Comparing The Lives of Caesar and Cleopatra to the Play and the Film


The play, Caesar and Cleopatra, by Bernard Shaw is a drama based on the historical facts of these characters. Although Shaw claims to be giving concrete evidence, the play has several fictitious elements.

Cleopatra, the film, covers the lives of Caesar and Cleopatra more accurately than the play in it's portrayal of these characters' personalities. However some points are changed in order to perpetuate long held perceptions of this legendary couple.


Caesar according to the Play

He comes across as a supremely caring man who shows interest in the welfare of everyone. Caesar even shows great mercy to his enemies when it would be safer for him to punish them. For example, he spares the lives of all the Egyptians that previously conspired against him with Pompey. He doesn't even look at their names, certain that they will be his friends now that he has proved himself (Shaw 79).

Caesar According to the Film

The character of Caesar in the film is much like that in the play. He shows mercy towards those he conquers. However, in his mercy, he is furthering himself. The film actually combines Caesar's real personality with that in Shaw's play. He is put in a very favorable light and is made out to be the benevolent ruler who continually works for peace and justice. However, he also continually looks out for himself; and all compassion disappears when it does not suit him. For example, when Cleopatra informs him that the great Library of Alexandria is burning down because of the soldiers' carelessness, Caesar shows no distress and refuses to do anything about it.

The Real Caesar

In reality Caesar was an opportunist. He used every chance for advancment to its greatest extant. This was clear when he was elected to office in 65 BCE. He spent an enormous amount of borrowed money, holding banquets for the people and hosting various games, in order to secure the favor of the public. For the most part, he performed kind deeds only when they fit into his plans for success.

Cleopatra According to the Play

Shaw portrays Cleopatra as a silly vindictive child with limited intelligence. She believes every story that she hears, no matter how improbable it is. This superstitious quality is evident when she tells Caesar at their first meeting that the Romans are horrible creatures and "are coming to eat us all"(Shaw 28). Shaw makes her a child in order to make her silly way of speaking and immature beliefs believable.

Cleopatra according to the Film

She is portrayed as highly intelligent. They reveal Cleopatra's skill in the art of languages, mentioning that she is fluent in nine.

Cleopatra is also seen as extremely attractive and seductive. The fact that she is played by Elizabeth Taylor ensures that the focus will be on her physical characteristics. This emphasis reflects a popular belief that a woman's body is her greatest asset, and a man will only be attracted to her because of this.

The Real Cleopatra

In addition to her highly acclaimed intelligence, Cleopatra was known for her daring personality. She was not afraid to take risks, and in this respect, she was much like Caesar. When she smuggled herself into the palace to meet with Caesar by wrapping herself in a rug, she displayed a courage that greatly impressed him. This imaginative method in which she achieved her goal showed a determination of character closely reflecting Caesar's.

The real Cleopatra proved that looks are not always what attracts. She was actually not a very handsome woman, but she was well versed in the relevant issues of the time and was able to converse for hours with anyone. Cleopatra's allurement came from this vast knowledge and ability to perceive people's ambitions. Her elequence of movement and speech were unmatched. Like Caesar, she made full use of the talents and opportunities available to her.

Faith Racette