Antony and Cleopatra each committed suicide over two millennia ago, but they are still household names. There is obviously something enduring about this tale of choosing love even in the face of war and death because it has continued to resonate in popular culture to this day. Relatively few women in history are remembered, and it is a testament to the extraordinary actions and ambitions of Cleopatra that she is still remembered.

The events

The events proper start in 48 BC, when there was a power struggle happening in the Roman Empire between Julius Caesar and Pompey. Pompey fled to Egypt and was murdered, and Caesar followed him there, where he met the co-ruler of Egypt, Cleopatra. They fell in love and had a child together. Cleopatra was exiled by her co-ruling brother Ptolemy XIII but was then reinstated by Caesar with Roman military help. She went with Caesar back to Rome, but he was then assassinated in 44 BC and she returned to Egypt.

Mark Antony was a Roman general who was in dispute with Caesar’s adopted son Octavian over who would succeed Caesar. For both romantic and political reasons, Antony decided to make an alliance with Cleopatra and Egypt, even though he was married to Octavian’s sister. Octavian was furious about the treatment of his sister. Antony and Cleopatra’s forces fought with Octavian’s at the sea battle of Actium, where they were defeated. They both fled to Egypt where they each committed suicide. Rome then took control of Egypt.

Antony and Cleopatra, the play

One of the main reasons behind the continuing interest in this story is William Shakespeare’s play about the events. The play was written some time between 1600 and 1616 (when Shakespeare died) and was first performed in 1607 either at the Blackfriars Theatre or the Globe theatre. It was based on Thomas North’s translation of Plutarch’s Parallel Lives, which was a series of biographies probably written in the 2nd century AD.

The play itself may have heightened Cleopatra’s involvement and agency and portrayed Mark Antony as more of an emotional figure, being led by his heart more than his brain. For example, in Act 2, Scene 5, Cleopatra brags of her control over Antony. "Tawny-finned fishes. My bended hook shall pierce their slimy jaws, and as I draw them up I'll think them every one an Antony, and say, ‘Aha! You're caught.’"

Cleopatra, 1917

Cleopatra and Antony’s feature debut, the 1917 film, was a silent take on the Shakespeare play and somewhat risqué. Theda Bara, who played the titular ruler, wore some relatively revealing costumes for the time, which meant that the film was effectively banned after the Hays Code in 1930. The last two prints of the film in existence were all but destroyed in a fire at the Fox studios in 1937 along with most of Bara’s other films. Here is one of the remaining small fragments of the film.

Cleopatra, 1963

The image of Elizabeth Taylor probably springs to mind when you read the name Cleopatra. The 1963 film is an absolute spectacle, with huge sets with thousands of extras, lavish costumes and a run time of 248 minutes (over four hours), all enhanced by the stories of an off-camera affair between Richard Burton, who played Antony, and Taylor. The film cost $31m to make and almost bankrupted 20th Century Fox. However, it made $57.8m in the US and Canada. It may not necessarily be the most accurate of depictions, but it certainly had style.

Casinos and gambling

It seems strange for gambling to have a setting and a context – why would a gambler care if the slot machine that they were playing on was Ancient Egypt-themed? However, it adds a certain level of extra fun to the experience if casinos, both brick-and-mortar and online, manage to create the right visuals. Cleopatra is a common figure to see in a gambling context. Perhaps it alludes to the way that she gambled all of Egypt and lost. The Egyptian setting offers lots of imagery to use for slot machines, such as pyramids, hieroglyphics and scarab beetles. To see fun Egyptian settings, have a look at the promotions offered by Stakers, as they offer a variety of games.

Conclusion

There are countless examples of Antony and Cleopatra to be found in popular culture. This is a story that has endured for over 2,000 years – a story of love, politics and war that resonates to this day.

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