Cleopatra and Phaedra

analyzing two characters based on two different books, Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare and Phaedra by Jean Racine. There are evidently many differences and similarities between these two characters that manifest as one explores the way each author has presented or expressed the characters given the circumstances their circumstances. However, Shakespeare’s clarity in portrayal of a more sensible character inspires the reader to identify with the emotions of his plot more closely. On the other hand, Racine’s portrayal of character makes the readers wonder continuously. These are the attributes that bring similarities and differences in related plots that develop and cannot be overlooked. Therefore, it is necessary to look into the characters of Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra by Shakespeare and Phaedra in Phaedra by Racine when examining their similarities and differences

In Antony and Cleopatra, Shakespeare explores the character of Cleopatra through her actions in the play. Cleopatra has a very strong character in some sense; she is an attractive woman, loves drama and most of all she is in love with Marc Antony (Shakespeare 1998, pp.23 – 24). However, she may have done things that Antony disapproved, but it is clear throughout the plot that she is deeply and truly in love with him considering that she committed suicide after learning about Antony’s death (Shakespeare 1998, p.144). Cleopatra’s charm and competence in comparison with other women of her time gave her more opportunities and authority in life (Shakespeare 1998, pp.67 – 70,). On the other hand, Phaedra by Racine has totally different characters to Cleopatra. Phaedra is a woman to feel sorry for and the plans she makes in life make her look evil and not smart. She falls in love with her husband’s son Hippolytus which as a consequence, shocks everyone else and causes her a lot of pain and misery (Racine 2004, pp.190 – 191, Racine). In contrast to Cleopatra, Phaedra is not a strong character. She is a very confused woman and it seems that all she seeks is the love of Hippolytus without considering the consequences (Racine 2004, pp.175 -177).  Phaedra was in a bad situation and could not think clearly, but even in this circumstance she could at least have avoided sorrow and mystery of those around her through her actions. Even though, Phaedra is not in control of her feelings, she is in a completely different situation from Cleopatra, and her forbidden love makes it hard for one to sympathize with her pain and mystery. As a result, one cannot adequately compare Cleopatra and Phaedra’s behavior as they both are in different and unique circumstances.

Cleopatra and Phaedra have some similarities especially with regards to their positions in the society with both being queens. In addition, Mark Anthony loves his wife Cleopatra dearly as does Theseus, Phaedra’s husband. However unlike Cleopatra, Phaedra does not know what to do at awkward moments or to cherish the love of her husband. Phaedra is confused most of the time; she is very weak and cannot control her feelings for Hippolytus (Racine 2004, pp.158 -152). Furthermore, she is unable to find a solution to stop her suffering and distress; she is extremely confused and cannot make decisions on her own which makes her seek help from Oenone, her nurse (Racine 2004, p.186). Even though, Phaedra’s character does not make her rule the entire story, but it was due to her inappropriate love that the story is a tragedy. Phaedra’s love for her husband’s son is out of her control since it’s her destiny or fate and by the power of gods, though ultimately, the audience is made to believe that it is the absence of morals that make her fall in love passionately (Racine 2004, p. 201- 202). Despite the fact that she fell in love with Hippolytus her husband’s son, she could have at least tried not to make her feelings so obvious and hence cause trouble, but instead she chose to show her feelings and caused suffering to everyone.  On the other hand, Cleopatra is a captivating character that is rare among women of her time and in comparison to Phaedra she has a charming personality (Shakespeare 1998, pp.67 – 70). In addition, she often tries to find solutions that bring happiness and makes extraordinary plans to make her reach her desired goals (Shakespeare 1998, pp.14- 19). Cleopatra is one of the strongest and most inspiring female characters of Shakespeare’s story even though the entire story is not based on her, but her presence is nevertheless vital for the plot. She is the reason why Shakespeare’s story seems so extreme and interesting. Evidently, Cleopatra is a woman who expresses her feelings very accurately, has a strong personality gives her authority over large number of people even though sometimes she can be unyieldingly harsh (Shakespeare 1998, pp.133 – 134).


Shakespeare has a good understanding of the character he created Cleopatra. Indeed, he made her act clear enough to be understood and makes his audience admire his creation. In addition, the book Antony and Cleopatra is written clearly with the intent of having an excellent understanding of Cleopatra’s character and personality. Shakespeare’s writing on Cleopatra leave s one wondering what she would do in tough situations (Shakespeare 1998, p. 77 – 79). Certainly, Shakespeare has a superior understanding of Cleopatra as her actions and words leave a great impression on the readers of the play. Phaedra is one of Racine’s most admirable creations; he has made her neither innocent nor guilty but because of the guilt she feels towards her feelings for Hippolytus makes her mostly a victim than a sinner (Racine 2004, p.213 – 214). Evidently, Racine expressed Phaedra in a satisfactory way but not in a way to make the audience have a full understanding of her actions; due to conflicting views he created in her personality that made her appear neither guilty nor innocent. However, this difference is only visible when the two characters, Cleopatra and Phaedra are put under consideration. Racine’s lack of cautiousness and curiosity in comparison to Shakespeare restricts his characters to be free and independent and made them be more concealed just like the way he represents Phaedra in his book. Also, Racine created two conflicting characters in Phaedra in his story; one is that she was an innocent woman worthy of pity from readers as she could her feelings of forbidden love and also made her a sinner due to the plans she made that makes her to be guilty. Therefore, this makes it very difficult to distinguish which set of characteristics suits her the most out of all. Racine named his book Phaedra because the entire story is based on her and all the drama comes from this character.

In essence, both Phaedra and Cleopatra have their differences and similarities as the plots of the plays develop. The depiction of Phaedra is that of a character confused and unable to deal with her circumstances, but had Racine shown one side of characterization then readers would clearly have an idea about her character as she is neither good nor evil. On one hand, one feels pity for Phaedra as she cannot deal with forbidden love, making the story tragic. On the other hand, it seems that destiny is cruel to her and her bad experiences are similar to those of Cleopatra.  On the contrary, Shakespeare shows one side of Cleopatra as one who is strong willed, to the extent that readers clearly understand how she deals with her circumstances. Cleopatra’s character and personality is so alluring that readers can identify with her. Furthermore, her actions make one to empathize with her situation after the death of Anthony, while her strong personality gives her influence over other people. Thus, both authors are successful in showing the lives of both Queens and how their personalities affect choices.  Cleopatra is a likeable character who facilitates the plot of the story making the story so fascinating, Phaedra may bring out both positive and negative feelings from reader, but being a tragic story the play also has along lasting impact on readers


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