The ancient world has been a source of inspiration and legitimacy for cinema since the development of narrative film. Cleopatra’s image in art, literature, and theatre translated seamlessly onto the screen. The historical narrative and characteristics of Cleopatra are necessarily malleable, inviting filmmakers to select the most impactful episodes or aspects of the Egyptian Queen to present to their audiences. While most choose to perpetuate the established trope of Cleopatra as a dangerous seductress, cinema has cast Cleopatra as a vamp through Theda Bara in 1917, a childish queen with Vivien Leigh in 1945, and most notably by Elizabeth Taylor as a mother and formidable leader in 1963. This paper explores how casting decisions build on the traditional images of Cleopatra established in antiquity. Actors who are cast for their star power have a uniquely powerful impact on the formation of their characters. They are chosen, in part, for their ability to produce a character, and when depicting an already familiar figure their performances either reinforce or challenge the established image of this character. Bara, Leigh, and Taylor, all offer unique versions of Cleopatra which are directly informed by their star personae and the contemporary contexts of their productions.


E302 Forgan Smith