Domesticating the Eternal Queen: Cleopatra’s Metamorphoses and the Discourse of Orientalism
- Author: Cho Yoon Kyung
- Publish: Feminist Studies in English Literature Volume 20, Issue3, p27~60, 31 Dec 2012
This study examines the ongoing hegemony of Orientalism and its “internal consistency” in the representation of Cleopatra. The Western image of Cleopatra so far has been the most celebrated stereotype of the ‘goddess’ and the ‘whore.’ Cleopatra is understood not only as a powerful and strategic sovereign but also as a seductive
femme fatalewho caused Antony’s fall. This ambivalence of the ‘goddess’ and ‘whore’ observed in the figure of Cleopatra originates from Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. Although many artists and writers after Shakespeare have created a variety of Cleopatras, interestingly, her images oscillate between the ‘goddess’ and the ‘whore’ from Shakespeare’s ambivalent representation. And such a dichotomous representational system is closely interlocked with the discourse of Orientalism. Based on the mechanism of discursive practice in Said’s terms of “narrative” and “vision” or “manifest Orientalism” and “latent Orientalism,” this study investigates a seemingly subversive representation of the queen in the musical Kleopatra, and its possibility to develop into a counter‐discourse against the Cleopatra myth. The findings from this comparative and diachronic study suggest that the hegemony of Orientalism consistently functions in the deep structure, with surface variations only, in the matter of representation of the Oriental beauty.
Cleopatra , representation , ambivalence , goddess , whore , Orientalism , discourse , metamorphosis , internal consistency
Attracting many people’s interest throughout the centuries, Cleopatra VII (69‐30 B.C.), the last Pharaoh of Egypt, has inspired countless artists and writers. Such statements as “the world’s bestknown brand” in
The Economist(September 14, 1991) illustrates Cleopatra’s popularity. Although she is a significant figure in literature, art, and music, it is not easy to discern the historical truth about Cleopatra. Even her tomb has never been found, and there are few extant portraits of her. When the general public thinks of Cleopatra, two antithetical images usually come to mind. One is of a politically skilled tactical leader, and the other is of a seductive femme fatale who brought a Roman hero, Antony, to ruin. Many scholars and critics have actively studied how such images of Cleopatra have been established upon her authentic existence throughout history. However, mostly a variety of rumors on her have been exuberantly reproduced and her dual image continues to make her an inspiring object.
After Egypt was defeated by Rome, Cleopatra was used for propaganda by Octavius Caesar’s regime. Augustan poets poured their hatred and insults upon the figure of Cleopatra, as she was a signifier of matriarchy and Hellenism. In their poetry, the Egyptian queen was a sexually licentious whore who even committed incest. However, as Virgil, Horace, and Propertius were read by Latin, Greek, and Jewish writers in the Roman Empire, the Egyptian queen was established as a legend. This means that disgust and fascination were doubly coated onto the figure. Cleopatra was also recreated as a fictional character in this era, with fictional episodes added to the story of the queen. Plutarch created the episode in which Cleopatra approached Caesar wrapped in a carpet, and Pliny c reated theepisode in which the queen dissolved pearls in vinegar to captivate Antony during a magnificent banquet. Florus beautified Cleopatra’s suicide, by having her commit suicide at her dead lover’s side.
Cleopatra was out of the public mind during most of the Middle Ages, but was revived due to the recovery of the ancient times and ancient texts and art in the Christianized world. Freed from the relation with male figures, Cleopatra exceeded Antony in popularity, and she was fashioned as a woman who embodied the sense of tragedy of human beauty and passion, compared to Eve. Stories of Cleopatra spread into many other European regions throughout the Renaissance. From the sixteenth century, the romantic aspect prevailed in these stories, especially once Plutarch’s text became widely available in the translation by Jacques Amyot. Through the intermediary of an English version, this text inspired Shakespeare’s famous tragedy. Shakespeare’s portrayal marked a turning point in the establishment of the Cleopatra‐myth, though he did not create innovative elements. According to many scholars, Shakespeare used the legend of the Egyptian queen to carry a political message, displaying his own literary talent.
Afterwards, as Augustus was depicted as a victor for the influence of classicism, Cleopatra became a victim, during the Age of Enlightenment. With the accelerated colonization by the West, encounters between the West and the East frequently occurred. In this process, the West’s suspicion and fantasy accumulated around the queen, and her culture that represented the East. As the British and French empires exposed Westerners to the East, artists and writers interpreted the Orient as a culture of sensuality, luxury, decadence, and mystery. Cleopatra, naturally, played a leading role in Orientalist work, for which the ancient description remained the sources. In particular, Romanticism and Orientalism in the nineteenth century produced a rather exotically attractive figure of Cleopatra.
