Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra has never been produced as a big-budget film, in Hollywood or elsewhere. This fact should probably not surprise us: in the sound era few Shakespearean plays have received big-budget treatment, and a mere handful have been filmed by Hollywood studios. But unlike, say, Love's Labor's Lost, both the Cleopatra story and specifically Shakespeare's version of the Cleopatra story saturate Hollywood history, beginning with an undeterminable number of silent productions that incorporate Shakespeare's version of the character, and entering the sound era with Cecil B. De Mille's 1934 Cleopatra (Ball 1968). For all of these films, however, Shakespeare's play maintains a peculiar status, considering its author's reputation and Hollywood's penchant for touting any of its high-culture associations: Antony and Cleopatra serves as a submerged source-for character, for situation, and even for the occasional line or phrase-but never, in whole or in part, as a script.
This essay, then, is less concerned with Shakespearean representation than with its evasion. On the one hand, Hollywood of course carries on the Western obsession with representing the Cleopatran legend, but on the other, it curiously does not fully exploit Western literature's most celebrated author of that legend. 1 Hollywood's evasion of Shakespeare's Cleopatra, I will argue, has to do with its aversion to Shakespeare's drastic reformulation of the relation between gender and creative self-presentation, a reformulation that has even more radical implications for a popular cinema than it does for theater. While Shakespeare's play provides the occasion for reproducing the nexus of femininity and power in which Hollywood has always been interested (and that has become even more alluring in box-office terms as feminism gains ground in mainstream culture), its extreme treatment of that nexus is one that Hollywood hopes not to entertain. As a result, Antony and Cleopatra can claim two branches of genealogical descent in late twentieth-century filmmaking. First, feminist avant-garde filmmakers and feminist film theorists, on or beyond the margins of Hollywood, have indirectly taken up Shakespeare's Cleopatra as a model for a cinémathèque feminine. But second, and more interesting for my purposes, Hollywood itself