Inspirational women

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The Heresy of Love is the story of an inspirational woman, Sor Juana de la Cruz, who became a celebrated poet, playwright and intellectual in Mexico.

We asked the RSC's Facebook followers which women inspired them. Here are some of those women and a snapshot of their achievements.

Cleopatra
The last ruler of the Ptolemaic dynasty, ruling Egypt from 51 BC - 30 BC, she is celebrated for her beauty and her love affairs with the Roman warlords Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.

When Cleopatra's father died, she became co-regent with her 10-year-old brother, Ptolemy XIII. An intelligent woman and an astute politician, she brought prosperity and peace to a country that was bankrupt and split by civil war.

She combined armies with Mark Antony, but they were defeated by Octavian at Actium. Cleopatra and Mark Antony fled to Egypt, but Octavian pursued them and captured Alexandria. Following defeat, both Mark Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide.

Joan Littlewood
One of the most controversial and influential theatre directors and drama teachers of the 20th Century.

Born in London in 1914, Littlewood trained at RADA. She was under surveillance by MI5 from 1939 until the 1950s, for associating with the Communist Party, and was banned from broadcasting on the BBC from 1941 to 1943.

After the end of the Second World War, she set up the Theatre Workshop Company with her partner Gerry Raffles, at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, and staged her most famous production, Oh What A Lovely War.

Eva Peron
The former actress, often known by the name, Evita, became the First Lady of Argentina when her husband, Colonel Juan Perón was elected President of Argentina in 1946.

During this time, she ran the Ministries of Labor and Health, established and ran a charitable Foundation, championed women's suffrage and founded the nation's first large-scale female political party.

The Argentine Congress conferred the official title 'Spiritual Leader of the Nation' upon her, shortly before she died of cancer, aged 33, in 1952. She was given an official state funeral, despite not being an elected head of state.

Susan Butcher
Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Butcher moved to Alaska, aged 20, where she bred and raced huskies.

From 1986 to 1988, she became the first person to win three consecutive Iditarod championships - a 1,152-mile race across the Alaskan wilderness, with 100 mph winds, blinding snow, and -70C temperatures.

She won several awards, but died of leukaemia in 2006, aged 51. After her death, the State of Alaska announced Susan Butcher Day, in March each year and established the creation of the Susan Butcher Institute, to develop public service and leadership skills among young Alaskans.

Simone de Beauvoir
The French existentialist philosopher, writer and activist produced a wide range of written works, encompassing ethics, feminism, fiction, autobiography and politics.

Born in 1908, her father provided her with carefully edited selections from great works of literature and encouraged her to read and write from an early age.

In 1949, de Beauvoir published The Second Sex, a detailed analysis of women's oppression and a foundational tract of contemporary feminism. The book is credited as heralding a feminist revolution and remains a key feminist work.

Alice Sebold
Born in 1963 in Wisconsin, author of three novels: Lucky (1999), The Lovely Bones (2002) and The Almost Moon (2007).

In 1981, Seabold was a student at Syracuse University, when she was violently raped on her way home from campus. The police did not find her assailant, but the following year she recognised her rapist in the street and eventually testified against him in court.

She battled with drugs before writing her first novel, a memoir of the rape – its title from the idea that she was 'lucky' to survive.

Photo: Patrick Stewart and Harriet Walter in the title roles of Shakespeare's Anthony and Cleopatra, directed by Gregory Doran, 2006. Photo by Pascal Molliere.

Read about Sor Juana de la Cruz as an inspirational woman.

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