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.
The first major Cleopatra Hollywood film was released in 1917. It starred Theda Bara as the title character, who portrayed Cleopatra “with a threatening and ominous air” (‘Cleopatra’, 2008; see transcript p.1) using her aggressive female sexuality to assert her authority. In 1917, an era where the role of women was changing rapidly, Bara’s Cleopatra conveys an expression of the dangers of too much freedom for women. A publicity still of Bara in costume shows her using her hand to frame her face and focus attention on her heavily made-up eyes. Bara’s Cleopatra is portrayed as both predatory and childlike; her manner appears to be cold and appraising, judging the audience from a throne, however her physical features and small face denote a sense of innocence and immaturity which has been corrupted. The 1934 film Cleopatra starring Claudette Colbert is not the aggressive and domineering femme fatale like Bara’s Cleopatra; instead she seems breathlessly emotional. In this film the struggle for political power in Egypt is disregarded. Cleopatra’s only object seems to be finding love, being passively caught between two great men. Her role as queen and stateswoman is rendered unimportant upon Caesar’s assassination. She does not grieve for the loss of her greatest political ally, but the fact that he never loved her: “it wasn’t in his arms he wanted to hold Egypt, it was in his treasury” (‘Cleopatra’, 2008; see transcript p.2). Cleopatra’s role as queen is reduced further upon marrying Mark Antony, she appears to accept the loss of her power: “I’ve seen a god come to life. I’m no longer a queen… I’m a woman.” (‘Cleopatra’, 2008; see transcript p.2), enforcing the double standard that says men may marry and retain positions of power...
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