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Cleopatra VII & Marcus Antonius

This amulet represents the ankh, a hieroglyphic symbol, an Egyptian word for ‘eternity’ or ‘key of life’. I bought this in the 1990’s and put it on a metal chain to wear as a necklace. I was 12 years old, strolling the gift shop of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.  
Photography by Nicolette Mallow.

A few years ago, I wrote a blog about “Cleopatra”—the 1963 classic Hollywood film—but I took it down because my words were being stolen and replicated. However, I am feeling amorous today. And I decided this story has no place for publication even if it makes for a passionate, pleasurable blog. So here it is, once again.

While renting books from my local library, I also purchased the film “Suddenly, Last Summer.” A film based on the play by Tennessee Williams starring Elizabeth Taylor and Katherine Hepburn. The dialogue is fantastic, and the story is compelling. I’ve never heard a more bone-chilling, frightening scream of terror in any other film than hearing Catherine’s character (played by Elizabeth Taylor) belt her heart out in horror as she recounts the day she witnessed a gruesome, traumatizing event that affected her so greatly it caused others to think her mentally insane. When she just needed to release the story of the past that took place suddenly, last summer.

After watching this film that touched my heart in a lot of ways. I decided to spend a week binging on Elizabeth Taylor movies. Since I’m obsessed with the history of Ancient Egypt and always have been since I was very little: I thought it suitable to rent “Cleopatra” amongst my many choices.

“Cleopatra” is a spectacle film that glamorizes the story about the ‘beguiling’ beauty and notorious Egyptian Queen, Cleopatra VII (Elizabeth Taylor), who won the heart of Julius Caesar (Rex Harrison) and Marc Antony. Marc Antony, fully known by Marcus Antonius, is played by Richard Burton. An actor married to Taylor twice in real life and whom she claimed was her greatest love.

In Act I of the blockbuster movie, Cleopatra meets Julius Caesar. (Yes, the film was long enough that it was divided into two segments.) Caesar has come from Rome to obtain a sense of order in Egypt, and within the first half of the film, we see the classic Hollywood version of the love story between Julius Caesar and Cleopatra. Upon his arrival, Queen Cleopatra is brought to Caesar in secret by one of her servants. The servant had carefully wrapped her in a rug to hide the Queen from her brother and those who follow his lead. Times are dangerous in Egypt at this time. Hence why Caesar and his men have come to take control—and it explains why the Queen had to hide to return to her palace. Given that her brother wants Cleopatra dead, or anyone else that stands in his way, so that he may take sole power of the nation.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. Photography by Nicolette Mallow.

Nonetheless, the day she meets this notorious Greek conqueror as she’s unraveled from the rug. Cleopatra gives Caesar an ultimatum that if he wants Egypt, her country, to cooperate with Rome and his men, she must be appointed as ‘undisputed Queen of Egypt.’ As he listens to her demands, Caesar declines her wishes at first, if not mocks her, even addresses Queen Cleopatra as ‘young lady.’ He has a hardened shell and trusts no one, especially not a woman.

“Trust, the word itself makes me apprehensive,” he says. 

Caesar also expresses that he is particularly distrusting of Cleopatra because she is female. Watching his eyes and body language, the viewer can see it somewhat disturbs, if not frightens Caesar, how great of an influential power that Cleopatra, a woman, holds over him from almost the moment they meet. He is in complete awe and mesmerization of her strength and timeless beauty. Because even before he gives in and grants her the title of Queen: he still allows her to behave in a way that no other woman had done so in his presence before. He allows her to speak her mind.

Historically, during this ancient time, men were in complete superiority, particularly in Greece and Rome. Men and women’s roles in life are a significant theme within the film. The Roman senate despises any authority or influence Cleopatra grows to have and even refers to her as a ‘harlot’ and a ‘whore‘ as she chooses the men she takes to bed instead of being told by her superiors how to behave or whom to marry. The quote below is from a scene when the Roman generals are discussing Cleopatra in secret to discover whether she is dangerous or not. They deem she is potentially dangerous.

