The figure of Cleopatra has fascinated the popular and critical imagination for centuries. She seems to stand out as someone exceptional, above and beyond her relationship with Antony; she has certainly outstripped the second of her erstwhile Roman husbands in the popularity stakes. Shakespeare has done a great deal to cement her standing, but the process was already well under way by the time he wrote his play. Indeed, a long-term historical process has been at work, one that has at least as much to do with representations of this particular Macedonian queen as Egyptian as it does with any form of reality. Such misrespresentation forms the main subject of this chapter, which therefore differs from the previous two in that it takes as its starting point an analysis of critical positions and predispositions. Central to the argument here will be the ways in which Shakespeare’s play both looks back towards its classical roots, and also at the same time to the present requirements of its own performance culture.
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