Egyptian culture strikes us with its richness.  One cannot stop but wonder about the mysterious life of ancient Egypt.  Directly associated with this history, Cleopatra, queen of Egypt, stands out in her idealism and strength of character. She is among the first and few women known and remembered for her accomplishments and power from as long ago as 51 B.C., when she became queen of Egypt.  Cleopatra is often depicted in art and literature by writers who admired her strength and by artists, her beauty.  Two of these writers are William Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw.  While Shakespeare introduces us to the mature queen of Egypt and portrays her relationship with Mark Antony in his play Antony and Cleopatra, written around 1606, Shaw shows us Cleopatra in her very young age, before she becomes a queen and her ties with Caesar in his play Caesar and Cleopatra, written in 1928.  In addition, we are given further understanding in an artistic representation of Cleopatra in the 1963 film Cleopatra, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz.  In these literary and artistic representations not only are we able to see the queen of Egypt as a powerful ruler but as a strong mother as well.

        In his play Caesar and Cleopatra, George Bernard Shaw introduces the reader to Cleopatra as a child.  She has no control over her decisions and her actions until Caesar arrives in Egypt and is able to transform Cleopatra’s character through his influence.  In the beginning of the play we know that Cleopatra’s father is dead, and there is a great rivalry between her and her brother, Ptolemy, about who should rule Egypt.  Caesar arrives intending  to conquer Egypt and meets the queen-to-be.  When they meet, Cleopatra is unaware that she is speaking to a Roman.  Caesar, taking advantage of the situation, with a kindly intention, encourages Cleopatra to speak to the Roman emperor.  This initial meeting is seen in more depth when they return to the palace, and Cleopatra is encouraged by Caesar to give orders to her nurse, Ftatateeta, of whom  she is most afraid as a surrogate mother figure.  When Ftatateeta yells at Cleopatra, Caesar asks her the following: “Is this how your servants know their places?” He then comments: “You are the Queen: send her away”(Shaw 105).   Cleopatra is yet unaware that she is in the presence of Caesar and is waiting in fear for his arrival.  Caesar continues to encourage her by saying: “If you fear Caesar, you are no true queen”(Shaw 106).  In this manner Shaw foreshadows the change in Cleopatra’s character throughout the play due to her relation with Caesar.

        Unlike in the later film Cleopatra, where Cleopatra’s relation with Caesar is a romantic one and where she bears his child, in Shaw’s play their relation is unclear.  Caesar seems to be a father figure who does not control Cleopatra, but rather helps her and shows her the right path.  She is inspired by him, and due to this, she gradually becomes more mature and capable of ruling Egypt.  This dramatic change is specifically seen when surrounded by her servants. One of them humorously tells Cleopatra that Caesar “makes you so terribly prosy and serious and learned and philosophical.  It is worse than being religious, at our ages”(Shaw 164).  While they are laughing she tells them to be quiet in a meaningful tone.  She then orders Pothinus, Ptolemy’s guardian, who is now Caesar’s prisoner to come in.  Cleopatra sees Pothinus as her rival in ruling Egypt. She believes that if Ptolemy rules Egypt, as a guardian of a king who is only ten years old, Pothinus will have control over Ptolemy as well as Egypt (Shaw 167).  When Pothinus tells her that she’s indeed changed, she answers: “Do you speak with Caesar every day for six months: and you will be changed”(Shaw165).  She then says:
When I was foolish, I did what I liked, except when Ftatateeta beat me; and even then I cheated her and did it by stealth.  Now that Caesar has made me wise, it is no use my liking or disliking: I do what must be done, and have no time to attend to myself.  That is not happiness; but it is greatness.  If Caesar were gone, I think I could govern the Egyptians; for what Caesar is to me, I am to the fools around me (Shaw 165).
This passage portrays Cleopatra’s maturity and her commitment to governing Egypt. Caesar has set an  example for her and prepared her to be a queen.  In the end Caesar departs for Rome, leaving Cleopatra behind as a ruler of Egypt.  Throughout the play, he seems to symbolize a father or figure of authority for Cleopatra and addresses her as “my child” quite often.

        In both plays about Cleopatra written by Shakespeare and Shaw as well as in the film by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Cleopatra is presented as very strong and powerful, equal to Caesar and Antony.  In Shaw’s play, Cleopatra’s growth is dramatic.  After being controlled by Ftatateeta, she is suddenly given a great deal of power by Caesar.  While her childish stubbornness and immaturity are still seen, in her determination as a queen she is fully capable of doing anything she wants.  When Pothinus tells Caesar that Cleopatra is waiting for Caesar to leave Egypt so that she can reign in Egypt alone, she gets very upset and denies it is so.  She then orders Ftatateeta to murder Pothinus, even though Caesar has ordered others not to do so, because it will cause war by the Egyptians.  Although Caesar is greatly angered by what has happened, Cleopatra admits that Pothinus “was slain by order of the Queen of Egypt.  I am not Julius Caesar the dreamer, who allows every slave to insult him”(Shaw 184).  Cleopatra is shown as quick in making crucial decisions and also as a fearless queen unlike in the beginning of the play where she is controlled by Ftatateeta and afraid of Caesar.

