Cleopatra the femme fatale
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Cleopatra the Femme Fatale. The Fatal Cleopatra. The fact that Cleopatra was fatal to Antony was a commonplace even in the Augustan period. Octavian declared war on Cleopatra and his propaganda portrayed Antony as helplessly under the Queen's spell.

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Cleopatra the Femme Fatale

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Cleopatra the femme fatale

Cleopatra the Femme Fatale

The fatal cleopatra

The Fatal Cleopatra

  • The fact that Cleopatra was fatal to Antony was a commonplace even in the Augustan period. Octavian declared war on Cleopatra and his propaganda portrayed Antony as helplessly under the Queen's spell.

  • As we go forward in time, we have seen portrayals like Dryden's in which Cleopatra is the cause of "The World Well Lost."

  • Cleopatra was always acknowledged as being fatal to others as well. The tradition that she tested poisons on condemned prisoners goes back to antiquity.



  • It is in the Romantic period that Cleopatra's cruelty and sexuality merge. The prime period for killer Cleopatras was from the defeat of Napoleon to the beginning of WWI, a time of peace in which, as Freud notes "life is impoverished, it loses in interest, when the highest stake in the game of living, life itself, may not be risked." This idea perhaps explains to some extent the fascination with the vicarious danger offered by stories of the fatal Cleopatra.



  • In 1825, Alexander Pushkin revived a neglected story that Cleopatra demanded a man's life as the price for a night in her bed (and all of the killer Cleopatras derive from this one ancient source, the 4th c. AD historian Sextus Aurelius Victor who includes this brief anecdote: "she was so lustful that she often prostituted herself, and so beautiful that many men paid with their lives for a night with her."

  • The story may have been canonical invective. Diodorus says the same thing about Semiramis.

Alexander pushkin egyptian nights cleopatra

Alexander Pushkin, Egyptian Nights, “Cleopatra”

At last the Queen pronounces, lifting

Her brow again, with cloudless gaze:

“Is not my love your dreamed-of treasure?

Well – you may buy such bliss divine.

Hear me! This night it is my pleasure

To grant you equal right to mine.

Behold the marketplace of passion!

For sale is now my love divine;

Who dares to barter in this fashion

His life against one night of mine?”

Thus she. All hearts are set aflutter

By passion blent with dreadful qualm.

To their abashed and doubtful mutter

She listens with a brazen calm.

Her scornful glances sweep the verges

Of her admirers’ silent throng …

There – of a sudden one emerges,

Two others follow soon along.

Their step is bold, their eyes unclouded;

The Queen arises to their stride;

Three nights are bought: the couch is shrouded

For deadly raptures at her side.

At last the Queen pronounces, lifting

Her brow again, with cloudless gaze:

“Is not my love your dreamed-of treasure?

Well – you may buy such bliss divine.

Hear me! This night it is my pleasure

To grant you equal right to mine.

Behold the marketplace of passion!

For sale is now my love divine;

Who dares to barter in this fashion

His life against one night of mine?”

Thus she. All hearts are set aflutter

By passion blent with dreadful qualm.

To their abashed and doubtful mutter

She listens with a brazen calm.

Her scornful glances sweep the verges

Of her admirers’ silent throng …

There – of a sudden one emerges,

Two others follow soon along.

Their step is bold, their eyes unclouded;

The Queen arises to their stride;

Three nights are bought: the couch is shrouded

For deadly raptures at her side. 

Murderous cleopatra

Murderous Cleopatra

  • Others even adapt the ancient tradition: in 1775 the Italian playwright Vittorio Alfieri has Cleopatra kill Antony so that she may more easily seduce Octavian, demonstrating the ultimate cold and calculating pursuit of self-preservation (or in another version she deliberately causes the defeat at Actium to insure Antony's allegiance).

  • Alexandre Soumet in his Tragedie de Cleopatre (1824) invents an episode in which Cleopatra murders Octavia and terrorizes her son. This descent into general mayhem not only departs from the ancient sources but also radically changes the characterization of Cleopatra, making her more of a villain than a powerful individual pressed by extreme circumstances.

Cleopatra s male victims

Cleopatra’s male victims

  • These blatantly villainous Cleopatras tend to be the exception. More often in the Romantic period, Cleopatra's male victims long for their own ruin.

  • This idea, however, is no less shaped by misogyny (although it is an oversimplification to say that the femme fatale is simply a projection of misogyny; rather it seems that undercurrents of misogyny shape and more importantly give these portrayals credence with the audience).

