“Monstruous Empire”: Queenly Power in Antony and Cleopatra


  • Michael Neill University of Auckland




Taking its cue from John Knox’s famous diatribe against female rule, The Monstruous Regiment of Women (1558), this essay seeks to investigate Shakespeare’s vision of queenly power in Anthony and Cleopatra. Contrasting his Egyptian majesty with figures of female authority in a number of earlier plays, it reads Anthony’s teasing description of that “strange serpent” the crocodile as a key to the play’s treatment of Cleopatra, that “serpent of old Nile”. By virtue of their seeming beyond definition or satisfactory description, both creatures are rendered “strange” or “monstrous” – placed, as it were, outside the bourn of what seems “natural”. But where the monstrous normally incites disgust or horror, in Cleopatra’s case it invites admiration and amazement – a wonder that extends to the magic of theatre itself with its strange power to make real what it admits nevertheless “beggars all description”.

Keywords: Amazon; monster; strange; power; triumph