From the twentieth century on, Cleopatra has become a world star of great renown, through film, advertisements, popular novels, and cartoons. There is no doubt that the feminist and postcolonialist points of view have arranged a touchstone to deconstruct the Cleopatra‐myth established by the West. However, it seems not easy for the Egyptian queen to be completely liberated from the ideas forged around her. This is because “issues of politics and desire” are closely related “in representing Cleopatra.” In this figure, the two antithetical images of a political leader and
femme fataleare complicatedly “entwined and collapsed into each other. That is one reason why the figure of Cleopatra has survived so strongly as a term in cultural exchange and been reworked so often. Its power to generate and sustain fantasy is exceptional” (Hamer xvi).
In the same vein, Ania Loomba says that “the figure of Cleopatra is the most celebrated stereotype of the goddess and whore” (75). She maintains that Cleopatra’s dual image of the goddess and the whore penetrates historical representations of Cleopatra. According to Mary Hamer, however, such consistent stereotyping of Cleopatra did not penetrate all the places and times in the beginning. Hamer examines manifold works from a wide historical background ranging from engravings, fine arts, and literature to media arts that adopted Cleopatra as the main material. She finds out that there is no single or predictable meaning to be read from those various figures of Cleopatra represented for each time. She shows that the images of Cleopatra have been made within the hegemony of the period when each of the works was produced (xv‐xvi).
Interestingly, Hamer’s statement meets the prerequisite for Loomba to stipulate Cleopatra as a “stereotype of the goddess and the whore.” Loomba also points out that the figure of Cleopatra “has accommodated and been shaped by centuries of myth‐making and fantasy surrounding the historical figure.” Independently of her origin, the figure of the Egyptian queen has been invented and manipulated in accordance with hegemonic need and purpose of the West. Loomba’s stipulation of Cleopatra is founded on William Shakespeare’s representation in
Antony and Cleopatra. In Shakespeare’s representation of Cleopatra, “we can identify several different strands of contemporary meaning which intertwine with connotations attaching to her from earlier stories.” That is, “Renaissance politics and stagecraft” were combined with Cleopatra’s status as an Egyptian queen, and ultimately shaped the ambivalent identity in Shakespeare’s play (Loomba 75‐78).
Needless to say, no single standard for the description of Cleopatra has ever existed, and even Shakespeare could not standardize her completely as well. Characterizations of Cleopatra after Shakespeare do not repeat his representation collectively at all, but adopt their own peculiar representative ways that reflect political, social, and cultural values of each period. Nevertheless, Shakespeare’s representation of Cleopatra still seems to play a key role on the way she is perceived. This might be understood to be connected with Shakespeare’s cultural position. More interestingly, various representations of Cleopatra that mirror each period can even be subcategorized into the Bard’s ambivalent representation. Under the big category of Shakespeare’s Cleopatra swinging between the goddess and the whore, many works lean on either side of the dichotomous figure of Shakespeare’s in representing her.
Since there is no fixed standard for the figure of Cleopatra, this means that she has been modified and invented in ways driven by necessities. At the moment when Westerners took the superior position from the contest with the Orient, the West holding power was absorbed in expanding and maintaining superiority. The West restructured its relations with the contestant to the superior Self vs. the inferior Other. The way that the West related with the Orient is Orientalism. Edward W. Said gives three definitions on Orientalism. Firstly, Orientalism is “an academic discipline.” Secondly, it is “a style of thought based upon an ontological and epistemological distinction made between ‘the Orient’ and (most of the time) ‘the Occident.’” Thirdly, it is “a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient” (2‐3). Said explains the concept of Orientalism rather concretely as follows:
To lay emphasis on universality and historicity of Orientalism simultaneously, Said distinguishes between latent Orientalism and manifest Orientalism, borrowing Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic terminology. Latent Orientalism means the West’s unconscious desire and will to power over the Orient. Manifest Orientalism indicates stated forms such as individuals, texts, discourses, ethnography, and so on. While the latter shows various developing aspects, the former carries unanimity, stability, and durability in perceiving and representing the Orient. Under the binary distinction, the relation between the West and the Orient are fixed as the Self and the Other, the center and the margin, the original and the mimic, presence and absence, reason and emotion, and so on. (Said 206).
