The Contrast of Character Between Cleopatra and Octavia Essay

The Contrast of Character Between Cleopatra and Octavia Essay

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Abstract

Between the characters of Octavia and Cleopatra there exists a "moral contrast" (Bree 110) -a conflict of Roman ideals and Cleopatra's foreignness. Throughout the tradition of Cleopatra, authors, including Plutarch, Shakespeare, Dryden, and Fielding, as well as filmmakers such as Mankiewicz, have separated Cleopatra from Rome and Octavia because of her combination of political power and sexuality: "The notion of Cleopatra that we have inherited identifies her primarily as being the adversary, the Other. Her otherness is twofold. She is an Oriental, and she is a woman…" (Hughes-Hallett 4). If Cleopatra represents the 'Other', then Octavia exemplifies Rome itself. She embodies all of the characteristics of a proper Roman wife: beauty, grace, wisdom, and above all obedience to her husband. Octavia is Antony's celebrated wife throughout the literature although their relationship is dispassionate, while Cleopatra's "otherness" prevents her from attaining the respectable title of Antony's wife despite their love. Octavia acts as a character foil for Cleopatra, highlighting Cleopatra's foreign nature and her sexuality, which the Romans find unattractive and unacceptable in the character of a woman.

Plutarch: The Life of Marcus Antonius

I begin my study of the comparison of Cleopatra and Octavia with Plutarch's The Life of Marcus Antonius, a so-called "historical text." Although Plutarch's writing is perhaps our most trusted source on Cleopatra, his "factual" manuscript is by no means unbiased. Plutarch, as we will see with Shakespeare, Mankiewicz, Dryden, and Fielding in the ensuing pages, presents Cleopatra as the opposite of Octavia. While Octavia represents the Roman ideal of a woman, Cleopatra is a self-seeking Egyp...


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...2013. Web. 26 June 2015.
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2062

Fielding, Sarah. The Lives of Cleopatra and Octavia. Kessinger Publishing, LLC, 2010. Web. 19 June 2015.
https://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/studies_in_english_literature/v039/39.3gadeken.html

Hughes-Hallett, Lucy. Cleopatra: histories, dreams, and distortions. New York: Harpercollins, 1991.

Loomba, Ania. Gender, race, Renaissance drama. Oxford University Press, 1992. Web. 9 June 2015.
http://www.jstor.org/stable/438273?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Plutarch. The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans. Excerpts from "The Life of Marcus Antonius." Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994. Gutenberg.org Web. 14 June 2015.
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/674

Shakespeare, William. Antony and Cleopatra. Ed. Barbara A. Mowat, and Ed. Paul Werstine. Simon & Schuster, 2005

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