Cleopatra as a character

Cleopatra as a character

  • The word character has 2 senses: in the dramatic sense, a character in a play; in the moral sense, to have character, to be moral

  • We tend to assume that a character will have consistency. As we saw with Shakespeare, this does not necessarily apply to Cleopatra: she defies definition; she is not one character but many; she is a gendered figure who gives the lie to gender or at least to the outmoded notions of gender adhered to by the other characters in the play.

Character analysis

Character analysis

  • These fatal Cleopatras often are linked to contemporary notions of and prejudices about female roles. Heinrich Heine in 1891 in “Shakespeare's Maidens and Women”:

    • “It is a mistake to think that women when they betray us have ceased to love. They only follow their inborn nature: and if they will not empty the forbidden cup, they like at least a sip from it, or lick the brim just to see what poison tastes like. ... Yes, this Cleopatra is a woman in the blessedest and cursedest sense of the word! ... [Cleopatra was one of those wives who] torment and bless their titular spouses with love.”

The female perspective

The female perspective

  • Contemporary society however has another influence on how Cleopatra is seen: the growing feminist movement provides a model for Cleopatra in the woman who asserts her independence by refusing to marry. A biographical dictionary (1844) betrays this anxiety:

    • “[Cleopatra's worst failing was that] she never learnt to see her own glory in that of the object of her choice; she persisted in placing herself first, before her beloved, and that, in a woman, is a serious fault.”

  • In a novel by Rider Haggard, Cleopatra calls marriage "the iron link of enforced, unchanging union" and exclaims "Marriage! I to marry! I to forget freedom and court the worst slavery of our sex!"

    • This is quite a departure from the Cleopatra's we have seen in Dryden and Shakespeare who may say that they do not want the status of wife but in fact long for it.

Cleopatra and gender

Cleopatra and gender

  • Despite sexist readings, the fatal Cleopatra is more complex. She is an ambiguous image, as much desired as she is feared.

  • Gautier describes Cleopatra thus as she has each lover killed after a night of passion: "Sublime cruelty! ... Great sensualist, how well you knew human nature, and what profound wisdom there is in this barbarous act!”

  • A Freudian interpretation suggests further gender-bending: perhaps the men in these relationships, given their masochistic desires are placed in a "female" situation of desiring to be the passive partner.

  • Generally, however, the fatal Cleopatra is loved despite (and indeed because of) her antisocial qualities, loved by the characters who play opposite her and by the authors and artists who portray her.

Swinburne cleopatra 1866

Swinburne, “Cleopatra” (1866)

  • I.

  • Her mouth is fragrant as a vine,

  • A vine with birds in all its boughs;

  • Serpent and scarab for a sign

  • Between the beauty of her brows

  • And the amorous deep lids divine.

  • II.

  • Her great curled hair makes luminous

  • Her cheeks, her lifted throat and chin.

  • Shall she not have the hearts of us

  • To shatter, and the loves therein

  • To shed between her fingers thus?

  • III.

  • Small ruined broken strays of light,

  • Pearl after pearl she shreds them through

  • Her long sweet sleepy fingers, white

  • As any pearl’s heart veined with blue,

  • And soft as dew on a soft night.

  • IV.

  • As if the very eyes of love

  • Shone through her shutting lids, and stole

  • The slow looks of a snake or dove;

  • As if her lids absorbed the whole

  • Of love, her soul the soul thereof.

  • V.

  • Lost, all the lordly pearls that were

  • Wrung from the sea’s heart, from the green

Swinburne cleopatra 18661

Swinburne, “Cleopatra” (1866)

  • Coasts of the Indian gulf-river;

  • Lost, all the loves of the world – so keen

  • Towards this queen for love of her.

  • VI

  • You see against her throat the small

  • Sharp glittering shadows of them shake;

  • And through her hair the imperial

  • Curled likeness of the river snake,

  • Whose bite shall make an end of all.

  • VII

  • Through the scales sheathing him like wings,

  • Through hieroglyphs of gold and gem,

  • The strong sense of her beauty stings,

  • Like a keen pulse of love in them,

  • A running flame through all his rings.

  • VIII

  • Under those low large lids of hers

  • She hath the histories of all time;

  • The fruit of foliage-stricken years;

  • The old seasons with their heavy chime

  • That leaves its rhyme in the world’s ears.

