Antony and Cleopatra

Deconstructing the 'Exotic' Cleopatra and Breaking Down Gender Oppression in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra College

Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra plays on the dichotomy of male and female rule, the struggle between gender and racial ideals, and the obsessive love (lust) that exists between the characters that ultimately lead to both of their deaths. Upon analyzing the passage in act 3, scene 3, lines 1-43, it starts to become apparent that there is an underlying subtext of prejudice towards the female lead, Cleopatra. Shakespeare has rarely written in women as leads in his plays; in this instance where the lead is a female and also a queen to a powerful empire, he debilitates her character by instilling stereotypical female qualities like vanity, impulsiveness, jealousy, and hysteria. By deconstructing these aforementioned traits in Cleopatra through analysis of the text and by examining critical essays written by female scholars such as Kim Hall and Paula Bennett, the veiled implications in the text start to become exposed.

Cleopatra is a symbol of oriental exoticism; she is an African woman in a position of authority reigning over a powerful kingdom and in a patriarchal society she represents a threat to male dominance. In Kim Hall’s critical essay “The “Other” Woman: Beauty, Women Writers, and Cleopatra” she states, “[Cleopatra’s]...

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