“Reputed to be extremely intelligent and sharp of wit. Queen Cleopatra is widely read. Well-versed in the sciences and mathematics. She speaks seven languages proficiently. Were she not a woman, she’d be considered an intellectual… Here’s something of more interest to the navy: ln obtaining her objectives, she has been known to use torture, poison and even her own sexual talents, which are said to be considerable. Her lovers, l am told, are listed more easily by number than by name. lt is said that she chooses in the manner of a man rather than wait to be chosen after womanly fashion.”

There is a massive difference in culture and gender between Rome and Egypt. Whereas in Egypt, women were exalted. Overseas women were considered inferior to men. Caesar is not blind to the power of women within this film, but he is also not accustomed to a woman being in control either. There is a scene where the two are quarreling over political matters and Caesar states to Cleopatra that he is a man who always receives what he wants and desires.

“You are what I say you are,” he proclaims, trying to dominate her. Reaching for her arms, he’s holding her tightly and closely. Caesar says to Cleopatra that anytime he summons her—wanting her in bed. The Queen must not resist. Caesar says this to her half-serious because he knows very well that Cleopatra is a woman who acts on her own free-will and that trying to tame the Queen would be like attempting to tame the sea. But it was also his way of saying he loved her, while still acting on his war-like ways as he‘s been desperately wanting to kiss her from the start.

After he states these words to her, Caesar begins to kiss her neck. But she is like stone, unmoved. “You will not like me this way,” Taylor says in response, insinuating she will be like a lifeless rock in bed if he forces himself upon her and doesn’t wait for her to invite him to bed.

After a few more encounters, Caesar grows extremely fond of how strong and yet feminine a woman Cleopatra is: a soft, open heart with a sharp mind and a fierce tongue. He becomes so captivated by Cleopatra’s attractiveness, intelligence, fiery temperament, boldness, sensuality, and individuality that, in due time, he cannot help but fall deeply in love with this rare Egyptian gemstone and treats her like such. Caesar ends up granting Cleopatra the title of Queen. He learns to trust her and to open his heart to her. And when she is anointed Queen, even Caesar bows down before her with respect.

Secretly, Cleopatra loves Caesar, too, and this is one of the reasons why he gave her the title. He knows she loves him. The other reason was that the decision was in Rome and Egypt’s best political interests as Egypt was the prominent trading post: corn, grain, and treasure. Additionally, once Cleopatra becomes impregnated with his child and firstborn son. Caesar postpones his return to Italy to stay with his beloved Cleopatra. During his stay in Egypt, the two become very close companions, and we get to see more behind closed doors interaction. We get to see the humanistic side of Caesar. And in his time away from home, Cleopatra bears a son and heir: Cezarian. There is this one quote in the movie before they make love, a quote that haunts me.

“A woman who cannot bear children is like a river that runs dry.”

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. Photography by Nicolette Mallow.

As previously stated, the movie is long and detailed with many dance scenes, costume changes, extravagant sets, and moments of significance. There are many lines I’d love to quote. Nonetheless, Part I encapsulates Cleopatra’s love affair with Julius Caesar. And Part II portrays Cleopatra’s bond with Marc Antony. Regardless, two of my absolute favorite scenes within “Cleopatra” are in Part II.

Three years after Caesar’s death, Queen Cleopatra has set sail to Tarsus. Marcus Antonius needed the help of Egypt (Cleopatra) to survive, and she has met him halfway to extend her assistance. As she sails in, Marc Antony is the first to welcome her on board. After commenting on her timeless beauty, Antony points out the unique necklace that Cleopatra is wearing: hundreds of handmade gold Egyptian coins with Caesar’s face engraved on to them.