  • IX

  • She sees the heart of death made bare,

  • The ravelled riddle of the skies,

  • The faces faded that were fair,

  • The mouths made speechless that were wise,

  • The hollow eyes and dusty hair;

Swinburne cleopatra 18662

Swinburne, “Cleopatra” (1866)

  • X

  • The shape and shadow of mystic things,

  • Things that fate fashions or forbids;

  • The staff of time-forgotten kings

  • Whose name falls off the Pyramids,

  • Their coffin-lids and grave-clothings.

  • XI

  • Dank dregs, the scum of pool or clod,

  • God-spawn of lizard-footed clans,

  • And those dog-headed hulks that trod

  • Swart necks of the old Egyptians,

  • Raw draughts of man’s beginning God;

  • XII

  • The poised hawk, quivering ere he smote,

  • With plume-like gems on breast and back;

  • The asps and water-worms afloat

  • Between the rush-flowers moist and slack;

  • The cat’s warm black bright rising throat.

  • XIII

  • The purple days of drouth expand

  • Like a scroll opened out again;

  • The molten heaven drier than sand,

  • The hot red heaven without rain,

  • Sheds iron pain on the empty land.

  • XIV

  • All Egypt aches in the sun’s sight;

  • The lips of men are harsh for drouth,

  • The fierce air leaves their cheeks burnt white,

  • Charred by the bitter blowing south,

  • Whose dusty mouth is sharp to bite.

  • XV

  • All this she dreams of, and her eyes

  • Are wrought after the sense hereof.

Swinburne cleopatra 18663

Swinburne, “Cleopatra” (1866)

  • There is no heart in her for sighs;

  • The face of her is more than love -

  • A name above the Ptolemies.

  • XVI

  • Her great grave beauty covers her

  • As that sleek spoil beneath her feet

  • Clothed once the anointed soothsayer;

  • The hallowing is gone forth from it

  • Now, made unmeet for priests to wear.

  • XVII

  • She treads on gods and god-like things,

  • On fate and fear and life and death,

  • On hate that cleaves and love that clings,

  • All that is brought forth of man’s breath

  • And perisheth with what it brings.


  • She holds her future close, her lips

  • Hold fast the face of things to be;

  • Actium, and sound of war that dips

  • Down the blown valleys of the sea,

  • Far sails that flee, and storms of ships;

  • XIX

  • The laughing red sweet mouth of wine

  • At ending of life’s festival;

  • That spice of cerecloths, and the fine

  • White bitter dust funereal

  • Sprinkled on all things for a sign;

  • XX

  • His face, who was and was not he,

  • In whom, alive, her life abode;

  • The end, when she gained heart to see

  • Those ways of death wherein she trod,

  • Goddess by god, with Antony.

Frederick sandys cleopatra 1866

Frederick Sandys, “Cleopatra” (1866)

Swinburne on michelangelo s drawing of cleopatra

Swinburne on Michelangelo’s drawing of Cleopatra

  • “The subtle and sublime idea which transforms her death by the aspic's bite into a meeting of serpents which recognize and embrace, an encounter between the woman and the worm of the Nile, almost as though this match for death were a monstrous love-match ... so closely do the snake and the queen of snakes caress and cling. ... For what indeed is lovelier or more luxuriously loving than a strong and graceful snake of the nobler kind?”

Michelangelo, “Cleopatra” (1553-1554)

Killer cleopatras conclusions

Killer Cleopatras: Conclusions

  • As for the character of these killer-Cleopatras: they are untamed and animal-like in that they seem to rely on natural instincts, however taboo, and to be incapable of emotions such as tenderness and pity. These Cleopatras often condemn their victims to death and then disregard the sacrifice, in some accounts being to busy to watch the execution or, as in the Cabanel painting, watching but remaining aloof. There, she seems consumed by boredom and not even the drama of life and death can stimulate her senses. Ironically, she represents for her victims what she cannot attain for herself.

  • We have seen the Cleopatra in the Middle Ages who became great when she killed herself. In the Romantic period Cleopatra offered men the opportunity to prove their own greatness by allowing themselves to be killed by her.

Cabanel, “Cleopatra”


Shaw s caesar and cleopatra

Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra

Shaw s prologue

Shaw’s Prologue

  • Spoken by the god Ra

    • Subject: old Rome and new Rome

  • Pompey the soldier represents old Rome: military achievement is the way to virtue

  • Caesar represents the new Rome: "any man with wit enough could become what he would"; Caesar was a politician

  • Caesar broke the law of old Rome and Pompey upheld it: civil war resulted

  • Oppositions:

    • Old rome/new rome

    • Mankind/gods

    • Pompey/Caesar

    • Old england/New England

  • Moral: beware if you are the type who would like to be Pompey

  • Ra mocks the audience and frustrates their expectations: if they have come for a tale of an unchaste woman they will be disappointed because Cleopatra is still a child and the play will tell them the story of Caesar for the good of their souls.