The conception of latent Orientalism and manifest Orientalism is again connected with the conception of the relation between vision and narrative. Based on synchronic essentialism, vision recognizes the Orient as a fixed stationary structure that can be observed panoramically. On the other hand, oppressing and disturbing vision by means of diachronic description of history, narrative comprehends the Orient as a dynamic process of vicissitudes. For Said, the influence of narrative on vision is insignificant. Although narrative continually “introduces an opposing point of view, perspective, consciousness to the unitary web of vision,” it cannot go over vision and is subsumed into it after all (240‐43). Vision lasts without regard to time and place, while narrative changes in accordance with them. That is also the same in the case of the relation between manifest Orientalism and latent Orientalism. What Said focuses on is “internal consistency” of Orientalism in which even the changing surface structure is absorbed into the fixed deep structure. In other words, although the narratives representing the Orient change ceaselessly, swinging between conservatism and liberalism, the vision of the Orient is fixed. Under this situation, the Orient is positioned as the Other, the margin, the mimic, absence, and emotion, helping the West identify with the Self, the center, the original, presence, and reason. The dichotomous perception in the West, in Said’s view, never ceases.
Narrative on Cleopatra has continually varied, which is connected with the fact that there is no fixed single image of her. However, she has still remained the Other regardless of the numerous diverse portraits of her. Whether she is represented as a tactical leader, an enchantress who brought Antony to ruin, a lover who devoted all her passion to love, or a mother worried about her son’s future, all of those figures seem to result from the Self’s projecting its desire onto the Other. This study explores a variety of representations of Cleopatra and her Otherness, as aspect that has been firmly maintained despite the various representations. This is where the difference between narrative and vision, and also that between manifest Orientalism and latent Orientalism regarding the Egyptian queen can be more specifically understood.
This study will thus examine how Cleopatra has been represented over time, by comparing several works. For the comparative study, it will mainly discuss Shakespeare’s
Antony and Cleopatra(1601) and the Czech Musical Kleopatrastaged in Seoul in 2008. Representations of the Egyptian queen are closely related with the contemporary social, political, and cultural situations in each time. This study will investigate how the representation of Cleopatra has been metamorphosed, holding Shakespeare’s ambivalence toward her as a hinge. The metamorphoses of narratives in those productions result from the fact that the dominant ideology and values of the society were mirrored onto them. In conformity with the society, each narrative creates different figures of Cleopatra, oscillating between the goddess and the whore. As the West gained hegemony through the power struggle, it took advantage of the queen of the East to maintain this hegemony. This study will also explore the political and ideological connotations of those representations.
The final goal of this study is to examine the possibility of whether the figure of the Egyptian queen would be able to shed Otherness from her identity through varied narratives. This question is a matter of whether those varied narratives will be able to lead to a different vision of her. That is, this study aims to determine whether representations made by varied narratives can lead to a possible subversion of the West’s stationary vision and create a different and new vision of the Egyptian queen. It will ultimately discuss whether the relatively latest version of representation of Cleopatra in the musical
Kleopatraconceives a possibility to develop into a counterdiscourse against the West’s Cleopatra myth. Here again, it will ascertain the relations between Cleopatra’s metamorphoses and the discourse of Orientalism.
As a group of critics put it,
Kleopatra, a Czech musical that premiered in Prague, 2002, describes Cleopatra’s internal anguish as a woman and a sovereign by means of the effective stagecraft. Created within the current of postmodernism, the musical Kleopatracarries a possibility of different interpretations of Cleopatra. The musical was put on a Korean stage in the fall of 2008, directed by Jang Seop Kim. A local production company, Sachoonki, gained a license to stage the musical. Besides the musical’s audiencemobilizing ability and commercial success, it is noteworthy that Cleopatra and other surrounding factors around her, recreated for the musical genre, invite different understandings of them. This new story of Cleopatra seems to provide different angles in examining the relations between the ruler and the ruled.
Shakespeare’s representation of Cleopatra assumed ambivalence as the West’s prevalent prejudice against the racial/cultural Other collided with the queen’s social position. Passing through European initiated history, the figure of the Egyptian queen has been manipulated and invented in accordance with Europeans’ needs. The ambivalent Cleopatra as the goddess and whore in Shakespeare’s play came to be weakened or ridded of threatening factors against the white male‐centered society.
All for Love(1678) was produced during the Restoration when the domestic political climate of England was conservative and its colonization of the Orient was intensified. Cleopatra in Dryden’s play consistently shows the figure of a woman in love, who stakes all for love without any concern about her country and people. She is completely deprived of political leadership or authority as a sovereign so that Dryden’s audience may be relieved from male anxiety or imperial obsession that Shakespeare’s audience could have had.
At the acme of colonialism and imperialism, Bernard Shaw’s
Caesar and Cleopatra(1901) represents the Egyptian queen as a kitten in need of domestication and education. Accompanied by Cleopatra’s childishness, Egypt and its culture are described as immature and deficient. While Cleopatra is represented as a childish girl, Caesar, who is supposed to educate the girl, shows an ideal paternalistic leadership. This manner of representation stems from the fixed dichotomy of Western superiority and Eastern inferiority. Moreover, the play suggests, unknowingly or otherwise, that colonial imperialism is desirable and beneficiary for the colonized as well as the colonizer.
