CM: In the summer of 1960 Katharine Hepburn returned to the American Shakespeare Festival Theatre in Stratford, Connecticut, to appear in Twelfth Night and Antony & Cleopatra with Robert Ryan (1909-1973). The latter Shakespeare play is a tragic account of the relationship between Cleopatra and Mark Antony from the time of the Parthian War to Cleopatra's suicide. In the play, Cleopatra has one of the most complex female roles in Shakespeare's work. She is frequently vain and histrionic, provoking the audience almost to scorn. At the same time, Shakespeare's efforts invest both her and Antony with tragic grandeur. Hepburn played the role admirably. Her memorable portrayal of Cleopatra highlighted the enigma of her character. Hepburn was praised for her passion, both the sensuous and hot-tempered varieties. With her inimitable acting skills, Hepburn preserved all ambivalence that characterized her relationship with Anthony - Were they true tragic heroes, or too fault-ridden and laughable to be tragic? Was their relationship one of love or lust? Was their passion wholly destructive, or did it also contain elements of transcendence? Did she kill herself out of love for him, or because she had lost political power? Antony & Cleopatra was the box-office success of that year's festival.
To immortalise Hepburn's well-deserved triumph, the great impresario of art and culture Lincoln Kirstein (1907-1996) commissioned Frances Rich to sculpt the bust of Cleopatra. Rich photographed front and side aspects of Hepburn wearing a pharaonic headdress as the primary symbol of her status. This intricate headdress is kept in place by the weight of six successive loops of beads under the chin. The stiff frontal pose, echoed in the asp at the tip of her headdress, is particularly regal. The sculpture brings out Cleopatra's aloofness, a chiselled flintiness that only an "Antony" was able to soften. The head's ornament, often meant to accentuate the beauty of the face, here successfully serves the role of a wide and heavy obstacle that obstructs the beholder from the sitter's direct view. What prevails above all is an absolute symmetry that balances vertically despite the bust's hull-shape finish. Katharine Hepburn as Cleopatra was cast in 1960 at Fonderie Valsuani in Châtillon, France, and placed in the foyer of the American Shakespeare Festival Theater in Connecticut in 1961.
[Megakles Rogakos 01/2009]
ROGAKOS, MEGAKLES Frances Rich - La Gazelle 2010 The American College of Greece - ACG Art, Athens