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Cleopatra as One of the Most Complex Female Characters

The story of Antony and Cleopatra and their fatal love gained massive popularity in the Renaissance period and was used for both theatrical plays and poems. Most of them exploited the plot described in Plutarch’s Life of Marcus Antonius. And William Shakespeare is not an exception here. However, having taken the same story line, he managed to create a play full of vivid characters. One of them is Cleopatra, who is considered to be one of the most complex female characters in Shakespearean plays.

Cleopatra is a deep manifestation of the ambiguity. She is often depicted as vain and histrionic, provoking an audience almost to scorn. At the same time, she possesses a certain tragic grandeur. The audience is doomed to constant hesitation: is her driving force love or just passion, does she kill herself because she loves Antony so deeply or just because she has lost her political power, is her passion totally destructive or does it show the elements of transcendence? One of the major themes of the play is the oppositions of Rome/Egypt, Love/Lust and Male/Female. This effect is partially created due to that fact that Shakespeare, on the one hand, preserves the elements of Plutarch’s descriptions very closely, but, on the other hand, adds a lot of scenes, including many of the ones portraying Cleopatra’s domestic life. He also changes certain historical facts: in Plutarch Antony’s final defeat was many weeks after the battle of Actium, and Antony lived with Octavia for several years and bore two children.

Thus, skillfully adapting the historic facts, William Shakespeare manages to create a character which still remains one of the most mysterious female images in the world literature. Cleopatra in his play is at the same time proud, cruel and clever monarch and a sensitive, passionate woman.


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