As seen later in the twentieth century, enormous capital and techniques were combined and invested in the film industry of Hollywood as the United States gained political and economic hegemony. In this context, Cleopatra is again represented in a new manner for Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s movie,
Cleopatra(1963). Revitalization of women’s participation in political and economic activities led to bring out a number of positive female figures. Consistent with this sociopolitical background, a new Cleopatra is created, provided with a subjective and subversive voice to stand against the violence and brutality of Roman imperialism. Nonetheless, the role performed by the leading Caucasian actresses still hinges upon the stereotype of femme fatale, this time, an Oriental beauty in white skin. Cleopatra’s notorious sensuality remains the key factor to satisfy the audience’s voyeuristic pleasure and reinforce her image as the whore.
However, a new story on Cleopatra, made in Eastern Europe as a musical in the 2000s, tries expanding and reinforcing Cleopatra’s ‘goddess’ image observed in Shakespeare’s play. The musical puts its narrative focus on Cleopatra’s features as those of a political leader, whereas it eliminates those elements that are stipulated as an enchantress through her relations with male figures. It ultimately shows certain possibility to develop into a counter‐discourse which goes against the West’s discourse that represents Cleopatra as a contained power‐lost queen.
Strikingly in representing Cleopatra,
Kleopatraperformed in Seoul consistently proves the queen’s aspiration, as a political leader, to firmly consolidate the national location of Egypt despite the pressure of the great Roman Empire. It is a completely opposite characteristic to that of the whore‐like queen who indulged in private emotions such as waywardness, jealousy, lethargy, brutishness, and so on in Shakespeare’s play. Musical is a genre to maximize one’s feelings by means of music and dance. In this musical, the musical numbers in particular work particularly well to deliver its message. The main theme song that composes the climax of the musical is a principal device to manifest the queen’s strong will effectively. After the overture that announces Julius Caesar’s triumphal entry into Egypt, Cleopatra first appears at the center of the darkened stage and sings the following theme number, “I Will Be a King”:
With this song, Cleopatra suggestively reveals the difficulties she undergoes, hemmed in among intricate domestic struggles for power, her eagerness as a politician to become a powerful sovereign, with legitimacy authorized, prejudice she has to go through as a woman, and her strong desire to build a potent country under the pressure of a great European power.
Despite the political situation, having Ptolemy XIV on the throne and Pothinus regent, Cleopatra finally succeeds in mounting the throne by strategically taking advantage of Caesar’s mighty power. Cleopatra makes a triumphal entry into Rome, promulgates externally that she is the queen of Egypt, and reconfirms Egypt as a self‐governing nation. Cleopatra’s triumphal entry into Rome exists neither in history nor in Shakespeare’s play. The scene in which she, as a stranger, penetrates the heart of the Roman Empire works as a critical device to maximize the queen’s authority. In this scene, the most splendid moment on the stage, Cleopatra sings as follows. This part is from “I am the King of Egypt”:
In this piece of music, Cleopatra proclaims her authority, autonomy, and sovereignty to the world. This scene presents Cleopatra wearing the queen’s gold‐colored gown, surrounded by other performers as Romans and Egyptians. They bow respectfully to the queen and one of them crowns her.
The three main theme songs are composed of “I Will Be a King,” “I am the King of Egypt,” and “I am an Eternal Queen,” which she later chants after Egypt is defeated by Octavius Caesar. These songs flow beautifully at critical moments, and then linger upon the stage. This forceful trilogy of theme songs, which use the identical melody, come at the beginning, the middle, and the end of the musical, respectively, and this trilogy is a primary means to show the queen’s mind and will directly. This solo of Cleopatra creates a charismatic aura by virtue of character disposition and lighting effects on the stage that bring characters into bold relief. During the song, the queen occupies the very center of the stage by herself, or many other characters encircle the queen in a fan shape, which fortifies her dignity. Besides, as strong lighting is concentrated on her, the queen looks like a glorified being. The dramaturgy for the scene consequently seems successful in showing the queen’s heyday and glory. In other words, by combining story development with stage settings, the product maximizes the queen’s ‘goddess’ image.