    • What kind of comment on Shakespeare is this dismissive treatment of Cleopatra?

    • What about the characterization of Cleopatra? Will she grow up to be Shakespeare's Cleopatra?

Shaw background

Shaw: Background

  • b. 1856 Dublin

  • Shaw became a socialist disciple: he was the force behind the Fabian Society founded in 1884 (a middle class socialist group that aimed at the transformation of English society not through revolution but through "permeation" [Sidney Webb's tem] of the nation's intellectual and political life).

  • Permeation: attempting to push through Fabian policies by converting persons of power and influence irrespective of their political affiliations

  • Through the Fabians Shaw assisted in the birth of the Labour Party in 1893

  • Labour Party: major democratic socialist party in Britain since early in the 20th c. Historical links with trade unions led it to promote an active role for the state in the creation of economic prosperity and the provision of social services.

George Bernard Shaw

Shaw as literary and cultural critic

Shaw as literary and cultural critic

  • He also carried on a campaign to displace the artificialities and hypocrisies of the Victorian stage with a theater of vital ideas. It required the unmasking of "Bardolatry" as Shaw described the pompous and reverential portrayal of Shakespeare whom he admired beyond all other dramatists but whose words he insisted were not holy writ but only lines for players to speak. It required a contemporary drama of wit and substance to replace the melodramas and farces which were the staple of the commercial theater but other than the comedies of Wilde and the dramas of Ibsen there was little around which Shaw could rally.

  • To the outside world he was ruthless as a critic, devastating in wit, irreverent about people, careless of feelings, impudent toward convention, iconoclastic toward institutions, hyperbolic for effect, cold-blooded about politics

  • Perhaps we can see in Shaw 2 new Englands--the one that was emerging (British empire) and the vision Shaw championed (socialist)

Caesar and cleopatra

Caesar and Cleopatra

  • Written 1898; performed 1901

  • Shaw's first attempt at a play of Shakespearean scope for a heroic actor

  • By choosing a 16 year old Cleopatra rather than the 38 year old temptress of Antony and a Caesar in Egypt who has not yet been enticed into the domestic demagoguery against which Brutus reacts, Shaw seemingly evades the "better than Shakespear?" challenge of his preface

  • His feline Cleopatra however is a logical precursor to Shakespeare's voluptuous one and Shaw's aging Caesar (as much philosopher as soldier in this mentor-disciple play) is meant to be a study in credible magnanimity and original morality rather than a superhuman hero on a stage pedestal: in Shaw's words a hero "in whom we can recognize our own humanity"

  • Caesar and Cleopatra is a serio-comic chronicle play which rises to prose-poetic eloquence and wisdom; it may be the best theatrical work written in English in the 19th c.

Other ways of seeing the play

Other ways of seeing the play

  • Caesar and Cleopatra can also be seen as a military melodrama that asks us to think about violence and justice

  • Also a religious allegory dramatizing the conflict between Old Testament and New Testament morality

  • Even the exotic setting is part of the pattern: where unpleasant plays conjure the gloom of city slums and pleasant plays conjure the sunshine of parks, the plays for puritans take place on remote imperial frontiers where what passes for civilization clashes with what is conventionally regarded as barbarism

  • Egypt under Roman occupation becomes a proving ground for the conflict between the subhuman and superhuman elements in man's nature

Shaw and heroism

Shaw and heroism

  • We see Shaw attempting to define his idea of heroism

  • The popular view of Caesar in Anglo-Saxon countries is a hostile one: Caesar as a usurping tyrant who seized political power for selfish ends (Plutarch and Shakespeare, Lucan too)

  • But there is a heroic view also (Dante has Brutus share with Judas a place in the jaws of Satan)

  • Plutarch: Caesar as a great subversive who plotted to overthrow the Roman Republic but Plutarch makes him a great man

  • Shakespeare's Julius Caesar however is a petty self-glorifier while Brutus is exalted

Shaw and politics

Shaw and Politics

  • Shaw saw himself as a Republican in that he preferred the American and French systems of government to the feudalism of prewar Russia, Germany and Austria

  • Caesar's remark: "were Rome a True republic then were Caesar the first of republicans"

