I feel that Bernard Shaw's play, Caesar and Cleopatra, did not offer an accurate portrayal of the two main characters, Caesar (based on Roman political figure Gaius Julius Caesar) and Cleopatra (based on Cleopatra VII, the Egyptian Queen).

I understand that Shaw perhaps emphasized certain characteristics, and left out historically correct characteristics, for dramatic purposes. He did, after all, have to entertain a crowd. Yet, it should be noted that this omits Shaw's work from being a source which a student could read and take the ideas presented as being historically accurate. I would like to highlight some of (what I feel to be) Shaw's errors in the characterization of Cleopatra and Caesar.

The 1963 movie, Cleopatra (starring Elizabeth Taylor and Rex Harrison as Cleopatra and Caesar respectively) also has faulty characteristics regarding the two main characters. While the movie is historically based (drawing from fact and ancient historical figure Plutarch, perhaps with other historical sources), there is also an element of drama, and the drawing on legendary perceptions of Cleopatra and Caesar. I will also highlight some of these errors to be aware of on the following tables. I would like to make a small disclaimer here by stating that these are my beliefs, and I try to argue for them to the best of my ability while utlizing factual information about Gaius Julius Caesar and Cleopatra.

Included are links for supportive evidence offered by Dr. Barbara McManus on these two legendary figures.

Choose a Character Table: Caesar Comparisons or Cleopatra Comparisons

Historical Comparison of Gaius Julius Caesar
Characteristic:Historical Comparison of Work(s) to History
His Demagogue StatusMainly this was Shaw's obsession. Caesar definitely had an arrogant side. For instance, after pirates had captured him, requesting a certain amount of money for ransom, Caesar boasted he was worth more than what they had asked for (after eventually defeating the pirates, he took the ransom money anyhow). Shaw takes his boastful ways to another level, by beginning the play with Caesar roaming around the desert (at the feet of the Sphinx), voicing that he and the Sphinx have much in common, both having god-like status above mankind. This, in itself, never happened. Caesar set down in Alexandria, not quite near the Sphinx. Therefore, the reader can deduce that this additional plot was created to add a dramatic flair to Caesar's character that Shaw found fitting for his characterization of Caesar.
The movie does not push this godliness as much. However, it does make him seem more diplomatic (and good-natured) than he probably was when he came to Egypt (the movie has him set down in Alexandria). In the movie, Caesar's mission in Egypt is to settle a rivalry between Cleopatra and her brother Ptolemy over who has right to the throne. Actually, Caesar came to Egypt to collect a debt owed to Rome. Political matters in Egypt were not on his mind (unless it dealt with the gaining of money).
His Paternal Behavior His paternal behavior towards Cleopatra in the play was highly unlikely for a few reasons. One major reason was that, as mentioned before, Caesar was there on business. Shaw turns him into a majestic man of ultimate knowledge for the young Cleopatra, who makes it his duty to teach her how to be a queen. Obviously, history tells us that she knew how to be a queen, and if anything she captivated Caesar (instead of triggering his paternal instincts). How else would one explain the months of Caesar's "cruising the Nile" with Cleopatra while his war in Egypt was doing rather poorly without him? Shaw's own motives are behind this depiction of paternal behavior.
The movie is also at fault, but Caesar does not act fatherly towards Cleopatra, but rather their son, Caesarion. He recognized the existence of his son, but Cleopatra had probably hoped he would take him on as a son (for political reasons, because alliances can be formed through family). Caesar never dressed Caesarion in his own tiny toga picta, and he probably did not spend much "quality time" with him either (for evidence, just look at what Caesar was up to after his trip to Egypt, making it unlikely he had time for little Caesarion).

Historical Comparison of Cleopatra
Characteristic:Historical Comparison of Work(s) to History
Child-like naiveteFor the play, this goes hand-in-hand with the characterization of Caesar as having paternal instincts toward her. Shaw casts Cleopatra as a sixteen year old girl who is highly superstitious, very dependent upon her nurse, and thinks the Romans are creatures that will eat Egyptians. Cleopatra was actually 20 or 21 years old, very intelligent (with the ability to speak many languages, as Plutarch had stated), and obviously had some ingenuity. It certainly took some ingenuity to roll oneself up in a carpet to smuggle into Caesar as a gift (which Cleopatra did to meet him in Alexandria, from which Ptolemy had exiled her).
Demure sex symbolCasting Liz Taylor (a sex symbol for her day) for Cleopatra (who is a widely recognized sex symbol even by modern standards), was a decision based on drama, and of course they wanted to portray the Queen as beautiful, seductive, and enticing. In truth, Cleopatra looked very little like Liz Taylor. Here is the picture (coin depicting her) to prove it. Beside looks, there was also a discrepancy in behavior. Cleopatra was not a sex kitten, or a nymphomaniac. She was, however, an intelligent young woman who had an ability to understand who has political pull (which is why she met Caesar). She knew he could help her get the throne from her brother. In the play and movie, this is brought up as an issue, but yet both underplay her political motives and dramatize her use of feminine wiles (which she could have used while on the Nile with Caesar).
Missing in the movie, for some odd reason, were her children. Caesarion seemingly became her only child, when Cleopatra was actually a mother of four. To keep with the legend of her being seductive and appealing, it is understandable that the movie depicts her as being with only Caesar's child. That does not, however, help a student who is looking for a historical source for reference. I will note here that Shaws's play does not carry past Caesar's leaving. She may or may not have had Caesarion yet.

My conclusion is that the encounters between Caesar were not as dramatic as they have been made to be in Shaw's play and the movie (especially because the movie deals with Cleopatra and Antony's relationship more than that of Cleopatra and Caesar's relationship). Drama is drama, after all. In fact, that makes a rather adequate mantra to keep saying to oneself while seeking the characters beneath the depictions offered in the play and movie.

The pages cited as evidence here belong to Dr. Barbara McManus. For the complete page on Caesar, you can visit the page I've been linking to. Here is the other page about Antony, Octavian and Cleopatra. The coin of Cleopatra is politely and nicely borrowed from this page.