Cleopatra Hulton Archive/Hulton Archive
By Tatiana Pérez



 

“She is life made woman. She is woman made Art: each moment of her story with Antony is created, at the same time ardently lived and immediately multiplied by incessant tensions, transformations, recreations that open and echo the thousands of scenes in which love can infinitely inscribe its need for no limit. All her art in the famous staging of her appearance to Antony’s eyes.” — Helene Cixous, “Sorties”

 

Let me tell you about my fucking idol.

Cleopatra, the original HBIC, falls on neither side of the gender binaries that construct men and women. She is no slave to sexual difference. She is neither masculinity nor femininity, neither activity nor passivity, neither calculation nor impulse, neither military nor leisure, neither order nor chaos, neither reason nor magic, neither stability nor change, and, finally, she is neither life nor death.

Cleopatra is multiple and transcendent. We cannot locate her because she does not inhabit one space. She shatters the patriarchal hierarchies that threaten her person. Her staged love and death avow her immutability; the ways in which she loves and dies — both on her own theatrical terms — render her entirely consummate. She is performed. She confounds us. She is the actor. She is the play. She is the stage. She is powerful because she weaponizes her womanhood — her exclusion from the patriarchal hierarchies that define men. She is emotional, histrionic, fleeting, and variable. Every emotion, when she acts it, seems good and admirable. Her life — her love — therefore becomes art.

Cleopatra directs Antony like a play. She engenders one emotion in him just to drain it. She uses messengers throughout the play to relay news to and from her ever-absent lover, always setting the stage for how the next scene of their love will figure. She stages, he acts; she empties, he fills; and again.

Cleopatra does not make a couple with Antony because neither character is fixed. They are moving, they are informing one another, they are each liberating spaces for the other to later fill them. They form something much more amorphous — and much less anchored — than a couple. They form one changing thing: a single subject occupied by two changing bodies.

Cleopatra avows her heart to Antony and then, extemporaneously, swears her political loyalties to his enemies. She addresses her servants with eclipsing kindness and then, without alarm, thrashes them. She is mutable, she is shifting — she occupies no one space or thing. And in killing herself, Cleopatra immortalizes herself as Cleopatra.

Cleopatra plunges us into her inconsistencies — she plunges us into the play. She is variable and entirely unpredictable; she dies mid-sentence, keeping us suspended in uncertainty until her last breath. She creates her love, and she allows it to create her — to elevate her, to empty her, and to nourish her. Her suicidal final performance, her victory over the Romans — over the hierarchal, male-oriented “order” of the West — is her most fabulous. She takes Antony with her in her last worldly moments, not to form a couple with him, but, rather, to take him into her — to feed her in her afterlife. If Antony — self-doubting and therefore pitiable — kills himself because he cannot envisage Antony as a spurned lover or routed noble, then Cleopatra — self-saying and therefore intractable — kills herself because she rejects a Cleopatra pruned to her basest, most reductive elements; she rejects a Cleopatra defined by her femininity — her sexual difference. She exits herself throughout the play — changing and performing — to see that which she ultimately defeats. She exits herself to re-enter herself. She exits this vile world to eternalize Cleopatra.

Let me tell you about my fucking idol.

Let me tell you about Me.