Cleopatra is the Queen of Egypt. Notoriously one of the most difficult characters to play in all of Shakespeare, she is deeply erotic, charismatic, theatrical, volatile, temperamental, and generally unclassifiable.
She seems to seduce every man she meets, leading her to be considered both an enchantress and a whore. An emblem of Oriental decadence, she is contrasted to the puritanical Romans, especially Caesar and Octavia, and it is her drawing Antony into her net that brings about his downfall, as he “goes native” under her influence, giving Caesar a handy excuse to cast Antony as a traitor to Roman principles. She may or may not have a genuine sentimental attachment to Antony; that is a matter of interpretation. If she does not, then she is using her erotic wiles to subjugate him so as to keep herself in power. She was once the lover of Julius Caesar, whom she claims was next to nothing compared to Antony.
Excellent at staging herself to awe viewers (as she clearly managed to do to Enobarbus), she nevertheless possesses several vulnerabilities, not the least of which is her awareness that she is aging, which leads her to fear that Octavia make draw Antony from her. She is afraid that her dark skin may make her less appealing, along with her wrinkles. The extent to which Antony is under her spell, however, is revealed in the tales of how she drew him into cross-dressing with her. She is also able to make him disregard a direct messenger from Rome, mocking all that the Romans could possibly have to say. She plays at being sullen to disconcert Antony, but sends endless messengers to him when he is away, and appears to be unable to focus on anything in his absence. She has fits of violent temper, and beats the messenger who announces Antony’s marriage to Octavia until he runs away and is scared to return to her presence. She sends him to find out what Octavia looks like, and manages to reassure herself that she is herself the more attractive, though the messenger’s youthful indiscretion on the matter of age does not help.
When war comes between Caesar and Antony, she insists on joining in the war in person, despite being a woman, and argues for the battle at sea. In the middle of the battle, however, she takes fright and runs with all her fleet, and Antony follows. Despite this disgrace to him, she is able to apologize and remain in his good favor. When Thidias comes to convince her to switch to Caesar’s side, she speaks flatteringly of Caesar, and offers her subjection. (This may be a deception on her part, or not.) She attempts to help arm Antony before the next battle, despite not knowing how the various bits and pieces of armor fit together. When Antony is convinced that she has betrayed him during the battle, he turns on her in rage, and she runs from him, afraid for her life. She locks herself in her monument, and at Charmian’s suggestion sends him word that she has killed herself, to find out how he will take the news. When he bungles his suicide and is brought to her, she refuses to exit the monument, out of fear, but helps to lift him in. She faints at his death. She speaks kindly to Proculeius, but on being seized by the Romans enters into a rage and threatens to kill herself, if need be by starving. When Caesar comes to her, she offers her submission, including giving him a scroll containing a list of all she possesses. This list, it turns out, is incomplete. All of this is done to make Caesar believe that she wishes to live, just as he speaks kindly to her to keep her from killing herself. But knowing that Caesar intends to lead her in a Triumph, she has herself dressed in her finest robes of state, and having had asps brought her by a country fellow, she allows them to bite her, one of the breast, the other on the arm, and dies.