Yesterday, I talked a little of the prevailing public persona of character of Cleopatra, and tried to separate the myth from the historical figure. While some might see the image of sexual manipulator of men, as seen in Antony and Cleopatra, as some kind of weird, Bizarro-World proto-feminist symbol of empowerment, I think it’s fairly safe to say that this kind of reductive thinking and positioning of the character is something less than positive.
But how did we get here?
As with so much about this play (and Julius Caesar, and from what I hear both Coriolanus and Timon of Athens), blame Plutarch.
Plutarch was writing, after all, Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, not Egyptians. So most of the discussion of Cleopatra is based (and biased) upon her interactions with said Romans. Which did not always end well for the Romans. Also, since this was the case, it’s easy to vilify Cleopatra as a) she lost and therefore her people didn’t write the history (“Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?”), and b) any contemporary histories that paint her in a more positive light were lost as the Library of Alexandria was destroyed when the city was sacked by Aurelian in the Third Century.
And if anyone wants to add “and c) she was a woman,” you won’t get much of an argument from me.