  • Shaw's admiration of Caesar is not at odds with his democratic socialism

  • Caesar's championing of the populace against the patricians in the class war made him anathema to Lucan, Suetonius, and Shakespeare but the 19th c. historiographers reacting against the aristocratic feudalism hailed Caesar as the long overdue reformer of an outmoded constitution

  • Hence the admiration of Caesar in Goethe, Hegel, Mommsen

  • Shaw's play is permeated with Mommsen's anti-aristocratic and anti-constitutional point of view

  • The soldier's prologue ridicules the snobbish pretensions of the royal guard whose class prejudices and chivalric code limit their effectiveness as fighters

  • The Ra prologue in its devastating judgment of Pompey echoes the scorn Mommsen pours on the legalism and political myopia of pomp

  • Shaw further extends the criticism to Egypt's rulers

Caesar s rome and imperialist england

Caesar’s Rome and Imperialist England

  • For Roman historian Warde Fowler, Julius Caesar and the foundation of the Roman imperial system show how Roman capitalism had by Caesar's day spread from Italy to the whole Mediterranean world

  • For Fowler, Caesar's greatest achievement was the replacement of a self seeking city oligarchy by a genuine imperial system providing the foundation for modern civilization

  • This idea lies behind the Ra prologue

  • The Egyptian god represents the zeitgeist or spirit of the time and castigates modern Britain for following way of Rome at home and abroad and hails Caesar as one man who has risen above the level of exploiters to grasp the necessity for change.

Shaw s caesar and evolution

Shaw’s Caesar and Evolution

  • Shaw's Caesar is not a reformer of codes but a man who has outgrown them; he stands for evolutionary progress (cf. Darwin reference in Caesar description at end of play)

  • Shaw on Caesar's writings in “Notes”

    • "they reveal some of his qualities just as the voyage of a naturalist round the world reveals some of Darwin's without expressing his private personality.”

  • Caesar wrote books of travel and campaign histories in a style so impersonal that he refers to himself in the third person. They reveal some of his qualities just as the Voyage of a Naturalist Round the World reveals some of Darwin's, without expressing his private personality.

  • Doing what he wants to do he serves humanity or as Shaw puts it "having virtue he has no need of goodness"

Caesar good or bad

Caesar: Good or Bad?

  • We could see Shaw's Caesar as a plunderer, destroyer of national freedom, tyrant, condoner of incest, reveler, hypocrite, dandy, and in the library burning episode a soldier callously indifferent to literature and history, a type of anti-Christ

  • But: it would be equally easy on the basis of his paternal kindness, freedom from resentment, horror of treachery, devotion to followers, and paraphrase of the sermon on the mount to make him a type of Christ

  • Shaw is not trying to establish one or the other as the true Caesar but to show that this kind of moralizing is childish name calling whose categories any clever writer can invert at will

  • But Caesar is like Nietzsche's great man: he has a loneliness in his heart neither praise nor blame can reach, courage even for unholy means

  • Loneliness expressed in Caesar's opening soliloquy

Rome vs egypt

Rome vs. Egypt

  • In Shaw's play Caesar stands for humanity in its highest development and Cleopatra for untamed natural passion

  • Aggressive and greedy Romans are likened to monsters, bulls and dogs

  • Feminine and treacherous Egyptians are catlike and snakelike

Cleopatra on egyptians

Cleopatra on Egyptians…

  • CLEOPATRA: My great-grandmother's great-grandmother was a black kitten of the sacred white cat; and the river Nile made her his seventh wife. That is why my hair is so wavy. And I always want to be let do as I like, no matter whether it is the will of the gods or not: that is because my blood is made with Nile water.

“Caesar and Cleopatra” (1945) starring Vivien Leigh

And Claude Rains

And romans

…And Romans

  • CLEOPATRA: Oh, they would eat us if they caught us. They are barbarians. Their chief is called Julius Caesar. His father was a tiger and his mother a burning mountain; and his nose is like an elephant's trunk. [Caesar involuntarily rubs his nose]. They all have long noses, and ivory tusks, and little tails, and seven arms with a hundred arrows in each; and they live on human flesh.

