I Was Cleopatra

I Was Cleopatra

Written by: Abrams, Dennis
ages 12 and up / grades 7 and up

The provocative fictional memoir of a boy actor in Shakespearian London.

In Shakespeare’s time, women were not allowed to appear on stage, and so female parts were played by boy actors. In I Was Cleopatra, readers meet John Rice — perhaps the most beautiful and acclaimed boy actor of them all. It is believed by many that John Rice originated the roles of Lady Macbeth, Cleopatra and Cordelia, and this fictional memoir explores his life both on and off the stage. With graceful prose and an encyclopedic knowledge of the period, Dennis Abrams invites readers to experience gender fluidity and sexuality through the fictional recollections of a fascinating historical figure as he reflects on his life in this “farewell” to his theatrical past.

The story follows John from the age of thirteen, when he leaves his family in Reading to join the King’s Men theater troupe in London as an apprentice boy actor. Over the course of the next few years, John eagerly hones the acting skills necessary to portray female roles. He memorizes lines, reads all the plays he can get his hands on, and works on imitating female gestures and mannerisms. He becomes a friend, and eventually a lover, of Alexander, a boy actor who is getting too old to play female roles. And he works closely with Shakespeare himself, who coaches him through the roles of Lady Macbeth and Cleopatra, among others.

But around the time he turns sixteen, John starts to worry about inevitably becoming too old to convincingly portray women onstage, which leads to some unsettling choices.

Key Text Features
literary references
author’s note

Correlates to the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.6.3
Describe how a particular story's or drama's plot unfolds in a series of episodes as well as how the characters respond or change as the plot moves toward a resolution.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.6.6
Explain how an author develops the point of view of the narrator or speaker in a text.

The provocative fictional memoir of a boy actor in Shakespearian London.

In Shakespeare’s time, women were not allowed to appear on stage, and so female parts were played by boy actors. In I Was Cleopatra, readers meet John Rice — perhaps the most beautiful and acclaimed boy actor of them all. It is believed by many that John Rice originated the roles of Lady Macbeth, Cleopatra and Cordelia, and this fictional memoir explores his life both on and off the stage. With graceful prose and an encyclopedic knowledge of the period, Dennis Abrams invites readers to experience gender fluidity and sexuality through the fictional recollections of a fascinating historical figure as he reflects on his life in this “farewell” to his theatrical past.

The story follows John from the age of thirteen, when he leaves his family in Reading to join the King’s Men theater troupe in London as an apprentice boy actor. Over the course of the next few years, John eagerly hones the acting skills necessary to portray female roles. He memorizes lines, reads all the plays he can get his hands on, and works on imitating female gestures and mannerisms. He becomes a friend, and eventually a lover, of Alexander, a boy actor who is getting too old to play female roles. And he works closely with Shakespeare himself, who coaches him through the roles of Lady Macbeth and Cleopatra, among others.

But around the time he turns sixteen, John starts to worry about inevitably becoming too old to convincingly portray women onstage, which leads to some unsettling choices.

Key Text Features
literary references
author’s note

Correlates to the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.6.3
Describe how a particular story's or drama's plot unfolds in a series of episodes as well as how the characters respond or change as the plot moves toward a resolution.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.6.6
Explain how an author develops the point of view of the narrator or speaker in a text.

Published By Groundwood Books Ltd - Apr 1, 2018
Specifications pages | 5 in x 7.5 in
Supporting Resources
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Excerpt

The Play’s the Thing by Dennis Abrams:
“Abrams takes his reader on a glorious journey through the world of Shakespeare, the worlds within his plays, the worlds within the human psyche — and then brings us home, transformed.” New York Journal of Books

Audience ages 12 and up / grades 7 and up
Reading Levels Lexile 1370L
Key Text Features literary references; author's note
Common Core CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.6.3
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.6.6