Antony and Cleopatra, Cleopatra read Caesar’s design beforehand and killed herself to avoid being degraded to dishonorable booty. However, different from Shakespeare’s play, the reason why Cleopatra has to choose suicide seems somewhat vague in the musical. Owing to attributes of the musical genre, which must deliver its story mainly by means of songs within limited space and time, it is undeniable that the narrative is remarkably curtailed on stage. In this musical as well, some stories around the historical figures and battle scenes that Shakespeare described in his play are erased in considerable part. In Shakespeare’s play, a scene where Cleopatra hides herself in a monument with her attendants creates some tension in the plot against Caesar’s camp. In the musical, there is a scene where Cleopatra prepares for her death as she sings “I am an Eternal Queen” in a space shown indistinctly. After Cleopatra’s death, however, the ending of the musical is made with the scene where the dead Cleopatra stands on the stage together with the dead Julius Caesar and Antony. In a wide triangle, she stands between the two historical heroes, occupying the center of the stage side by side with them. It is the very moment Cleopatra is being engraved in history as another powerful political leader. Through the scene, her words are concretely incarnated, as she sings, preparing for her death. The following is from “I am an Eternal Queen”:
In Shakespeare’s play, the ending could not be fully interpreted as the queen’s complete victory because some tragedy is felt in Cleopatra’s death. Nonetheless, in the musical, as a Cleopatra who overcame death, she is recorded as a great hero leading history, and her victory is distinctly engraved.
Establishing Cleopatra’s authorized and dignified ‘goddess’ image, the musical also covers her motherhood and wounded heart for love, within the big frame of trial and anguish she undergoes as a leader. This story, combined with lighting, stage setting, and musical effects, strongly pulls compassion and empathy from the audience. The audience might feel some pathos from the scenes in which the queen walks alone in the darkness at night, the mother cries with her baby in the arms, and the woman steals a glance at her lover, Antony, in the bride‐chamber.
Those scenes were not examined in Shakespeare’s play, and Renaissance England’s audiences might not have strongly felt any sympathy or pity towards the Egyptian queen. In Shakespeare’s play, she was depicted rather as a comic and ludicrous figure in the scene where she heard the news that Antony had married Octavia in Rome. On hearing that news, she turned into “a Fury crown’d with snakes” to strike, curse, and threaten the messenger. Overwhelmed by rage at Antony and jealousy of Octavia, she proceeded to imprecate a curse upon her own land. At this scene Cleopatra cannot gain the audience’s pity or sympathy but a scornful sneer. In addition, quite ironically, she used the metaphor of serpent for her self‐identification, and as the serpent is a cursed creature for Westerners, due to the biblical story of the fall, Egypt automatically became a doomed country whose destiny would depend on the unreliable sovereign.
In contrast to Shakespeare’s play, the musical successfully gains the audience’s compassion and empathy, and even their understanding of the character as well, by dramatizing the feelings that Cleopatra might have undergone. Quite interestingly, however, identifying Cleopatra with the serpent occurs even in the musical. When she first appears on the stage, Cleopatra is accompanied by a large serpent (see Figure 1).
As Cleopatra sings her thoughts, the serpent makes gestures near her as her alter ego. The identification of Cleopatra with a serpent can bring out contradictory viewpoints in interpreting it, because the figure of the serpent can serve not only as a positive symbol but also as a negative symbol. Making the serpent Cleopatra’s alter ego can be understood as repetition of Orientalism in particular. Within the Christian tradition, a serpent has been perceived as a vicious, treacherous, inconstant, and cursed creature. The serpent in the Garden of Eden has at times represented sexual passion. Orientalists have combined such negative meanings, established by their religious tradition, with the figure of Cleopatra. In this sense, the serpent works to reinforce the queen’s whore image. In the ending of the musical, Cleopatra lets the serpent bite her, as is consistent with the received historical record. It is possible to understand that the Egyptian queen is sacrificed by the very image imposed upon her by the Orientalists. Through the scene in which the serpent stays around the queen and finally poisons her, the musical visualizes effectively how the Oriental queen has been invented and sacrificed in the West’s history.
On the other hand, the serpent represents a creative life force and fertility in various cultures. Moreover, due to their ability to molt their skin, the serpent is a symbol of “rebirth, transformation, immortality and healing” (Wickersham 35). In ancient Egypt in particular, the serpent was connected with figures of gods including Wadjet, “the Egyptian cobra” ― the “primal snake goddess.” “From the earliest of record,” this snake goddess was “the patron and protector of the country, all other deities, and the pharaohs,” as “she was depicted as the crown of Egypt” (Michael 63). Therefore, the serpent seems to function to support and protect Cleopatra’s queenship, rather than to intensify her negative image.
