(LENOX, Mass.) – Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Stacy Schiff, a native of Adams, Mass., and a graduate of Williams College, will discuss her latest work and recent New York Times #1 best seller, Cleopatra: A Life, on Sunday, June 12, at 5 at the Founders’ Theatre at Shakespeare & Company.
Schiff won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov), her biography of Vera Nabokov, wife and muse of Lolita and Pale Fire author Vladimir Nabokov. She was also a finalist for the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for her first book, Saint-Exupéry: A Biography, about Antoine de Saint Exupéry. Schiff’s A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America won the 2006 Arwen Taylor Book Prize, the Ambassador Award in American Studies, and the Institut Français’s Gilbert Chinard Prize.
For two millennia, Cleopatra has existed in fact, fable, and fantasy as well as at the ebb and flowing confluence of all three. Stacy Schiff says, “Cleopatra’s story is not all sex and celebrity. She sits at a very dangerous intersection, that of ‘woman’ and ‘power.’ At the time, her fortune was the greatest in the Western world and at her height she controlled virtually the entire Eastern Mediterranean coast.”
Of the complex, shrewd, cunning, and highly competent mother of four, goddess-queen who knew how to thrive in a world of savage politics, Schiff said, “She was a master politician: adept at reinventing her persona; the first of the Greek Ptolemy-lineage of Egyptian monarchs to speak the language of her people; a ruler who knew how to play the role of benevolent sovereign to the hilt; a brilliant manipulator of pageantry and propaganda; and, importantly, a highly resourceful and capable majesty, able to steer Egypt through plague, famine, and war.
Alternately, sometimes concurrently, and often enough ultimately, seductive, rich, and powerful, Cleopatra has been portrayed through the ages in art, literature, theater, and film. It is only apt that her biographer should speak at Shakespeare & Company; perhaps her most enduring tribute is William Shakespeare’s 1606 tragedy, Antony and Cleopatra.
The Queen of the Nile was memorably portrayed by Elizabeth Taylor in the 1963 film, Cleopatra, which highlighted her romantic relationships with both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. “Both, said Schiff, were “political affairs as much as anything else. The former short-lived; the latter eleven years and lighter hearted.” Schiff’s Cleopatra is slated to be played by Angelina Jolie, with a screenplay by Academy Award-winner Brian Helgeland.
“For Cleopatra,” explained Schiff, “you need an actress whose intelligence practically leaps off the screen.”
Schiff’s presentation, at a cost of $5, is sponsored by Shakespeare & Company, the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires, the Lenox Library, the Friends of the Berkshire Athenaeum, The Mount, and Williams College. A reception and book signing follow Schiff’s program.
For tickets call the Shakespeare & Company box office at 413.637.3353.