Side note: Marc Antony has been captivated with Queen Cleopatra ever since the day he met her, three years prior, when she was Caesar’s beloved/mother of his child. He was Caesar’s right-hand man and best friend. Marc Antony is the only man Caesar ever trusted. When Caesar was announced Dictator of Rome, he summoned Cleopatra and their son to venture to Italy. There was a significant entry, almost like a festival, for the Queen the day she arrived in Rome. As Antony stood next to Julius Caesar and observed the grand debut of the Egyptian Queen and their son: we can see in Burton’s eyes that Antony fell in lust with Cleopatra’s enchanting loveliness that moment. As Antony got to know her, he was also taken by her guts and guile. He fell in love with her. Cleopatra’s mysticism and strength hypnotize both him and Caesar. Following Caesar’s tragic death—murdered by his friend Brutus—Cleopatra fled Rome and returned to Egypt despite Antony’s attempt to persuade her to stay, even to protect her. Sadly the dream between Caesar and Cleopatra of conquering the world had died, and she saw no reason to stay in a land unbeknown to her. Also, she could tell Antony was in love with her, and Cleopatra knew her heart was still tied and still belonged solely to Caesar. During the three years after the murder of Caesar, Antony hunts down and murders all those who executed Julius Caesar.

After the Queen’s arrival to Rome within Part II, Cleopatra hosts a banquet feast on her fancy ship as she refuses to set foot off the boat. We finally get to see just the two together. They hold a symbiotic, unspoken connection that is unique. More unique than what she and Caesar possessed. They talk about politics, Rome, Egypt, nostalgia, gods/goddesses, and Julius Caesar. Antony has been so anxious to see the Egyptian Queen that being in her presence makes him a bit overwhelmed, and he can barely keep his eyes from continually staring at her lips, face, eyes, and jewelry. He is also bothered by the intricate necklace of gold coins that Cleopatra has been wearing since she arrived. She admits to wearing this necklace since Caesar’s undeserved fate, and it’s driving Antony wild with jealousy upon seeing it.

“After three years, do you find it necessary to wear him around your neck?” he asks.

Touching the necklace, she looks into his eyes and says, “You forget Antony, how full your own life has been.”

As the two are sitting at a table together, watching the others dine and wine. Cleopatra is resisting all of Antony’s advances because she is seeking love that will withstand time. A man who is ambitious and powerful enough to carry on the lost dream: uniting Egypt, Rome, and Greece as one peaceful nation with Cleopatra as Queen and her beloved as the King/Sole Dictator.

As a Roman conqueror and one-third Dictator of Rome, Antony is not used to being told ‘no’ by a woman, or even a man, and strongly dislikes that he cannot dictate what Cleopatra can or cannot do. When speaking to Rufio, he says in private, “Queens. Strip them naked like any other woman, and they’re no longer Queens”. Rufio’s response to his General’s egotistical statement: “It’s also hard to tell the rank of an eager General. General’s without armies are naked, indeed.” Insinuating that they needed Cleopatra and Antony was going to have to swallow his pride and do what was best for everyone.

Antony is angry, filled with frustration, and repressed desires. He gets up from his table and sits right next to Cleopatra at her table. Antony turns and says something like, “I’ve told you before: With you, words do not come easily. There is too much within me that I cannot say”. [sips wine, is a bit sweaty from heavy drinking, very drunk]

Queen: Then I cannot know it.

Antony: There is much unsaid within you, too.

He grabs her wine glass after finishing his and begins drinking from her goblet. Antony wants her to stay a while in Rome. He asks to see her alone. Cleopatra responds that they are setting sail at dawn to return to Egypt, and she will not leave Egyptian soil (the ship).

Antony: You’ve come all this way for one night to leave and make a fool of me.

Queen: Hmm, so you would look less of a fool if you stayed the night with me…is that it?

She looks at him with eyes that seem to pierce right through him. (You can see the chemistry between the two on film, and it’s no surprise that they were married in real life.) Cleopatra talks of ambition, the dream and inspires Antony to keep using what he has—titles/talents/tools—to obtain divinity and become a god; to conquer all of Rome. She is tempting him to pick up the dream, his only way of winning her for the keeping. Antony goes silent, speechless. He cannot bring himself to convey his feelings to Cleopatra. Pride and fear of rejection stand in his way.

