In the tragic play Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare comments, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other word would smell as sweet” (2.1.85-86). A word can have many meanings depending on a person’s perspective. Cleopatra is a “rose” that has been depicted under many names. Throughout history numerous authors have sought to depict her character and their differing opinions have made her name one which resounds in very different ways. The Roman historian Plutarch created Cleopatra the political manipulator; John Dryden illustrated Cleopatra the ultimate sexual woman; George Bernard Shaw offered Cleopatra the uneducated impetuous young child-queen; and, Geoffrey Chaucer wrote of Cleopatra the martyr of love. The character of Cleopatra presented by Shakespeare is a complex combination of each of these traits and is thus the most memorable and meaningful depiction.
The Cleopatra that emerges from Plutarch’s writing is a manipulative and scheming political woman who dominates both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. In his Roman Lives, Plutarch offers a biased historical account of Mark Anthony with frequent references to Cleopatra. According to M.S. Mason, Plutarch does not fulfill his role as an objective historian and deliberately vilifies the character of Cleopatra (Mason). It is almost a completely negative portrayal of the Egyptian queen. She is referred to as a “charmer” (Waterfield 343) with “devastating effects on Caesar” (514). Her “eloquence [and] argumentative cunning” (382) are described as a means of drugging and bewitching her men (392). Plutarch describes one situation when Cleopatra is afraid of Octavia’s political power and she goes about weeping and starving herself to manipulate...
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...the Egyptian queen, it can be found in the character that emerges in Antony and Cleopatra.
Bernard Shaw, George. Three Plays for Puritans. London: Penguin Books Ltd., 2000.
Greenblatt, Stephen, ed. The Norton Shakespeare: Tragedies. New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc., 1997.
Helvarg, David. “Cleopatra: What Kind of a Woman Was She, Anyway?” American Theatre 14:4 (Apr. 1997): 5-8.
Jones, Chris. “Still Seductive After All These Years.” American Theatre 14.4 (Apr. 1997): 4.
Mason, M.S. “The Allure of Cleopatra.” Christian Science Monitor 93.297 (25 Jan. 2002): 13.
Noyes, George R., ed. Selected Dramas of John Dryden. Chicago: Scott, Foresman & Company, 1910.
Percival, Florence. Chaucer’s Legendary Good Women. New York: Cambridge UP, 1998.
Waterfield, Robin, trans. Plutarch: Roman Lives. New York: Oxford UP, 1999.
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