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Caesar and Cleopatra


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A: George Bernard Shaw W: 1898 Pf: 1906, Berlin, then New York Pb: 1901 G: Drama in 5 acts and a prologue S: Egypt, 48 bc C: 26m, 4f, extrasIn a Prologue Ra cynically comments on Caesar and Cleopatra, asserting that human nature has not changed. In an Alternative Prologue we learn that Caesar is victorious in Egypt. Timidly encountering a strange ‘old gentleman’, Cleopatra is encouraged by him to assert her authority as rightful queen and then discovers that he is in fact Caesar. In Alexandria her young brother, the boy-king Ptolemy, is dependent on his Roman guardian Pothinus, who organizes resistance to Cleopatra's claim to the throne. In order to quell a revolt, Caesar occupies the lighthouse. Cleopatra is smuggled to him in a carpet. Later, with order re-established, Pothinus warns Caesar that Cleopatra is not to be trusted as queen. To Caesar's horror, Cleopatra secretly orders Pothinus' execution. This causes a new revolt to erupt, which Caesar once more suppresses. Victorious over Ptolemy's troops, Caesar leaves for Rome, appointing a Roman general as governor and consoling Cleopatra with the promise of sending Mark Antony to her.

A: George Bernard Shaw W: 1898 Pf: 1906, Berlin, then New York Pb: 1901 G: Drama in 5 acts and a prologue S: Egypt, 48 bc C: 26m, 4f, extras

Shaw resented the universal adulation of Shakespeare, and set his Caesar and Cleopatra against Antony and Cleopatra, claiming that his characters were ‘real’ whereas Shakespeare's were ‘love-obsessed’. While a comparison of the two plays shows how much more skilfully Shakespeare handled historical material, Shaw's play does introduce important political considerations, for example, the dangers of violence, for ‘murder shall breed murder, always in the name of right and honour and peace’. Caesar, a ‘naturally great’ man, is the first example of a Shaw Superman, who, like Nietzsche's philosophical model, acts not according to a moral code but through superior insight.

Subjects: Theatre — Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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