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Why is Cleopatra such an enduring figure? Essay

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‘The Life of Marcus Antonius,’ written by Plutarch, was the source used by Shakespeare to create the play of Antony and Cleopatra. Plutarch was a Greek, writing in the first century, and his work on ‘The life of Marcus Antonius’ was a reflection of the similar lives of the Greeks and Romans. He hints that, although he had accepted Rome as the ruler of Greece, he insisted Greece being a more sophisticated culture of the two. Reasons were because Plutarch gave his characters positive and negative attributes, emphasising more on their way of thinking, rather than their nationality.

In doing this, Plutarch is seen to be able to be a fairer judge of character, as his eyes aren’t hindered by a different culture or race. Using Plutarch’s work, other writers were able to use his work, and were able to create more characters, in order to emphasise Cleopatra’s influence and make her more dramatic in her actions. Shakespeare being no exception, as his version of Antony and Cleopatra shows these modifications, as his alterations made Plutarchs work more acceptable, in modern English.

Cleopatra seems to be such an enduring figure in her sexual nature. This sexual nature causes people around her to be almost dazed, such as is seen in Antony. He is part of the Triumvirate – one of three pillars, which supports the largest empire in the world – the Roman Empire. However, Cleopatra’s sexual nature is so intense that it overpowers Antony’s emotions, so much that he rejects his immense power over the world. Antony exclaims, “Let Rome in Tiber melt, my space is here”, showing the effect Cleopatra has on him.

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Antony is seen as one of Rome’s greatest leaders, and an excellent commander at war. However, when fighting Caesar, he opts for Cleopatra’s wishes to fight at sea, rather than his own instinct through his wisdom to fight on land. Cleopatra’s influence over Antony is then seen to cloud his judgement, what is referred to as blind love. This causes many of Antony’s soldiers to realise that their interests aren’t being considered, especially Enobarbus who, realising this, decides to side with Caesar.

Because of Cleopatra’s influence over Antony, blind decisions are made which make Antony’s downfall inevitable. Cleopatra seems to have endured because, in all of Shakespeare’s plays, she has had the largest role of any female character. Shakespeare allows Cleopatra to have as big a part in the play as Antony, thus making Cleopatra a famous and unusual woman of her time. In this I mean that in the 19th century, the role of a woman was completely different to now, as women weren’t seen, as Cleopatra is – powerful and influential.

Cleopatra has great power over other people, through both her sexual tenacity and her fiery temperament. However, Cleopatra would be seen today as an ordinary woman, as women are now deemed as equals to men. This was not the case in the 19th century, as men played a larger part in society than women. To see a third of the largest empire in the world in the hands of a woman was impossible in the 19th century. This made Antony and Cleopatra almost scandalous to its Elizabethan audience, making it very interesting and desirable for its audience.

Shakespeare also shows that attention brought upon Cleopatra was because she wasn’t a woman of her time, but of the future. The Elizabethan audience had not experienced such behaviour, as it was not acceptable. For us, however, this is seen on a regular basis, as it is part of society. Shakespeare could also be pointing out that women also should have the right to think freely, and choose their own destinies. Thus, Cleopatra is seen as a woman who is choosing her own path, and is in control of herself, and over people around her.

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