Marc Antony has been drinking heavily at the banquet. (Not only in the movie, but it’s a historical fact that Marcus Antonius was a heavy drinker.) Since he is intoxicated, making him even more volatile and brazen. During a dance, Anthony is distracted by a young woman who is almost identical to Cleopatra in appearance and attire. He leaves the table and makes his way across the floor to this young woman. He proceeds to kiss her, striving to erase the Queen’s memory and intending to make her jealous. Antony is kissing the estranged woman: he opens his eyes and peers over his shoulder towards the table where he was dining with Cleopatra. He notices Cleopatra has excused herself, and the table is now empty. The camera zooms in and out the way, taking a moment to come into focus, just like a drunk person might see real life. Realizing it’s now or never, Antony pushes the young woman away and darts to the Queen’s chambers.

Antony storms into Cleopatra’s room, uninvited as if he’s heading to battle. He goes right past the guards and Cleopatra’s head men without permission to enter. They let him pass. He makes his way to the back of the ship, where the Queen’s bed-chamber lies. He enters. She is seemingly asleep in a golden bed with silk sheets. There is a peach rose veil circling around Cleopatra’s bed frame. Antony tries to find his way through with his hands but cannot locate an opening. He shuffles the fabric around for a second or two and then gets so frustrated that he reaches for his knife, and tears open the curtains with his steel blade.

Cleopatra sits up calmly, knowing he’d never harm her even if he’s a viperous man, and asks stoically and matter of fact, “The dance, I take it, is over?”

After making a hole, Antony rips the curtains apart with his hands and forces his way in, acting like the proud Roman warrior and conqueror he is. Queen Cleopatra lies steadily in bed, staring at him — waiting for an explanation.

Antony steps in and asks, if not demands, “Sit up! I want to see whether or not you sleep with your memories.”. (He is referring to the necklace.) As Cleopatra sits up, he is violently disturbed that she is still wearing the gold coins of Caesar, even in her sleep. Marc Antony hits something in rage, and it flies across the room. He looks like he’s ready to turn in to a wild animal.

Photo of Nicolette Mallow’s first abdominal tattoo in 2013. An Ankh on her solar plexus.

Cleopatra says something along the lines, “With so much unsaid within you, it must be a relief to break and tear things?” With the help of some liquid encouragement, Antony finally brings himself to tell Cleopatra how he feels.

Antony: There is something I want to tell you now.

Queen: Maybe something other time. (She says before closing his eyes and turning over in bed.)

Antony: (Eyes blazing with anger, he yells loudly enough to hurt the ear) “Now!” 

The Queen sits up, shocked by his ear-splitting voice.

Antony speaks while pacing around the room. He whispers in anger: “Caesar.” There is a pause and his voice grows clamorous. “Conquer and conquer. Bring the world to its knees. Be braver than the bravest. Wiser than the wisest. Stronger than the strongest. But still no Caesar. Do what you will but Caesar’s done it first, and done it better… Who loved better, fought better, thought better? (Turning away, his back to her as he says in almost saddened, desperate tone.) “Run where you want you can’t get out. There’s no way out. The shadow of Caesar will cover you and cover for all of time.” Looking directly at the Queen, He asks, fuming in rage, “Where is Marc Antony?… Antony the great, the divine, Antony!”

His voice shifts back to the saddened tone, yet we can still hear his anger. He says, pointing at the floor, “Here…He’s here: one step behind Caesar, at the right hand of Caesar… In the shadow of Caesar.”

Running to the Queen, he bends down on one knee, “Tell me. How many have loved you since then? One? Ten? Anyone!? No one?!…Have they kissed you with Caesar’s lips? Touched you with his hands? Has it been his name you cried out in the dark? And afterward, alone, has he reproached you and have you begged forgiveness of his memory?”

