Graduate Thesis Or Dissertation
Cleopatra and the Critics Public Deposited
Many critics regard Cleopatra as Shakespeare's greatest woman character and place her with Hamlet and Falstaff as one of his three superlative creations. After agreeing that her portrait is consummate art, critics then differ violently. They have buried her under hundreds of irreconcilable terms, calling her everything from "the perfect Victorian spouse" to a shrewish harlot.
To salvage her character in all its gaiety, variety, and charm, it is first necessary to pull her out of the morality morass created by hostile, myopic critics. A fresh view of her role in the play also refutes the critics who complain that she inconsistently changes from a courtesan into a tragic queen. By exposing the imperceptive readers who deny her tragic stature because her comic aspects strike them as incompatable with tragedy, we gain appreciation of Cleopatra's fine mixture of comedy with pathos, that combination of humor with tragedy found in all Shakespeare's greatest plays. The depth and constancy of her love for Antony, so often questioned, becomes manifest, and she assumes the dignity of a tragic heroine. Since she dominates the fifth act of the play, rendering Caesar an "ass unpolicied" and achieving exaltation for Antony and herself by her
death, we perceive that she is nobly and tragically motivated by love. Finally, we reach the clear understanding that love, not politics, is the real subject of the play, and that Shakespeare presents Antony and Cleopatra triumphant in their love over a world with nothing left remarkable when they are gone.
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