(Antony and Cleopatra. Painting by Willem Van Mieris - 1662-1747)
After having published the review on the play, I realised not everything had been said about it, and particularly about Cleopatra. Sometimes Shakespeare has that effect on me...I keep on thinking about what I've just read.
‘‘Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt-- beautiful, wealthy, sexy, charismatic.'' “Her conversation, her charm, her wit, her sexiness draws him back.'' Besides, she is an “enchanting queen” (Act I, scene II) and in her person ‘witchcraft’ can “join with beauty, lust with both” (Act II, scene I). Cleopatra's excess of 'everything' must have stirred the audience's imagination when listening to the piece of poetry. I know it does stir my imagination, to say the least. Having spent some time in the company of Bacchus this evening, I decided that I would not express my initial thoughts on this play’s focus on the “madness of lust”, because I was afraid I’d say improper things, but Bacchus being what Bacchus is, my resolve lost the battle. Shakespeare has again cut to the chase on one of the most wonderful and also most destructive traits of our species, the exhilarating and destructive force of infatuation. For Antony the “playing away” for Cleopatra “the stranger in town” deep down knowing that the madness is never going to see the celebration of any of the wonderful milestones of long term relationships but powerless to fight the need to be with the object of that madness, no matter what the consequences. It is Shakespeare's genius that on an almost bare stage, he was able to conjure the dazzling scene of stunning Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra, in her beyond luxurious barge entirely with words.
Cleopatra is a complex character of constantly changing moods, she has got an intellectual ease for learning and a political awareness along with her personal attributes, such as her suggested “beauty” or captivating presence which led her to be viewed in equally positive and negative ways. Sensuous by nature, Cleopatra has had many lovers. Firstly, she belonged to the Ptolemy Family, a royal family notorious for incest and vicious infighting. Cleopatra was one of the most powerful leaders of that time, so unavoidably people either held her in esteem or disliked her intensely.
Cleopatra was believed to be highly regarded socially unlike her family was. Famous historian Plutarch says that she was to be of a rather “exalted” position. Knowing several languages, being very intelligent and being able to captivate her listeners when she spoke would have intimidated the Romans because she had the ability to influence Rome‘s men and use them for her benefit.
Because she toys with him, Antony is never sure of her devotion, although she swears her love to him. But when he grows angry with her, after his defeat at Actium, Cleopatra always wins back Antony's love by begging for forgiveness.
On a comparative note....since England was just coming out of the "Tudor" age with King James; I was fascinated to read the marginal note in Plutarch regarding a further description of Cleopatra's beauty in which he says her beauty was not unmatchable; rather her company and conversation were such as to keep men's admiration and attraction...this sounds very like the descriptions of Anne Boleyn. Her beauty was not "beauty" as such- but her attraction was her intelligence and personal wit and trait.
NB: Picture in this post taken from my Rowse.