Discuss the portrayal of gender and heroism in Antony and Cleopatra by Shakespeare and Saint Joan by George Bernard Shaw.

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In his long preface to Saint Joan, George Bernard Shaw compares Joan to Socrates and Napoleon and later discusses her "manliness and militarism." Shaw points out that Joan could easily have gone to court and pleaded her cause before the Dauphin as a woman in a woman's dress. Her soldier's dress and habits were the result of her personality, not of necessity, and Shaw treats her as a masculine hero, not a heroine of romance. He points out that among her contemporaries:

All the men who alluded to the matter declared most emphatically that she was unattractive sexually to a degree that seemed to them miraculous, considering that she was in the bloom of youth, and neither ugly, awkward, deformed, nor unpleasant in her person.

This would have been an important handicap for a romantic heroine but is of much less significance for a military leader or, for that matter, a thinker. Socrates and Napoleon were also physically unprepossessing.

Cleopatra, by contrast, is a famous beauty whose heroism lies in asserting her own values, which Antony shares at the beginning of the play, against the masculine, military ideals of Rome. In I.i, Antony declares:

Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide arch
Of the ranged empire fall! Here is my space.

However, he changes his mind as he is dying, and his last words seem to reject the life he has shared with Cleopatra:

a Roman by a Roman
Valiantly vanquish'd. Now my spirit is going;
I can no more.

Cleopatra is generous enough to accept Antony's "Roman" death and even to bury him "after the high Roman fashion." However, she displays her own courage by dying rather than allowing Octavian to make him part of his triumph. Cleopatra's beauty, values, and character make her a quintessential romantic heroine and a complete contrast to Joan, but she is no less brave or heroic.

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