Shakespeare's Cleopatra 'a better role model for girls than Kim Kardashian'


Young women should ditch role models such as reality star Kim Kardashian West in favour of Shakespeare's heroine Cleopatra, a leading private school headteacher has said.

Jane Lunnon, from Wimbledon High School in west London, said teenagers could learn more about projecting a positive self-image by studying the female lead in Shakespeare's tragedy than by following the social media posts of the American selfie queen.

History has depicted Cleopatra as a great beauty, befitting a Queen of Egypt who seduced Julius Caesar and his rival, Mark Antony.

Kardashian West, who is married to rapper Kanye and was robbed at gunpoint in Paris this week, has become a totem of both acclaim and derision for her fashion sense and lifestyle after rising to prominence with fly-on-the-wall TV series Keeping Up With The Kardashians.

Speaking at the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, held in the Bard's birthplace of Stratford-upon-Avon, Mrs Lunnon said: "I think Shakespeare was saying with Cleopatra that you are allowed to be flawed and powerful and brilliant and still have enormous influence.

"The thing about Cleopatra is it's ... about image and how she sells the myth of Cleopatra. Kim Kardashian is selling the myth about Kim Kardashian.

"Shakespeare's Cleopatra did the same thing ... a lone female voice when all the other women in Antony And Cleopatra are basically powerless.

"It sounds trite to say she had enormous self-confidence, but that's what you would be getting kids to recognise - how I see myself and what I project."

Mrs Lunnon has launched a pilot scheme at her school where pupils will study Shakespearean characters and re-imagine them in contemporary surroundings in an effort to channel some of their more desirable characteristics.

It was prompted a straw poll of pupils at the school which found girls were more likely to consider Kardashian West and pop star Taylor Swift to be their role models, rather than education campaigner Malala Yousafzai and US First Lady Michelle Obama.

Mrs Lunnon, a mother to two teenage daughters, said: "I have nothing against them but I wonder to what extent Kim Kardashian as a role model is a lot to do with inches - either column or physical.

"It''s well documented there is a paucity of role models that are speaking to girls at the moment in Western society and it made me think where else can we look for them?

"As an English teacher I'm very used to using Shakespeare as a great source for intellectual stimulation and exploration - but really probing and using Shakespeare as a pastoral educational tool I thought was really interesting and, in particular, Shakespeare's characters as role models."

Pupils will now study protagonists from comedies As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing and Twelfth Night in an effort to learn from the way they deal with adversity.

Mrs Lunnon said: "Look at Rosalind, look at Beatrice, look at Viola, the capacity in challenge and dilemma and pain, to love, to be vivacious, to be resourceful, to be resilient - they embody it so vividly, and that is a really powerful message.

"It's not that terrible things happen to them, it's how they respond."

Jacqui O'Hanlon, director of education at the Royal Shakespeare Company, said: "You don't have to work very hard to get young people to engage with the contemporary relevance of Shakespeare's work.

"As soon as you start putting them in the shoes of the characters and getting them to speak the text and think about the dilemmas those characters are in, there is automatically making reference to their own lives."