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Imagining Cleopatra: Performing Gender and Power in Early Modern England

Arshad, Y; (2016) Imagining Cleopatra: Performing Gender and Power in Early Modern England. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London).

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Abstract

Cleopatra VII, Queen of Egypt, is one of the most renowned and enduring figures from antiquity, yet remains one of its most elusive. She has become part of a Western founding myth of Eastern otherness, and many of these perceptions of her as a mesmerising and mercurial siren are mediated through Shakespeare’s dramatic creation. There was, however, already a great interest in Cleopatra and her story in the sixteenth century well before Shakespeare wrote his play, and views of her were strongly conflicted and multi-faceted. Although she was condemned as an example of lust and luxury, there was also fascination with the legend of her drinking a priceless pearl, and admiration of her courage and nobility in following Antony in death. This thesis investigates images of Cleopatra in the early modern period and looks at how her story was transmitted and used in different circumstances. It combines a close reading of literary and dramatic works with historical and topical contexts, and considers evidence from material objects too. It looks at the representation of Cleopatra in the innovative neo-Senecan dramas of Mary Sidney and Samuel Daniel, their use of political allegory, and how their Cleopatras inflected Shakespeare’s. The thesis also investigates a remarkable portrait of a Jacobean lady, plausibly Lady Anne Clifford, depicted as Cleopatra, with an inscription from Daniel, and discusses what this may add to our understanding of female performance and tragic heroism in the period. Insights gained from a recent UCL staging of Daniel’s Cleopatra help to gauge the ‘infinite variety’ of early modern Cleopatras who emerged from centuries of myth-making about the Egyptian Queen. The thesis offers a new approach to the study of how Elizabethan and Jacobean political and dramatic cultures overlapped, by tracing the representation and reception of a single, catalytic figure.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Imagining Cleopatra: Performing Gender and Power in Early Modern England
Event: UCL
Language: English
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > SELCS
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1505746
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