Cleopatra was one of the first females to be acknowledged as a tremendous leader. She is prominent for providing the fixity for her country Egypt with the help of coinciding with the most mighty and vigorous nation at that time, meaning the Roman Empire. Moreover, Cleopatra was the last Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt. Within the majority notorious females who have ever lived, Cleopatra VII is the one who governed Egypt for twenty-two years. She forfeited her country at one moment, then retrieved it, afterward almost lost it again, comforted the empire, and lost it all. Thus, Cleopatra was an object of contemplations and worship, gossip and retelling, even in her own time. At the height of her power, she maintained practically the whole eastern Mediterranean coast, the last potent and powerful kingdom of any Egyptian ruler. Furthermore, for a fleeting moment, she held the fate of the Western world in her hands.
Cleopatra has met a wide range of her character interpretations during the history due to the fact of being the complicated person inherently. It is obvious that Cleopatra VII, being a strong woman due to her great acumen and political savoir-faire, utilized everything in order to model her figure to suit the best interests of her nations. She was an immense temptress, who utilized both her charm and invincible individuals in order to entice the two great Roman emperors – Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. Cleopatra practically sacrificed her personal life in order to make Egypt one of the most vigorous countries, even being seriously influenced by the Roman Empire. Stacy Schiff believes that “two thousand years of bad press and overheated prose, or film and opera, cannot conceal the fact that Cleopatra was a remarkably capable queen, canny and opportunistic in the extreme, strategist of the first rank” (303). In fact, she boldly and bodily inserted herself into the world of politics. Schiff believes that “there was glamour and grandeur to her story well before Shakespeare got his hands on it’ (303). Cleopatra was a humane incarnation of Egypt to such extent that she incorporated its diversity and broad inner discrepancies. Cleopatra actually represents an all-inclusive potentiality, which embraces the feminine and masculine, refusing to be subsumed by one or the other. Perhaps the most famous dichotomy concerning Cleopatra is the combination of the manipulative temptress as opposed to the experienced ruler. However, the process of exploring the depreciative history of the character of Cleopatra has revealed that intelligentsia of the 19th century and early 20th century viewed her as merely a subject of sexualism that could be comprehended and humiliated. They did not observe her as a person capable to impose authority with serious balance and capability for governance. In fact, William Shakespeare dedicated the whole play in order to depict the relationships between Cleopatra and Antony. However, Cleopatra has a ‘tragic hero” status of the play, therefore, she is neither masculine nor feminine, but contrary to that designates herself with the help of dramatic and scenic spectacle and settles her impermanent personality within the volatile domain of counterfeit dramatics. Stacy Schiff demonstrates that the relationships between Cleopatra and Antony were based both on pragmatism and intimacy (103), which Shakespeare demonstrated in Cleopatra’s cunning nature, jealousy and acting. At the beginning of the play, Philo laments to Demetrius concerning the fact that Antony has retained his marital responsibilities and obligations and has gained a bad repute due to his affair with Cleopatra. Philo believes that “those his goodly eyes/ That o’er the files and musters of the war/Have glow’d like plated Mars, now bend, now turn/ The office and devotion of their view/Upon a tawny front” (1.1.2-5). The similar description of Cleopatra is presented within the entire play, including “wrangling queen” (1.4.10), “slave” (1.4.19), and “Egyptian dish” (Shakespeare 2.6.123). Historians believe that Antony as a great Roman general would have come to such a bad end if it had not been for the women in his life. In fact, Fulvia and Cleopatra (even more so) were his evil geniuses (Virlouvet 66). Cleopatra knows that Antony is highly interested in her and imposes Antony to describe how much he loves her with the words “if it is love indeed tell me how much” (Shakespeare 1.1.15). During the whole play, when Cleopatra is the main character of the scene, she performs an actress, agitating her predilection, affliction, and insult to the most spectacular and appealing degree. At the time when Cleopatra tells pleasant and tender words of love to Antony, all the emotions are beyond their limits. Therefore, Antony once told Cleopatra that she as a woman is the one “whom everything becomes – to chide, to laugh/ to weep” (Shakespeare 1.1.51-52). It is explained by her ability to be the perfect embodiment of all things, including beauty, ugliness, virtue, and vice. Shakespeare represents her as a very jealous character. Therefore, Shakespeare demonstrated that Cleopatra is able to apply all of her astuteness and craftiness to make Antony think about her all the time. For instance, she asked her servant to find Antony: “See where he is, who’s with him, what he does/ I did not send you: if you find him sad/ Say I am dancing; if in mirth, report/ That I am sudden sick: quick, and return” (Shakespeare 1.3.296-300). The acting nature of Cleopatra is depicted with the help of pretending in order to tie him closely to herself by tenderness and compassion. For instance, she pretended to be “sick and sullen” (Shakespeare I.III.311).
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Shakespeare’s play made Cleopatra particularly notable for her strong and sexual relationships with the world’s most powerful men. Shakespeare demonstrates that she is a woman for whom sexual relations are not the submissions, but a testament of her own glory. She is demonstrated as an earthy and sensual woman. On the other hand, Plutarch depicted Cleopatra as “a terrible and manipulative woman” (Plutarch 655), who even goes as far as to poison men for the sake of research. It means that she was testing different types of the poison of prisoners to see its effect on them. Plutarch blamed Cleopatra for everything that goes wrong for Antony and her love is called sweet poison. She is believed to be the one who caused his ruin and Antony actually deprived and betrayed his people for her sake. Thus, she holds more blame for Antony’s betrayal of his own people, than he does himself (Plutarch 657). Nevertheless, Shakespeare treated the item of Cleopatra’s responsibility for Antony’s destruction in a very different way. It becomes obvious in a conversation between Cleopatra and Enobarbus, when she asks whether she is really at fault while Enobarbus answers that: “what though you fled/from that great face of war/ why should he follow” (Shakespeare 3.3.4-6). Moreover, he adds that “’twas a shame no less/that his loss, to course your flying flags/and leave hiss navy gazing” (Shakespeare 3.3.10-12). Thus, Cleopatra is portrayed in a much more sympathetic way in Shakespeare’s play, she receives less blame and more compassion.
Thus, to conclude, it is important to state that too many “bad press” surrounded the image of Cleopatra for two thousand years. Moreover, these reading did not only provide the history of her life, but also the evaluations and conclusions concerning her nature and actions. It prevents the overall understanding of the reasons for her actions and the complexity of her life and destiny. However, even these readings cannot undermine her role as a remarkably capable queen.
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