        Similarly in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, as well as in the film Cleopatra, Cleopatra is seen to have a great impact on Antony.  In the beginning of Antony and Cleopatra, we are introduced to the ongoing war between Octavian Caesar and Lepidus against Pompey.  Instead of being in Rome with Caesar and Lepidus as one of Rome’s three rulers, Antony is in Egypt, with Cleopatra.  In the opening scene of the play, Shakespeare portrays Antony’s weakness when it comes to his passion for Cleopatra.  One of Antony’s lieutenants comments to the other one about Antony:  “Take but good note, and you shall see in him/ The triple pillar of the world transformed/ Into a strumpet’s fool.  Behold and see” (Shakespeare I.i.10-20).  Although Antony finally decides to go back to Rome, he shortly returns to Egypt and becomes enemies with Octavian Caesar.  During their sea fight, Cleopatra insists on going along with Antony, even though he tells her that he will be distracted in her presence.  She then leaves during the fight, which causes Antony to follow her and leave his soldiers behind.  Antony’s response to her apology for doing so is that “Egypt, thou knew’st too well/ My heart to thy rudder tied by th’ strings,/ And thou shouldst tow me after “(Shakespeare III.xi.50-60).  In this example we see Antony’s weakness and Cleopatra’s strength in having such an influence on him.

 Artistic Portrayal

Caesar & Cleopatra             While Shakespeare and Shaw, along with other writers, present portraits of Cleopatra in literature, she is also depicted visually. Egyptian coins that have survived from around 36-34 BC include profile portraits of Antony and"Antico" by Pier Jacobo Alari Bonacolso Cleopatra.  Cleopatra’s profile, much like Antony’s, seems masculine.  Perhaps the artist wished to show her equivalence to Antony as a strong queen (Online).  Another visual representation of Cleopatra is a sculpture by the Italian artist, Pier Jacopo Alari Bonacolso, made around 1519.  This figure of Cleopatra does not seem to have any specifically Egyptian elements or jewelry.  The figure is very plain with one main element that stands out, the crown. Similarly, here the artist seems to highlight Cleopatra’s power as a queen.  In addition to this the figure is looking down. One gets the impression that she is brooding or guarding Egypt in a motherly manner (Online).  A similar sculpture is by William Wetmore Story, from 1869.  It is of Cleopatra sitting on her throne with a bare shoulder and chest.  While her headdress and necklace look Egyptian, the style of the sculpture is nineteenth - century American.  Similarly here she seems to be brooding, which also gives the impression of a queen guarding over her country in a motherlyCleopatra by William Wetmore Story manner.  The position in which she sits and her facial qualities seem to indicate masculine strength, yet the dress is falling down her shoulder, and the artist shows her womanhood by her bare breast.  These artistic representations show Cleopatra as a strong woman, who is the ruler and the mother of Egypt.
      Statuette of Isis and Horus
         In literature as well as in art, Cleopatra is sometimes depicted as Isis, the goddess of fertility and motherhood.  In the plays by Shakespeare and Shaw, as well as in the film Cleopatra, Cleopatra identifies herself as Isis and as daughter of Isis.  This is also seen in the art from the time period.  The Egyptian wing of the Metropolitan Museum has various sculptures of Isis, Isis with her son, Horus, and a few of Cleopatra as Isis.  One of these is a Statuette of Isis and Horus from the Ptolemaic period, 330 - 30 B.C.E.  It is of Isis sitting with her son, Horus.  Like Isis, in the beginning, Cleopatra also had one son, Caesarian.  In the sculpture, Isis holds her son possessively just as Cleopatra was maternally possessive of Egypt.  An additional piece of art is a painted relief sculpture of Cleopatra as Isis from about 35 B.C., in the Temple of Denderah.  The Temple of DeCleopatra as Isisnderah was built in Egypt as a place of worship in 125 B.C.  It was dedicated to Hathor, the goddess of love and joy (online).  The hairpiece that Cleopatra is wearing in this sculpture is very similar to the one worn by Isis.    
The Film Cleopatra

     As mentioned in Shakespeare’s play and portrayed in the film, Cleopatra had several children.  In Antony and Cleopatra, we learn of her children when Antony is giving his sons Alexander and Ptolemy, the kingdoms he has conquered (Shakespeare  In addition to this, the film shows Cleopatra as mother of Clepatra, the filmJulius Caesar’s son, Caesarian.  Before Caesarian’s birth, during their conversation about children she says to Caesar that “a woman that cannot bear children is like a river that’s dry; a woman must make life grow.  Soon there will be someone to carry the name and sword of Caesar and whatever part of the world we give him, our child will be a son for you, Caesar.  By Isis I swear it”( Mankiewicz).  After Caesar’s return to Rome, Cleopatra pays a visit to Rome, taking her son to see his father.  This shows the importance she gives to her son and to her role as a mother.  After Antony’s death her last request to Octavius Caesar is to allow her son to rule Egypt and his sons afterward with the promise not to harm herself (Mankiewicz).  However she commits suicide because her dignity is of more importance to her.  She fears being paraded in the streets of Rome as a slave.  Shakespeare shows this when he is writing of Cleopatra’s conversation with her servant.  After Caesar’s ultimatum of letting her stay in Egypt but having to obey him, she says to her servant Iras that “Thou, an Egyptian puppet, shall be shown/ In Rome as well as I: mechanic slaves” (Shakespeare V.ii.200-210).  In the film she is presented as a very passionate mother and even as having strong views on motherhood; however, her ego and self - determination seem to be of more value to her.

    As depicted in art and literature, Cleopatra has left her mark in history as a powerful queen. While Shaw writes of the immature child she was and Caesar’s influence on her, in  Antony and Cleopatra, we see a well-developed queen fully in charge of her decisions.  In his film, Cleopatra, Mankiewicz refers to both plays in artistic detail, presenting Cleopatra’s growth and her strength as a queen.  Her power and determination, along with her beauty, explain her comparison to Isis.  In art as well as literature she is depicted as the mother of Egypt.  In the end she shows her strength in that she chooses her pride over her life and dies as the queen of Egypt.  As Shakespeare writes of her: “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale/ Her infinite variety”(Shakespeare II.ii.230-240).

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Cleopatra in Literature and Art