A Play: Power Past Girls

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Commentary

This piece titled Power Past Girls attempts to reveal snippets of the lives of Empress Wu Zetian, Cleopatra VII Philopator and Joan of Arc. Despite being from different historical periods, these women have made a name for themselves as prominent female rulers in their respective societies. However, their individual journeys as female rulers were definitely tainted with common struggles and opposition. We wonder what it would have been like if these three rulers were not alone in their leadership but had girlfriends whom they could share their joy and sorrow with. So this act dramatizes what it would have been like if 17 year old Joan had the famous beauty queen, Cleopatra, and China’s sole female emperor, Wu Zetian, as her close friends. These three women gather to celebrate Joan’s victory at the Battle of Patay and a lively conversation unfolds about Cleopatra’s blossoming affair with Marc Anthony and Empress Wu’s triumph to become China’s Heavenly Empress.

Link to script

POWER PAST GIRLS

The sources used for reference in writing the script are hyperlinked into the character write ups.

Historical Background

Joan of Arc, a peasant girl living in Domremy, a small village in France believed that God had called her on an important mission to save France in its running war with England and for Charles VII to be crowned as King. The teenager, with no military training, supposedly convinced Charles VII of France when she revealed information that only a messenger from God would have known. She eventually led the French army against numerous battles against the English and helped Charles VII be reinstated as king. Despite her death at the stake in 1431, her legacy lives on. Her short bob was even popularized after 1909 when one of Paris' most popular stylist was inspired by Joan of Arc to style his clients in the same fashion. Refer to fellow classmates’ blog post for more information on Joan of Arc: https://helloworldciv.com/joan-of-arc-a-faithful-heroine-not-a-heretic/

Cleopatra VII, the last pharaoh of Egypt, was described as a great beauty of her time. What was understated, in modern time, was her intellect, mastery of languages and keen political mind. Many historians emphasized her intellect and charms over her beauty. For instance, Greek historian Plutarch wrote: “Her own beauty, so we are told, was not of that incomparable type that immediately captivates the beholder. But the charm of her presence was irresistible and there was an attraction in her person and in her conversation that, along with a peculiar force of character in her every word and action, laid all who associated with her under her spell.” Apart from these, her fame partially stemmed from her romantic affairs and military alliances with powerful Roman men such as Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. The story of how she first appeared in front of Caesar is still dramatized in many Hollywood movies today. Another factor that contributed to her legacy was the way she died with Mark Antony. They committed suicide shortly after their loss at the Battle of Actium in 31 BCE. Their romance inspired many plays and through that, Cleopatra’s legacy lives on.

Wu Zetian was China’s sole female emperor who ruled for almost half a century during the Tang dynasty. According to Woo (2008), despite the low status of women in Ancient China (“Preface”, p.1), Wu was educated from young as she was born into a wealthy family of high status. Her father was the governor of Lichow (“Chapter 1”, p.9-10). At the age of fourteen, she was sent to be Emperor Tai Zhong’s concubine as she was valued for her beauty and intelligence. After the death of Emperor Tai Zhong, she was admired by Emperor Gaozhong, the son of Emperor Tai Zhong, and she eventually ruled as China’s Heavenly Empress together with him. She continued ruling China even after his death. Empress Wu was known to be a ruthless ruler as she assassinated many of her oppositions in her rise to power. She was even accused of killing her own daughter to frame her predecessor, Empress Wang, as the murderer. However, some historians such as Song (2010) argued that this representation of Wu as vicious and unwoman is biased as it is based on historical records written by men. Song presents Empress Wu as both a woman, capable of “profound love” for her children, and a ruler who desired self actualization. Despite conflicting portrayals of Wu, her rule was recorded to have benefited China in various ways. Taxes were lowered for peasants, females could dress freely in public and receive education, and people were allowed to be an official based on merits and not social class.