Friday, 25 March 2011

Elizabeth Taylor and Shakespeare's "Cleopatra"

In my view, Elizabeth Taylor's performance of "Cleopatra" is one of the cultural treasures of the superficial, plastic, super lightweight 1960s. In her gorgeous make-up and golden attire, particularly during her entrance to Rome, she was a supreme work of Hollywood, as well as of nature.

I have no doubt that Shakespeare would have thought her a fine if not perfect embodiment of his Cleopatra. Elizabeth Taylor was a talented actress. In character, she was also not at all unlike the Bard's passionate, beautifully attired, waspish, sensuous seductress - with Cleopatra's added ability to brawl in the streets.

Some people have accused me of supposing I know what Shakespeare would think of her "Cleopatra" and assume that "no one can know his thoughts at all". This is a nonsense - propagated by the unread, culturally illiterate. These days, dismissive philistines also suppose that  you need to be stranded on an unappealing BBC "Desert Island" to actually read William Shakespeare or The Bible. (The BBC invites guests onto its music programme "Desert Island Discs" and gives them "Shakespeare's Works" and the Bible free when they are stranded + their 10 favourite music discs). This is another post-modern myth.

Some of us still read The Bible, Shakespeare and also Shakespeare's contemporary writers. There were alternative softer source versions of Cleopatra, which Shakespeare had read. Possibly from his personal experience of a woman, he brought forth a dangerous Cleopatra, whom Elizabeth Taylor impersonated very well.  His Cleopatra was a consummate woman of theatre, a sensual, fiery, femme fatale who, as a result of her skills (and Egyptian eye make-up) entirely removed rationality from Antony who, as a result lost the Eastern Empire.

The power of a dark women, with beautiful eyes is discussed in his Sonnets 127 onwards. Shakespeare describes someone (himself?) having his good sense, rectitude and reason devastated by the beautiful eyes of a flawed, sinful woman. He knows what is going on but cannot help himself.  He talks about this dark woman as "my female evil" (the demonic spirit behind the allure). He is thus enticed into "sinful loving" which means an unholy affair against the teachings of the Bible. 

Everyone must repent of the sins in their life before God, to be reconciled to Him, including "hierarchs" e.g. film stars whose images will endure, when we are gone. There exists a parallel "pseudo" eternal world of art and the imagination which is passed on through books and films, down generations. In those Elysian Fields of the imagination when we are gone, Elizabeth Taylor will forever be putting on her golden head-dress as if to say:

"Go fetch my best attire: I am again for Cydnus to meet Mark Antony."

As for real Eternity, we desire and hope that all people will seek, repent and find the Christ and His Cross.

As a footnote, we understand that Elizabeth Taylor had converted to Judaism although her parents were Christians (whether nominal or not). Jesus, a Jew, viewed his mission as fulfilling the Old Covenant in the New Covenant.

In the view of Christians, Judaism, still waiting for its Messiah, missed its long awaited Messiah in Christ. Christians see the route to peace with God through Torah and the Law, as now closed. It is possible to be a "Jew for Jesus", but it is thought Ms Taylor was not of this persuasion. Indeed she seems to have been considered something of a Zionist, which is why her films were not shown in Arab countries.

No comments:

Post a Comment