The fictional character of Cleopatra has captured the imaginations of people the world over. Helen of Troy was said to have had ‘the face that launched a thousand ships.’ Cleopatra was not simply a beautiful and passive face, but indeed commanded navies as well as the heart of the powerful Mark Antony. Looking at these two facts from the play one may see the political brilliance in her affections, but also the dichotomy. Which one of her loves is true, and which is of an illusory nature? There is a constant battle between her passion towards the mighty Roman and her yearning for sovereignty and the glory of Egypt on her own terms. This question certainly embroils the mind of Mark Antony, at least. All of this however, only adds to her enigmatic depth of character and mystique.
Cleopatra, despite being cunning and even manipulative can be defined as one of literature’s great lovers. She was a lover of men and a lover of her country. A figure more driven in these categories would be hard to find. Yet parallels can be drawn with Queen Elizabeth I of England. Both were ardent, patriotic leaders descended from powerful rulers (in the case of Elizabeth, Henry VIII, and in Cleopatra’s instance the Ptolemeic dynasty). Wielding great authority themselves, Cleopatra also used her charms as a courtesan to bend the wills of her political peers. Elizabeth used her unmarried status to manage numerous suitors to her political advantage. Their intelligence is another common trait. “Elizabeth’s linguistic ability is well attested, not only by her tutor Ascham, but by visitors to the English court who speak of precisely this facility in replying to ambassadors either i...
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...e. This simple carpenter preached transcendence and many believe he save the world by the surrender of his life. Cleopatra found release through surrendering as well. She broke the conflicting chains of passion, governance, and the other illusions of reality by surrendering her life.
Boyce, Charles. Shakespeare A to Z. Roundtable Press: New York, 1990
Chauveau, Michel. Egypt in the Age of Cleopatra. Cornell University Press: Ithaca and London, 1997
Falconer, Colin. When We Were Gods. Crown Publishers: New York, 2000
Greenblatt, Steven. ‘Antony and Cleopatra’. The Norton Shakespeare Tragedies. W.W. Norton & Company: New York, London, 1997
Neely, Carol Thomas. Broken Nuptials in Shakepeare’s Plays. University of Illinois Press: Urbana and Chicago, 1993
Smith, Marion Bodwell. Dualities in Shakespeare. University of Toronto Press, 1966
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