Antony fears Queen Cleopatra will only ever see a world of she and Caesar.

Cleopatra replies, “You’ve come then running over with wine and self-pity … to conquer Caesar.” 

Antony responds, still on his knees and gazing right in to her eyes, “For so long now, you’ve filled my life, like … like a great noise that I hear everywhere in my heart. I want to be free of you, of wanting you, of being afraid.”

Cleopatra leans in, her lips and body inches away. Tempting him, “Yet Caesar would not permit it?” 

Marc Antony reaches for the necklace of gold and pulls the Queen toward him with her necklace. And right before he kisses Cleopatra’s lips and takes his Egyptian Queen to bed—with one slight pull, he breaks the coins of Julius Caesar from her neck and drops the gold necklace on to the floor.

The next morning while lying in bed and locked in one another’s arms, more unspoken truth comes out. Antony expresses that he loves Cleopatra. That he has loved her ever since the day he saw Cleopatra ride into Rome on a sphinx. He reveals to her that no woman, or man, has ever had such power over him but her. That his heart has and always will belong to her… And she admits to loving him.

“But I will never be free of you” is the classic line he speaks to her whilst holding her in bed. 

In this scene, Antony states that he was never once envious of a single triumph, title, or conquest that Caesar ever gained, but he admitted that he was highly jealous of the fact Caesar held Cleopatra’s heart, her son, and her bed.

Cleopatra acknowledges to Antony that she is willing to release the dream of Julius Caesar—to let go entirely—and to give her love and her heart to Marc Antony if he is willing to let go of his self-doubt, never to envy anyone or anything, and to pursue her dream; picking up where Caesar left off.

“Marc Antony is a name that is not unknown to the world,” Cleopatra says to console Antony’s ego and reassure him.

A great deal occurs between this love scene and the ending of the movie. Love and war take place. By the end of the film, Egypt is at war with Rome, and the odds are not in Egypt’s favor. Before defeat is imminent, before the Queen knows they will lose the war. Even Cleopatra loses interest in her ambitious dream of uniting and conquering all the lands. Suddenly the dream becomes meaningless. In the Queen’s eyes, after everything that has happened in her lifetime. The only dream that is worth living for, or should I say dying for, is Marcus Antonius: her greatest love.

The other scene I love towards the end of Part II occurs after a horrible battle on the water. Antony is shamed by the loss and heartbroken that the Queen was not there for him in a time of need. He’s been sleeping nearby tombs in the royal palace of other Egyptian leaders before him. After the Queen enters, she says, “I have come for Marc Antony. What is left of his army, Rufio, my son and l? All of Egypt is waiting for him. There is little time.”

He responds, “Marc Antony? There is no one here by that name, alive.” The Queen proceeds to slap him across the face twice. He slaps her back once in return, and she falls to the ground. We can see in this scene that both of them are older. Antony is worn out by life and love and war. Cleopatra is saddened that neither man could keep her dream alive, and she’s holding on to the last thread of hope. Both of them wearing cloaks and talking in the dark, Richard Burton gives a good monologue that is best seen live.

“Marc Antony? There is no one here by that name, alive. Time for what? For Marc Antony to appear in shiny armor. Swords flashing in both hands? Agrippa. Octavian. Stand back! Rejoice! Marc Antony will save the day! … Antony, you say? He died at Actium, running away. He tried to run on the water, the story goes… But you weren’t there to hold his hand! … Rufio, my legions, waiting. For what? To ask me what they carry in their eyes, in their hearts, in their sleep, as l have in mine. ‘Why are you not dead? Why do you live? How can you live? Why do you not lie in the deepest hole of the sea bloodless and bloated and at peace with honorable death?’ … You begged forgiveness from me for running away. You wept and gave your reason. A mother to her child, a Queen to her country. Where and how can l weep and beg? From whom? The thousands and thousands who can no longer hear me? Shall l give my reason? Shall l say simply, l loved? When l saw you go, l saw nothing. Felt, heard, thought nothing—except your going. Not the dying and dead, not Rome, not Egypt. Not victory or defeat, honor or disgrace—only that my love was going and l must be with her. That my love, my master, called. And l followed. And that only then, l looked back. And l saw… How right you were. ‘Have as your master anyone, anything, but never love’.”