Kleopatradramatizes the stages that Cleopatra overcomes the image of ‘whore’ and establishes the image of ‘goddess’ by making her sovereignty strong and steady. Adding its own original representation for other supporting characters to the main frame of reinforcing‐goddessness‐story, the musical more strengthens its feature of counter‐discourse against Cleopatra stories written by the West’s patriarchal civilization. The musical depicts female characters in a different way from Shakespeare’s, Dryden’s, Shaw’s, and Mankiewicz’s plays. In those four works, Fulvia, Antony’s first wife, did not exist within the text, and the audience was informed of her merely by a messenger reporting her death to Antony, and she was only graded in Shakespeare’s play as “a great spirit” (1.2.119) by a male voice. In Dryden’s play as well, she also did not exist in the text, and moreover, she was referred to as an imprudent woman who provoked war, obsessed by jealousy. According to historical records, Fulvia was not an obedient woman to her husband but rather a commanding one. Shakespeare, Dryden, Shaw, and Mankiewicz did not spare any part for this clamorous woman. However, Fulvia in the musical directly shows her strong political ambition, and rather incites Antony, who does not have strong desire for power, to become a more powerful leader. She did not have any voice at all in those four works, but here in the musical she makes her own voice to express her mind, even standing at the center of the stage shoulder to shoulder with Cleopatra. The following is from “Our Time to Reign,” a duet Fulvia and Cleopatra sing together:
Fulvia, who did not have a voice in the former works, occupies the center of the stage and demonstrates her own determination directly and outspokenly. Besides, the two female figures successfully achieve solidarity through the duet. Karen Hossfield cites a Filipina woman Irma,2 who says, “the only way to get a little measure of power over your own life is to do it collectively, with the support of other people who share your needs” (Hossfeld, qtd. in Mohanty 139, 168). Chandra Talpade Mohanty finds “solidarity” among females to be one of the keys to a more hopeful situation in “the twenty‐first century . . . characterized by the exacerbation of the sexual politics of global capitalist domination and exploitation” (168). As the sexual Other, female members of society need to gather together to overcome disadvantageous conditions, and finally to achieve sexual equality. The duet of Cleopatra and Fulvia presents female solidarity across ethnic lines. It also embodies the effect of solidarity, as it strengthens the female voice and their message.
Also by creating a special stage setting, the musical
Kleopatraeffectively denounces the West’s male‐centered historical view. On each side of the stage are two big white poles respectively, and on each pole is a window device which moves up and down. Interestingly here, Jupiter of Rome and Isis of Egypt stay in each of the poles, and talk with each other, intervening several times between scenes. Jupiter says, “Romans won’t authorize her [Cleopatra],” and “before long, she’ll bring young Antony into her bed as she did with Caesar,” and “now that she has Antony under her control, she’ll ruin him, too.” Isis replies to Jupiter, “Rome will be at Cleopatra’s feet,” for “she only has fallen in love as she has been lonely for quite a long time,” but “[l]ook at the two who are happy.” While Jupiter becomes a spokesman who expresses directly the West’s prejudice against Cleopatra, Isis becomes an advocate for the East that has been silenced under that prejudice. Remarkably here, just as Jupiter is, Isis is wearing a white costume and even holding a peacock feather, which symbolizes Juno. The makeup for Isis’s role could be interpreted as a misrepresentation of the role in that the Egyptian goddess looks just like the Roman goddess. There is no one else among the Roman gods and goddesses who can safely antagonize Jupiter. The only one who can be against him, and even make him timid and ridiculous, is Juno. Juno’s image watching and scolding Jupiter is grafted upon the representation of Isis, and it enervates and reduces Jupiter’s negative remarks on Cleopatra. In effect, the West’s prejudice against the East, which is expressed by Jupiter, weakens as well.
Eurocentric society has molded the dichotomous structure of the superior Self and the inferior Other over gender and race. Women and non‐whites have been stipulated as the inferior sexual and racial Other in that structure, compelled to be silenced for a long time. The musical
Kleopatraadds the silenced sexual and racial Other’s voice to the drama, which is to reinstate Cleopatra to the throne, by applying a new representation of characters and effective stage settings. Reconstructed in that way, this new story on Cleopatra can possibly be a counter‐discourse against the West’s dominant discourse of white patriarchy.
Performed in Korea,
Kleopatrawon the audiences’ applause since it was well equipped with a splendid stage, beautiful music, and even leading performers’ popularity. The Korean version, however, is different form the original Czech version. According to the production company, they modified some parts of the work as they imported it. They erased the flirting homosexual scene of Cleopatra with her attendants, which existed in the original Czech version. That is because Korean society was considered by the Korean producers to be conservative about homosexuality and sexually active women. The homosexual scene must be an apparatus to express Cleopatra’s active sexuality aggressively. Nevertheless, it is also true that her sexual activeness in taking a variety of sexual pleasures can raise the audiences’ suspicions about the authenticity of her passion/heart in the parts where she expresses emotional sufferings that she undergoes from her relations with Caesar and Antony. The Czech performance that includes the aggressive representation of female sexuality can amplify male anxiety.
