Fatma A. Massoud (ID: 800130101)
Classics and the Ancient World course
Final term paper
To Professor Lennart Sundelin
Ancient and early modern characterizations of Cleopatra in Roman literature and Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra
Queen Cleopatra has always been a controversial character that was widely discussed, analyzed, identified and stereotyped over vast periods and eras of history. Many ancient and modern historians, poets, dramatists, and writers tried to capture the truth about her through their own eyes. In all cases, everyone is in agreement with the fact that Cleopatra was no easy woman, she literally changed the course of history, and great leaders fell for her one after the other. Although those interested in studying her character had different perspectives, Cleopatra was generally represented in a negative way. This paper is an attempt to both compare and contrast the elements of similarity and difference in the representation of Cleopatra in Roman Classic literature and her relatively modern characterization by William Shakespeare in his play Antony and Cleopatra. The play was written in 1603, and was not published before 1623 in the collection of the First Folio. Shakespeare lived in the Elizabethan age, the high time of the Renaissance period. It is a crucial era in history, with distinct sets of social and literary traditions, beliefs and values. I will try to demonstrate the various influences and assumptions that existed in Shakespeare’s time, by supporting my argument with opinions and arguments of critics, as well as highlighting textual evidence from the play itself. More focus will be given to Shakespeare’s Cleopatra, in which I will try to both dissect her character to have a better understanding of her multifarious sides, and shed some light on the political, cultural and social influences that led Shakespeare to portray her the way she is.
There are various similarities between the Roman and Shakespearean construction of...