Cleopatra

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What do the representations of Cleopatra in film and on television (as shown on the DVD video “Cleopatra”) tell us about how her reputation changed over time? Discuss with reference to two or three representations.

Cleopatra is one of the most recognised icons from the ancient world, a woman within the political world and the last ruler of the last dynasty of the Pharaohs of Egypt. The two representations I will be looking at are the films from 1917 with Theda Bara and the 1963 film starring Elizabeth Taylor. Both of these show her in a different way - from foreboding to a sexual tease. The mere mention of Cleopatra’s name invokes differing thoughts and images so therefore it is no surprise that over the years both her representation and reputation have changed and this can be clearly seen through her portrayal on the big screen and television. And with each change a glimpse of society at that time can clearly be seen. She is portrayed as having a mad ambition mixed with being a destructive sexual predator but also using this to create political alliances which made her extremely clever and shrewd.

Within the 1917 film with Theda Bara the emphasis is very much on Egypt being threatening whilst being exotic and alluring. This was the Egypt that people had come to expect. Exotic but still alien to them, filled with symbols and strange monuments. Within this exotic world sat a powerful, ominous figure that is Cleopatra. Everything about her is threatening and powerful. Even her pose on the film’s poster demonstrates this. She is positioned straight on showing both aggressive and defensiveness. She is not smiling and the poster is about her and nobody else. This links back to the idea that powerful woman were dangerous and fitted into the alien environment of Egypt well. She is shown as beautiful, rich, powerful and a sexual dominator but she was also a determined stateswoman and a patriot.

However, this all disappears as the 1963 production hit the...
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