“How wrong. How wrong l was. Antony, the love you followed is here.”

“To be had upon payment of an empire,” Antony says in sadness. 

“Without you, Antony this is not a world l want to live in, much less conquer. Because for me there would be no love anywhere… Do you want me to die with you? l will. Or do you want me to live with you? Whatever you choose.”

“Are we too late, do you think, if we choose to live?”

“Better too late than never.”

Unfortunately, despite their fight and hope to survive, Octavian wins the war as Antony rides off on his horse one last time before the end, even though the Queen is proud of him for looking like the bold General he once did in his youth. She knows they are destined for death and will not win against Rome and Octavian’s armies. Thankfully, even if Octavian can break their marriage and their bodies. He cannot break their love. Antony dies due to a self-inflicted knife wound, but he dies in Cleopatra’s arms, where she was waiting for him this time. As he dies, she says, “Never was there such a silence.” Hours later, the Queen sticks her hand in a basket and lets a cobra bite her, which kills her. And as she goes into the afterlife to meet Antony, where he is waiting for her. Cleopatra had her servants dress her in the golden dress worn years ago when she came in to Rome on the sphinx. It is the golden dress, the first dress, that Antony ever saw Cleopatra wear. The dress she wore when he fell in love with her. And Queen Cleopatra chose this dress so that Antony would recognize her upon entry into the underworld.

Photography by Nicolette Mallow.

Published by Nicolette Mallow

‡ Nicolette Mallow is an Artist: writer, dancer, vocalist, thespian, model, and (amateur) photographer. Writing is Mallow’s strongest artistic skill. Internationally published in the United States and Europe, Nicolette has obtained 110+ publications thus far. Mallow has interviewed an extensive list of talent and collaborated with companies and PR teams from Texas Monthly, National Geographic, Prevention Magazine, HBO Films, The Hollywood Reporter, SXSW, The David Lynch Foundation, Cine Las Americas, The University of Texas at Austin and more. Presently her portfolio entails 12 national awards or scholarships, including both individual and group projects. Working with Press and Publicity teams from companies like Sunshine Sachs, Fons PR, Frank PR, and CW3PR — Mallow can liaise with publicists, entrepreneurs, and their brands. Since 2005, for 17 years, Nicolette Mallow has covered numerous press, corporate and red carpet events as a (dyslexic) writer. Mallow has interviewed talent far beyond her years, including Jimmy Chin, Greta Gerwig, Bob Roth, Dr. Travis Stork, Joan Lunden, Larysa DiDio, Lauren Handel Zander, James White, Jay Roach, Naomi Whittel and Roc Chen. Once, she was a public speaker for a national business conference. Her career is diverse and transcends a vast array of industries, but the focus is always on the arts. Nicolette Mallow does enjoy all forms of writing, but her favorite writing genres to create entail editorial, arts & entertainment, literary journalism, travel, magical realism, nonfiction, technical and promotional publicity. Over time Nicolette has attained Press Credentials to events like Texas Film Awards (hosted by Austin Film Society), The Mexic-Arte Museum, Austin Film Festival, Euphoria Music Festival, and The Blanton Museum of Art. She also wrote for Savannah Magazine, a radio station operated by EMMIS Communications, District newspaper, and the Thinkery (formerly Austin Children’s Museum). In her spare time, Nicolette creates a magical realism novel and turns her nonfiction memoirs into short story novellas. Obtaining two degrees from the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD), she has a Master of Arts degree in Arts Administration (a graduate degree now recognized as Creative Business Leadership) and a B.F.A. in Writing. Born and raised in Texas and NYC—Nicolette Mallow is also a world traveler that lives for art and loves to learn. “L’art Pour L’art.”

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