By contrast, the Czech performance’s inclusion of active female sexuality can result in a more firmly fixed Cleopatra myth created by European men’s fantasy through reproducing and reinforcing Cleopatra’s ‘whore’ images. There is no doubt that the Korean performance in which female sexuality is reduced looks safer to society, and Cleopatra’s passion/heart gains more authenticity because the homosexual scene is cut out. Her gain in authenticity draws compassion, empathy, and idealization of the figure from the audience.
However, the erasure of Cleopatra’s homosexual scene conclusively brings about the result that women’s active sexuality as well as that of sexual minorities is again repressed and contained under heterosexuality according to the patriarchal order. In addition, the fact that the Korean production team revised the original script of the Czech version in order to correspond with the cultural climate of Korea means that the Orient itself has accepted and internalized Orientalism of its own accord.
For the Korean stage, Ji‐yoon Park was cast for the role of Cleopatra. To premiere this musical in Korea, the production team made an effort to find the most suitable actress for the title role. Park won tremendous popularity with the song titled “A Coming‐of‐Age Ceremony.” The song depicts the mind of a girl who reaches adult age. She says to her love that there is no more reason why they have to delay their first sexual intercourse. The producer of the song insisted that the song would be able to ensure safer sexual culture for teen‐agers. However, the Park’s performance focused on showing a sex‐appealing image, and the audience built up a sexual fantasy through it. Such an image of Park may have been crucial when the production team chose her for the role. The Cleopatra created by Park was physically attractive, and this satisfied the audience.
Taekyeong Kang points out the mechanism between the writer’s/producer’s intention and the reception by the audience. To investigate this matter, Kang employs David H. Hwang’s
M. Butterfly.3 When the audience receives the play, specific contexts, such as authorship, performance style, and tragedy, on the one hand, and Orientalism, multiculturalism, homosexuality, and the postmodern notion of identity, on the other, function and eventually create certain effects different from the original intention. According to Kang, the original message of the play is classified and degenerated, and this finally invites even an unexpected dysfunctional effect, such that the audience establishes emotional bonds with the white male protagonist (32‐46). In other words, Hwang, with the play, intended to subvert the Orientalist perception and to deconstruct the gender identity that have been invented and fixed by imperialist discourses. But the operation of the dominant sociopolitical ideology leads to reinforcement of the dominant notion of the mainstream culture, as criticism on the dominant culture shifts into the autogenous and self‐reflective criticism by the mainstream culture itself. The play, designed to subvert and deconstruct imperialism and Orientalism supposed as white male hegemony, works for rather reproduction of them.
In a similar vein, the musical
Kleopatraencounters an audience’s reception different from its original message. The producer designed the musical to recover Cleopatra’s queenship, and break the West’s prejudice against her and her culture, by inviting female authority, subjectivity, and voices. However, when it is received by the audience, different effects are caused. There exists a gap between the producer’s intention and the audience’s reception, and dominant notions including patriarchy and Orientalism penetrate the gap.
Regardless of the original message of the musical
Kleopatra, the audience would find pleasure in what is perceived as an Orientalist representation of the Egyptian queen. They go to the theater, expecting a sexually attractive Cleopatra, and this phenomenon, which the writer or the producer has not anticipated, mirrors the pervasiveness of Orientalism. To draw more audiences, the agency cannot help reproducing Orientalist representation. The Korean production team cast a sex‐appealing actress, and the audience consumes and receives the sexually attractive queen with a sense of satisfaction and pleasure. Although the figure of Cleopatra has metamorphoses through numerous works, it seems difficult for her to escape from the trap of Orientalism. For performing arts in particular, a strong ideology or political message operates during the stage of distribution and consumption, irrespective of the producer’s intention. The fact that the audience accommodates Kleopatraon the ground of Orientalism proves that they have been pulled into Orientalist discourses, unknowingly or otherwise.
1The musical numbers for the musical were translated into Korean by Jae‐ho Jeon. They were then translated into English, for this study. 2Irma is a Philippine laborer who works in Silicon Valley in California, 1993. 3A group of critics say that M. Butterfly is designed to deconstruct Orientalism and gender identity.
Portraying Cleopatra as at once goddess and whore, Shakespeare created an ambivalent representation of the Egyptian queen in
Antony and Cleopatra. It was hard to find Cleopatra’s blackness and sexuality in his source, Plutarch’s Lives. Shakespeare not only feminizes and barbarizes Egyptian culture represented by Cleopatra, but also invites the queen’s reinstatement to queenship. As a politically and sexually active woman, Cleopatra questions and undermines the imperial and patriarchal authority of Roman masculinity. However, Cleopatra’s positive image is contained by the stereotype of the racial and sexual Otherness. Cleopatra is repeatedly identified by animal metaphors, and compared to whore, gypsy, and witch. Egypt is depicted as a world politically and morally inferior to Rome, such that the Roman conquest of and domination over Egypt becomes quite necessary and legitimate. While suggesting an alternative to the rigid and oppressive patriarchal Roman world, Antony and Cleopatrarevolves around the Orientalist system of representation by reproducing the long‐standing stereotypes of racial and cultural alterity.
