History is an agreement of lies
– Napoleon Bonaparte
Cleopatra VII is often described as the ultimate whore, the Egyptian mate or the deadly monster. Ancient writers used her death as a propaganda tool and vilified her to entertain and educate their audiences. Cleopatra VI was transformed into a symbol of the second wave of feminism after she had been demonized for so many years. This revival of Cleopatra VII’s character raises questions about the myths that surround her, including how they were shaped and changed to suit the views and purposes of each period.
Cleopatra VI has been depicted in a variety of ways from her early life to the present day. Although they have a wide range of content and differing influences, most accounts unconsciously agree that Cleopatra VII was incredibly intelligent, ambitious, and driven. Even though her relationship was highly popular in the past, and remains so to a certain extent today, historians, moralists, and even entertainers have questioned it. Plutarch’s Parallel Lives, his series of biographical biographies, pinpoints Antony’s downfall as the relationship he had with Cleopatra. The ancient moralist is not shy about explaining Antony’s subsequent lack ‘vir’. He says that Antony was “tame and broke” when he arrived at Cleopatra, “wholly obedient to a master’s command”, and “dressing… as if he were a servant”. Plutarch has a purpose in analyzing Cleopatra’s “corrupting” behavior. Plutarch was attempting to explain the moral failings that men had in ancient Greco Roman times. Plutarch also wanted to use Cleopatra to “show me how to make my life more beautiful and attractive by looking at their virtues”. Jennifer Sheridan Moss thinks that Cleopatra is a carefully constructed, intelligent, and powerful woman despite the context, objective purpose and the desire to “delight and educate the reader”. She believes the character is there to “serve narrative purposes” and to “delight the reader”. This interpretation unintentionally became the foundation for debates among historians in the future, raising questions as to the extent of Cleopatra’s control, how ‘deviously’ she gained this power, and her methods of obtaining it.
The queen, who was a victim of Antony because she was “seductive”, became the symbol for his downfall. This was done as a way to entertain and in some cases, propagandize. William Shakespeare, like other historians or entertainers, was influenced by Plutarch’s Life of Antony. In his play, the tragedy of Antony, Shakespeare distorted the character of Cleopatra, further “falsifying” her. Dolora cunningham, an acclaimed Shakespeare scholar, says that in addition to Christianity being strong in England and people’s exposure to ancient writers, they would’ve also received during education at the Renaissance period. It is evident from the many “anachronisms”, which Dolora Cunningham says, that are often noted in the play. Shakespeare was therefore heavily influenced when creating the play and the characters. Shakespeare’s Cleopatra is a result of his English Renaissance background, which has a strong influence on her. Coppelia kahn, a former president of Shakespeare Association of America and professor, mentions that Rome is a cultural parent and an external cultural force in relation to Renaissance England. This is evident throughout Shakespeare’s play, particularly Antony and Cleopatra. Shakespeare constantly references roman ideals – the construct of maleness. Cleopatra’s destruction of this construct and the way it is reflected in the play can be seen throughout. From Phillo opening his speech by saying “The Triple Pillar of the World, transformed into the strumpet fool” to Antony utilizing Cleopatra sexuality in order to enhance his own sense of masculinity. Elizabeth 1 is the context that ties this Roman concept of manhood to Cleopatra. She unintentionally encourages Shakespeare’s portrayal of Cleopatra being “an exotic sexual creature”.