as Elizabeth Taylor portrayed her, kohl-eyed, bejewelled and covered with gold out to impress Mark Antony. It's difficult to tell from the busts made of her what she really looked like (probably sans the violet eyes) but she must have been a beauty to be able to seduce and hold the affections first of Caesar and then of Mark Antony.
Cleopatra was the last pharaoh of Ancient Egypt, becoming ruler after her father's death at the age of eighteen along with her ten year old brother Ptolemy XIII. They married as was the custom but Cleopatra had no intention of sharing the power with her brother-husband.
Egypt was in trouble at the time of her reign. There were famine and
floods and internal as well as external conflict. She was losing the struggle with her brother's supporters and fled into exile leaving him as sole pharaoh.
She looked for support from Julius Caesar. The legend is she smuggled herself into his palace in a roll of carpet, and quickly became his mistress. With his backing she reclaimed her throne from her brother.
Rome too, became embroiled in civil war. With the slaying of Julius
Caesar there were two factions –Antony and Octavian versus Brutus and Cassius.
Antony summoned Cleopatra to assure her loyalty and that of Egypt to his side. Cleopatra set out to impress and impress she did. Sailing down the river in a barge decked out in the most opulent way and dressed as Venus surrounded by cupids and nymphs she could have taught any modern actress how to make an entrance.
Cleo hadn't forgotten how to seduce. She was able to captivate
Antony, becoming his ally and his mistress. In the years of conflict that followed they had three children together. Shakespeare has Mark Antony describe Cleopatra, "Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety."
Now Antony and Octavian were at odds and Octavian declared war on Egypt. Cleopatra and Antony each set out with a fleet of ships to do battle with Octavian. Things did not go well for the lovers. Cleopatra took flight first and Antony followed, with his armies
deserting to Octavian. Cleopatra secluded herself in her ornate mausoleum and sent word of her death to Antony. Did she assume his reaction would be suicide? Was she still hoping to
gain back power through a new alignment with Octavian?
Antony, on hearing of Cleopatra's death stabbed himself with a sword but appears to have botched the job. He lived for another week giving him time to find the news of her death was false and finding her before dying in her arms. Cleopatra eventually decided
her escape routes politically were all gone and killed herself with a poisonous asp (or with poison, depending on which account you hear).
Wow! Shakespeare didn't need to add much to this plot; it was already there- a tragic romance affecting the course of history. You can't get much better than that.
How do you separate the romance from the political intrigue? You
don't. They're intertwined, each dependent on the other. The lust
for power is what adds the tragic elements to the love story.
Even without historical record, we know it's going to end badly
Some love stories just have to end in tragedy; there's no way to write them with a HEA.