Caesar and Cleopatra Copy


Shaw is considered the most important English-language modern playwright.

Introduced the Theatre of Ideas in British literature – a type of drama that deals with controversial issues in a realistic manner, exposes social evils, stimulating thought and discussion on the part of the audience. The characters represent ideas,  conflicting points of view in a realistic context.

Parodies melodrama to develop an intellectual comedy of manners;

Major theme: hypocrisy – his plays try to reveal the bogus values of society;

Modernist traits in Shaw’s prose:

  • Satirical use of love plots and melodrama;
  • Toned-down modernist and expressionist traits;
  • Conflict of ideas under a conventional form;
  • Long narrative stage directions in which the playwright indicated how the play should be acted;
  • Experiments with representing world history on stage in an expressionist manner.

Shaw was an anti-romantic, because he thought that the romantic view went in the way of people seeing what really happened in the world.

“I had no taste for popular art, no respect for popular morality, no belief in popular religion, no admiration for popular heroics. I simply understood life differently”(G.B. Shaw)

He was against the principle of art for art’s sake or entertainment through drama. He was for a theatre that preached to its audience on social issues.

CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA (published 1901)

The play is included in the “Three Plays for Puritans” series (the title is ironic and aims at a reinterpretation of social and historical values).


  • Genre: history play, anti-romantic comedy


  • Ancient Egypt, during Cleopatra’s reign.


Main theme: War and politics. In Shaw’s vision, Caesar acts as a mentor to the young Queen. She is concerned with establishing rulership over her kingdom, while Caesar is at war with Pompey, his former ally in the triumvirate that led Rome. Caesar objects to unnecessary violence and often contradicts Cleopatra’s superstitious beliefs and violent tendencies with rational pragmatism. The secondary theme which is derived from this attitude is what makes authority legitimate.

Other themes:

  • Philosophy;
  • Morality;
  • Civilization and technology;
  • Clemency;
  • Vengeance.


Julius Caesar, the Roman dictator, is enthralled with the 16-year-old Egyptian queen, Cleopatra. They are both in power struggles over the control of their lands, but, while Caesar is mature and wise, Cleopatra is immature. Caesar is wise enough to avoid being tempted by the Queen and instead teaches her the art of politics. Although Caesar wants to avoid bloodshed, Cleopatra’s order to assassinate Ponthinus determines him to approve the retribution against the killer and the reprimand of an Egyptian uprising. In the end, Cleopatra’s rival for the throne (her brother and husband) is killed and she becomes the sole ruler of Egypt.


Characters presented in the analysis of the literary fragment should be adapted to the fragment itself.

  • Julius Caesar – the dictator of Rome and the conqueror of the world. He is a middle-aged, prosaic man, who meets the childish Cleopatra at night, in the desert. He is fascinated by her beauty and amused by her personality, but too practical and detached to develop feelings for her. He teaches her how to act maturely and become a true queen. He also makes her understand political maneuverings and helps her gain the throne.
  • Cleopatra – 16 years old, queen of Egypt. She is at war with her husband-brother, 10-year-old Ptolemy Dionysus, as they each want to rule alone. She is immature and acts like an excitable school girl, but is also superstitious and violent. She believes that she is in love with Caesar, but he makes her assume her dignity as a queen. After she becomes queen, she looks forward to the arrival of Marc Anthony.
  • Ponthius – Ptolemy Dionysus’ guardian and a prisoner of war. Caesar spares his life, as he is a well-loved hero for the Egyptians. When he confronts Cleopatra and affirms that Ptolemy should be the ruler of Egypt after Caesar’s departure, she is enraged by his words and orders her nurse to kill him. Ponthius tries to turn Caesar against Cleopatra by telling him that she has no real feelings for him and only wants the throne, but Caesar considers this to be normal. Ponthius’ death leads to the conflict between Romans and Egyptians in which Ptolemy dies. Thus, Cleopatra becomes the sole ruler of Egypt.


The point of view in drama is usually objective;

It is defined by:

  • The characters’ speech;
  • The characters’ gestures and pantomimic movements.

*ATTENTION: dramatic point of view is a feature of prose, in which a narrator reports the events of a scene without revealing a character’s thoughts and feelings.


In drama, the tone can belong to:

  • The author – present in stage directions;
  • The characters – present in the characters’ lines.

Author’s tone:

  • Ironical (towards Caesar and, in subtext, towards Shakespeare’s “Anthony and Cleopatra”);
  • An undertone of general melancholy;
  • Satirical towards the politics of the author’s time.

Character’s tone: relevant for characterisation.


  • Shaw’s plays are written to shock the audience and teach new values;
  • Use of paradox;
  • Reverses the common patterns of judgement;
  • Uses subtextual irony directed against the traditional understanding of historical events.