Cleopatra Essay - Critical Context

Margaret Carver Leighton

Critical Context

The career of Cleopatra has had a variety of interpretations. Contemporary Romans considered her a dangerous threat to their political well-being. To William Shakespeare, her story was one of passion and fidelity. To Hollywood, the Egyptian queen has usually been an attractive seductress. In the twentieth century, Cleopatra became the center of a cultural debate, as her Greek ancestry was questioned and her possible African ties were affirmed.

Leighton, the author of many books for young adults, including Judith of France (1948), Comanche of the Seventh (1957), and Voyage to Coromandel (1965), steers clear of all these controversial Cleopatras and offers her readers a biography based, as much as possible, on historical evidence rather than on legend and distortion. In particular, Leighton has based her depiction of the queen on the 1923 revised edition of Arthur Weigall’s The Life and Times of Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt: A Study in the Origin of the Roman Empire.

Leighton is honest about her subject. She does not disguise the brutality and corruption of the age. In her book, messengers are killed for being the bearers of bad news and her young readers are fully aware that both Caesar and Marc Antony were married during their affairs with Cleopatra. At the same time, Leighton’s readers can gain inspiration from Cleopatra’s life. Leighton’s queen is an intelligent and determined young woman who single-mindedly pursues political ambitions for herself and her children. She played a dangerous game and lost, but she lost with nobility and dignity.