Cleopatra’s positive image of the goddess manifested in Shakespeare’s play is downplayed as it passes through Dryden, Shaw, and Mankiewicz. Consequently, in the post‐Renaissance representations of Cleopatra on the Western stage, the whore outweighs the goddess. This leads to more solidification of the Cleopatra myth that has stipulated the Oriental queen as the inferior Other.
With the advent of the third millennium, the story about the Egyptian queen came into the world by means of the musical genre. The musical
Kleopatratries to record Cleopatra as the eternal queen of Egypt, as it underplays the whore and overplays the goddess. In addition, female subjectivity is bestowed on the female characters headed by the queen, and it liberates them from the inferior position as the Other. Furthermore, the musical borrows special stage settings and mythic figures to counter the negative perception of the Oriental queen constructed by white patriarchy. There is no doubt that Kleopatracan be a striking example of counter‐discourse against the Cleopatra myth established by the West. Here in Korea, however, Orientalism again proves its popularity and influence over the audience. When they visit the theater, a majority of the audience seem to expect an Orientalized Cleopatra. As it is received and consumed in the market, Kleopatrais re‐Orientalized, which is different from the writer’s or the producer’s intention. The distributor chooses the Orientalist representation to meet the audience’s demand, and the audience feels pleasure and satisfaction with it.
Depending on the historical situations, the figure of the Egyptian queen has been metamorphosed with “infinite variety”(Shakespeare 2.2.236). Nevertheless, her stereotype as the sexual and racial Other continues over time and across place. It is almost impossible to find from any literary work in which Cleopatra succeeds in freeing herself from Otherness. A variety of her representations shows the fact that male anxiety and imperial fantasy is ceaselessly projected onto her. To borrow from Said’s concepts, there is something of an “internal consistency” in the “vision” of Cleopatra, although there are differences in the “narrative” of her image. In other words, Cleopatra changes in the surface structure, or “manifest Orientalism,” but the perception of her is to a large degree fixed in the deep structure, or “latent Orientalism.” Or somewhat as Said argues, Orientalism is not an ‘open’ discourse that invites adjustment and variation, but a ‘closed’ dogma that does not invite them (222).
Said’s argument sounds rather oversimplified but is quite suggestive. Most of Said’s critics point out that his whole argument revolves around the binary distinction between self and Other or West and East and that he disregards any possibilities of resistance both within and without Orientalism. It is true that there have been resistances within the West as well as from the East. Said thus ignores Orientalism’s capacity for self‐reflection by stressing the notion of “possessive exclusivism,” namely, that the subject’s ontological experiences determine the subject’s epistemological standpoint. If so, all discursive resistances would seem to be completely blocked within the hegemony of Orientalism.
However, when it comes to the diachronic representations of Cleopatra, Said’s argument is not so misleading. Representation is a matter of the subject, namely, who speaks for whom. The Orient has no choice but to become the Other for the self‐fashioning or selfreflection of the West, because the West is the Subject in representing the Orient. Likewise, the Egyptian queen and her culture have been invented and manipulated for the West’s needs and desires. This might sound somewhat redundant and pessimistic, but this is the reality of discursive practice. As long as the East remains the position of a subjugated Other, it is difficult to overcome that reality. What seems unfortunate but ultimately matters is the power imbalance or unequal exchange between East and West.
As investigated in this study, Cleopatra has been variously transformed over time, in accordance with the political, cultural, or economic needs of the West. Despite a variety of outer covers of Cleopatra, however, the core, as an aggregate of the West’s needs and desires, has been consistent. In other words, the hegemony of Orientalism is tenaciously at work in the representation of Cleopatra, and such “internal consistency” continues beneath surface differences and variations. As Whitaker puts it, the reason why Cleopatra is singled out throughout history is not because she was Egypt’s greatest queen, but because she is “the most famous ancient Egyptian” in the Western tradition (169). From the beginning onward, all discourses of Cleopatra have been Eurocentric inventions within the West’s imperial history. Although the Egyptian has transformed herself in a conspicuous and multifarious way, she has failed to free herself from the Orientalist system of representation that dichotomously defines her as the Other onto whom the West projects its needs and desire.
[Figure 1] Cleopatra and the Serpent on the Stage.