Caesar s character

Caesar’s Character

  • Caesar is kind to Romans and Egyptians but it is the sort of kindness you show another species

  • Shaw's and Shakespeare's Caesar are simply 2 different men though their Cleopatras are recognizably the same woman

  • Shaw's point: Cleopatra's temperament was formed at early age since it is a kind of arrested development

  • Shaw goes beyond Shakespeare in emphasizing Cleopatra's murderous and sadistic side because of Shaw's attempt to present what might be called the dynastic view of Cleopatra

  • Historically Ptolemaic kings and queens showed brutality in disposing of relatives close to the throne and Shaw seems to have thought Cleopatra a typical Ptolemy in this respect

  • After Caesar influences her she changes only her external manner. In a deeper sense he has not influenced her and she remains ambivalent towards him wanting his fatherly approval but also longing to be free of his paternal surveillance

Shaw s caesar

Shaw’s Caesar

  • In Shaw, Egypt is real and Rome a fantasy world, refuting Shakespeare's portrayal of Alexandria as a fantasy world

  • And Caesar is a species unto himself

  • CAESAR: Sphinx, you and I, strangers to the race of men, are no strangers to one another: have I not been conscious of you and of this place since I was born? Rome is a madman's dream: this is my Reality. These starry lamps of yours I have seen from afar in Gaul, in Britain, in Spain, in Thessaly, signaling great secrets to some eternal sentinel below, whose post I never could find.

What is caesar

What is Caesar?

  • So if he isn't Roman, Egyptian, even man at all, or accessible through his words, what is he?

  • Something entirely new: like Shakespeare's Antony, Shaw's Caesar doesn't fit in at Rome or Egypt

  • Old and new apply to Rome and Egypt and to England as well and also align with the Old and New Testaments

  • CAESAR: Can Rome do less that slay these slayers, too, to shew the world how Rome avenges her sons and her honor. And so, to the end of history, murder shall breed murder, always in the name of right and honor and peace, until the gods are tired of blood and create a race that can understand.

Uniqueness of shaw s caesar

Uniqueness of Shaw’s Caesar

  • How is Shaw's Caesar different from those we have seen?

  • Politically

  • In Caesar and Cleopatra Shaw is preoccupied with questions of just and good leadership

  • Influenced by Shaw's own politics

  • He believed that the human species had not evolved perceptively within historic time and that civilization had reached the point at which empires have always broken down; the British empire was showing signs of breaking down because the management of the empire overtaxed the political capacity of it's human units

  • The remedy: a new sort of man (can be taken as an argument for eugenics)

Shaw vs shakespeare

Shaw vs. Shakespeare

  • Caesar and Cleopatra was one of "three puritan plays"

  • Shaw objected to making sexual infatuation a tragic theme and to the glorification of immoral behavior

  • A major motive for the play: the feeling of the inadequacy of Shakespeare's dramatization of Julius Caesar and at the same time Caesar and Cleopatra was penned as a protest vs. Antony and Cleopatra.

  • From the preface:

    • Shakespear's Antony and Cleopatra must needs be as intolerable to the true Puritan as it is vaguely distressing to the ordinary healthy citizen because after giving a faithful picture of the soldier broken down by debauchery and the typical wanton in whose arms such men perish, Shakespear finally strains all his huge command of rhetoric and stage pathos to give a theatrical sublimity to the wretched end of the business, and to persuade foolish spectators that the world was well lost by the twain.

  • Of course it was Dryden who said the world was well lost but Shaw takes issue with Shakespeare's foregrounding of romantic love by not showing a specifically sexual relationship between Caesar and Cleopatra and ignoring Caesar's reputation as a womanizer, Cleopatra's visit to Rome, and Caesarion

Shaw and reception

Shaw and Reception

  • Shaw was aware of his own status as a receiver of the tale of Cleopatra, that his perspective was shaped by his own historical context

  • From the preface: "and the playgoer may reasonably ask to have historical events and persons presented to him in the light of his own time, even though Homer and Shakespear have already shewn them in the light of their time. For example, Homer presented Achilles and Ajax as heroes to the world in the Iliad. In due time came Shakespear, who said, virtually: I really cannot accept this spoilt child and this brawny fool as great men merely because Homer flattered them in playing to the Greek gallery. Consequently we have in Troilus and Cressida the verdict of Shakespear's epoch…on the pair. This did not in the least involve any pretense on Shakespear's part to be a greater poet than Homer."

Shakes vs shav 1949

Shakes vs. Shav (1949)

  • Shaw even wrote script for a puppet play to go with puppets of himself and Shakespeare sent to him by the greatest puppet master of the time.

  • The 2 playwrights confront each other and gently challenge the greatness of each other's works. Shaw reaffirms his evolutionary optimism in the face of Shakespeare's alleged pessimism. They even debate each other's lines as in Aristophanes' Frogs

  • There are specific echoes of Antony and Cleopatra throughout Caesar and Cleopatra

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