AD's English Literature : Cleopatra: Complex Inscrutable, Indefinable Heroine

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Cleopatra: Complex Inscrutable, Indefinable Heroine

Shakespeare's Cleopatra embodies mystery. Shakespeare chose to keep her feminine mystique inexplicable. She is, in turn, vain, sensual, violent, cruel, bawdy, cowardly, beautiful, witty, vital, and intelligent, a strumpet, a gipsy, lass unparalleled, a triumphant lady, royal wench, a great fairy, a rare Egyptian. She is all these and more – a source of Perini fascination.

 She grows, starting as a courtesan-cum-enchantress. She presses her love through dramatizing (playacting) and dialogue. But inwardly she ultimately proves to be vulnerable. Her love for Antong intensifies into something more than sexual passion (her playacting in outwitting the astute Caesar).


H. Granville Barker, in Preface to Shakespeare second section, comments, “This is the Woman herself, quick, jealous, imperious, mischievous, malicious, flagrant, subtle; but delicate creature too, and the light, glib verse seems to set her on tiptoe”.

 Cleopatra is an enchanting sorceress. It is ambiguous if she really betrayed Antony at Actium. Does she love Antony? Shakespeare uses a retrospective, flashback method for the answer. The infinite variety precludes easy judgment. Plutarch disliked her, portraying her in unflattering light. Her violence towards the messenger indicates frustration and insecurity in love (Elizabeth temper?).

 Isis was represented as a cow where there is no physical fear Cleopatra shows courage. She can Egyptiamize even the high Roman fashion, transforming death into a sensuous pleasure. Shakespeare intensifies her in the final senses. Here poetry makes up for politics, lyricism files over materialism and love transcends power. The compassion and passion in her bridal outfit implies that she is one her way to facilitate her reunion with Antony in the Kingdom beyond death, in the realm of the blest, “Where souls do couch on flowers”. Cleopatra will remain Cleopatra. Shakespeare’s use of the word “bliss” (1/3/35-8) suggests the quasi-divine nature of their love which will blossom again in Elysium.

 Cleopatra is the female counterpart of Hamlet. She is Shakespeare’s greatest female character embodying the supremacy of imagination over reason, of spirituality over maternity.

Ardhendu De

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An English Teacher;    M. A.(English) , D. Ed., B. Ed., UGC- NET Qualified

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