What Do Representations of Cleopatra in Film and on Television Tell Us About How Her Reputation Changed over Time.

What do representations of Cleopatra in film and on television tell us about how her reputation changed over time.

‘Original version with comments including comments from the PT3’

The roles of women have varied throughout the years, and changes of these roles and reputations can be seen in the story of Cleopatra. The 1917 film Cleopatra portrayed Cleopatra as someone to be feared. This is understandable when taking into account that during this period of time feminism was on the rise and society as a whole seemed to fear change. Theda Bara played Cleopatra, she was well known for playing roles that involved women sexually manipulating and abandoning men. This reputation served to increase the feeling that women with power should be something to be afraid of. This feeling was reflective of a largely male dominated society and to the politics and social norms of the time.    

The 1934 film of Cleopatra takes a dramatic change in the way the Egyptian Queen is portrayed. No longer is she seen as a character to be feared, but now a character that was flirtatious, and perhaps submissive.   This Cleopatra was played by Claudette Colbert, who during this period was known for regular roles in romantic comedies. Perhaps this shows that society in the 1930’s started to recognize the rise of women’s rights and no longer feared women in power. Theda Bara’s portrayal of Cleopatra, was now perceived as an icon for the modern woman. This interpretation of Cleopatra was that she was extravagantly dressed and her surroundings full of orient splendor. It was said she “was a type of mannequin, marketing Egyptian themed costumes, hairstyles, jewelry and clothes”(Cleopatra,1934,in ‘Cleopatra’, 2008; see transcript p.2). The 1934 depiction of Cleopatra suggests that consumerism was on the rise, this is strengthened by the fact that women at this time were actively pressuring society for an equal standing in society. They were becoming more liberal and perhaps purchased more goods...