" and "The Letters of Abelard and Heloise." The roles of women in society and conceptions of femininity in the eras of Cleopatra and Heloise were limited compared to today's standards. In Shakespeare's "Antony and Cleopatra" and "The Letters of Abelard and Heloise," there are recurring images of women as well as conceptions that are unique to each text. In comparing and contrasting the parallel themes of the pieces, it is easy to see the overall themes of both works.
Within the first page of Shakespeare's "Antony and Cleopatra", the Roman's narrow perspective of Cleopatra is presented to the audience. Throughout the book she is referred to as "a whore" (III.vi.67), "wrangling queen" (I.i.50), and a "lustful gypsy" (I.i.10). The Roman image of Cleopatra is solely based on complaints of Antony's neglected duties to Rome. To see Cleopatra in this light alone would deprive the audience of truly understanding one of Shakespeare's most captivating female characters.
It would be a mistake to completely disregard the Roman view of Cleopatra. She manipulates Antony by taking advantage of his infatuation for her and using it for her own purposes. Cleopatra has manipulated strong Roman men in the past, such as Caesar and Pompey the Elder. The Romans were wise to be wary of her because in the battle at Actium, she leads to the demise of the Roman troops. The Roman people see Cleopatra as threatening primarily because of her beauty and open sexuality. Enobarbus captures the essence of
Cleopatra in his proclamation in Act II.ii.236-241:
"Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale
Her infinite variety: other wome...
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...ip is heaped onto Octavia, a minor female character. This shows that women were not held in as high regard as men in their time.
Heloise holds tight to the Old Testament views of femininity where women are under the authority of men. These beliefs are in turn the ones that show through in the text. The feminine role in "The Letters of Abelard and Heloise" is submissive, obedient, and steadfast.
The recurring images of women in the two texts are similar but they have their differences as well. These literary masterpieces are similarly unique because they show women who defy the social mores of their time. Cleopatra and Heloise are both complex characters that symbolize femininity. Sex, manipulation, selfishness, and dramatic interactions are all present in both pieces of literature, yet they are portrayed in different ways through Cleopatra and Heloise.