Sex, manipulation, selfishness, obsession, and dramatic interactions are all present in "Antony and Cleopatra" and "The Letters of Abelard and Heloise." The roles of women in society and conceptions of femininity in the eras of Cleopatra and Heloise were limited compared to today's standards. In Shakespeare's "Antony and Cleopatra" and "The Letters of Abelard and Heloise," there are recurring images of women as well as conceptions that are unique to each text. In comparing and contrasting the parallel themes of the pieces, it is easy to see the overall themes of both works.
Within the first page of Shakespeare's "Antony and Cleopatra", the Roman's narrow perspective of Cleopatra is presented to the audience. Throughout the book she is referred to as "a whore" (III.vi.67), "wrangling queen" (I.i.50), and a "lustful gypsy" (I.i.10). The Roman image of Cleopatra is solely based on complaints of Antony's neglected duties to Rome. To see Cleopatra in this light alone would deprive the audience of truly understanding one of Shakespeare's most captivating female characters.
It would be a mistake to completely disregard the Roman view of Cleopatra. She manipulates Antony by taking advantage of his infatuation for her and using it for her own purposes. Cleopatra has manipulated strong Roman men in the past, such as Caesar and Pompey the Elder. The Romans were wise to be wary of her because in the battle at Actium, she leads to the demise of the Roman troops. The Roman people see Cleopatra as threatening primarily because of her beauty and open sexuality. Enobarbus captures the essence of
Cleopatra in his proclamation in Act II.ii.236-241:
"Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale
Her infinite variety: other women cloy
The appetites they feed, but she makes hungry
Where she most satisfies. For vilest things
Become themselves in her, that the holy priests
Bless her when she is riggish."
It is hard to figure out how Cleopatra feels about Antony. At times it seems like she loves him, an example of this being when she kills herself after she finds out he has also committed suicide (though it isn't her sole purpose). Other times it seems like she uses him for sex because that seems to be what their entire relationship is based on. Even other times he simply serves as her puppet such as in the Act II.v.19-23:
"That time -- O times! --
I laughed him out of patience; and that night
I laughed him into patience; and the next morn
Ere the ninth hour I drunk him to his bed;
Then put my tires and mantles on him, whilst
I wore his sword Philippan"
Cleopatra is not obsessed with Antony but more captivated by the idea of who Antony was.
Conversely, Heloise repeatedly claims that women are inferior to men and that a woman needs a man's guidance and protection. It is true that Abelard is her superior in philosophical knowledge and age but she is still a very intelligent young woman. ...