Early Modern Exchanges


Re-Imagining Cleopatra/Postcolonial Shakespeare

06 December 2019, 5:00 pm–7:00 pm

Book covers, Yasmin Arshad: ‘Re-imagining Cleopatra, Jyotsna G. Singh: ‘Re-thinking Shakespeare

This event is free.

Event Information

Open to







Early Modern Exchanges


IAS Common Ground, G11
South Wing, Wilkins Building
UCL, Gower Street
United Kingdom

**NB this seminar has been postponed from 18th October to 6th December 2019**

Yasmin Arshad: ‘Re-imagining Cleopatra: Poetry, Portraiture and Power’

Cleopatra VII is one of the world’s most contested and politically-charged female figures. The image that dominates popular culture now derives mainly from Shakespeare and is that of the sultry siren of the East. Although it is Shakespeare’s Cleopatra who permeates our consciousness today, this is often in a debased form, lacking in the nuance with which this most controversial of history’s queens was invested since she captured the literary Renaissance imagination. Sixteenth-century writers were already avidly interested in Cleopatra, well before Shakespeare wrote his play, and produced widely divergent and even contradictory depictions of her. Focusing on the neo-Senecan dramas of Mary Sidney and Samuel Daniel, and a remarkable portrait of a young Jacobean woman, possibly Anne Clifford in the guise of Cleopatra, this talk provides evidence to suggest that the period was much readier to view the Egyptian queen as a positive emblematic figure than has been previously recognized. In particular, it highlights the idea of Cleopatra as a figure of female complaint, and examines the readiness of some women of the period to co-opt the image of Cleopatra for political purposes. These fresh explorations of Mary Sidney’s and Daniel’s Cleopatras enable us to look at Shakespeare’s Cleopatra in a new light. 

Jyotsna G. Singh: ‘Re-thinking Shakespeare from a Postcolonial Perspective: Antony and Cleopatra and Macbeth

Exploring a few key features of a postcolonial perspective on Shakespeare’s works, this talk highlights the recent emergence of intercultural, cross-racial Shakespearean disseminations within criticism, performance, and film. The thrust of this scholarship highlights interactions with local knowledges and native cultures, showing how Shakespeare’s works are increasingly used to tell stories about diverse lives and experiences.  Instead of earlier colonial paradigms, scholars and critics are attending to a polyphony of voices beyond the binary of colonizer/colonized.  For example, recent postcolonial, cultural engagements with two key plays, Antony and Cleopatra, and Macbeth, demonstrate an expansion of the Shakespearean archive into varied, non-metropolitan spaces within a range of historical moments.  Overall, in these readings, we can see how a postcolonial critical vocabulary connects contemporary and early modern cultural struggles and social change. 

About the Speakers

Yasmin Arshad is an Honorary Research Associate at UCL. Her book Imagining Cleopatra: Performing Gender and Power in Early Modern England is published by Bloomsbury Arden Shakespeare, August 2019.

Jyotsna G. Singh is Professor of English in Michigan State University.  Her published work includes The Weyward Sisters: Shakespeare and Feminist Politics (Blackwell), (co-authored); Colonial Narratives/Cultural Dialogues: ‘Discovery’ of India in the Language of Colonialism (Routledge); Travel Knowledge: European ‘Discoveries’ in the Early Modern Period (Palgrave), (co-ed. Ivo Kamps); A Companion to the Global Renaissance: English Literature and Culture in the Era of Expansion, 1559–1660 (Blackwell 2009), which is forthcoming in a 2nd edition; The Postcolonial World (co-ed. David D. Kim), (Routledge 2016); and most recently, a monograph, Shakespeare and Postcolonial Theory (Arden 2019). Currently, she is working on another monograph that draws on postcolonial theory, global exchange, and the early modern history of Islam and Christianity.