Shakespeare, Outrage and Ignorance

OK…we gotta talk about this whole Julius Caesar thing people.

First off if you don’t know the play you should at least know the general history it’s based on…if you don’t please Google it right now.  I’ll wait.  OK…just in case that whole Google thing is beyond you let me quote Wiki here for a second:

“The assassination of Julius Caesar was the result of a conspiracy by many Roman senators. Led by Gaius Cassius Longinus, Decimus Junius Brutus, and Marcus Junius Brutus, they stabbed Julius Caesar to death in a location adjacent to the Theatre of Pompey on the Ides of March (March 15), 44 BC. Caesar was the dictator of the Roman Republic at the time, having recently been declared dictator perpetuo by the Senate. This declaration made several senators fear that Caesar wanted to overthrow the Senate in favor of tyranny. The conspirators were unable to restore the Roman Republic. The ramifications of the assassination led to the Liberators’ civil war and, ultimately, to the Principate period of the Roman Empire.” (emphasis by me)

Just a little more clarification from Wiki:

“The Principate is the name sometimes given to the first period of the Roman Empire from the beginning of the reign of Augustus in about 30 BC to the Crisis of the Third Century in 284 AD, after which it evolved into the so-called Dominate.

The Principate is characterized by the reign of a single emperor (princeps) and an effort on the part of the early emperors, at least, to preserve the illusion of the formal continuance, in some aspects, of the Roman Republic.” (emphasis by me)

So Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is based on those events.  Caesar was declared “dictator perpetuo” or perpetual dictator by the Senate, but some folks in the Senate were VERY concerned about this declaration.  They had a fear, a deeply held and sincere fear, that Caesar was going to descend into full on tyranny and their Republic, this form of government that was relatively new and they were truly passionate about, was in danger.  So instead of using their governmental process to avoid this they make the tragic and horrible decision to assassinate Caesar.  Why do they do this?  Because they are blinded by their fear and desire to do what they think is right at all costs.

Now we get to the important part of the story…does it work?  Do they, in truth, save their Republic with this act of violence and murder?

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

THEY FAIL…THEY FAIL HORRIBLY.

Many of them are crippled by guilt afterwards and THEY ALL DIE.

Then…the damn Republic fails and the Roman EMPIRE is ruled for a very long time by EMPERORS.  No Republic anymore…at least not in any real way.

Sooooo, what do YOU think moral to the story is?

Is it… “HEY if you don’t like the leader of your country just go kill the dude because that ALWAYS works out well”?

Or maybe is the point of the play that while tyranny is bad and it’s very good to guard against it you cannot successfully save a democracy (Republic) by circumventing it and committing acts of violence in its name?

Now some of you might say, “Well hey Miss Bliss what do you think about this as a theatre choice, clearly basing the character of Caesar on a current world leader?”

I’ll tell you that it’s been done a zillion times before and if we don’t lose our minds it will be done a zillion times more.  There has never been a production of Julius Caesar where comparisons were NOT made with various world leaders.  That’s why you don’t see a lot of productions of this play in totalitarian countries.  They can’t stand it.  It makes them nervous.  Not just the leaders but the people around the leaders…remember, everyone dies in this story and the government fails.

But having said that, I don’t think it’s a good theatrical choice to make Caesar and any of the other characters in the play too clearly modeled on current politicians/leaders.  Why?  Because of EXACTLY what is happening right now with this show.  It gives too many people an easy way to miss the point of the damn play.  It’s a brilliant play with a very important message and when theatre and art do their jobs right it sneaks under your ideology and your preconceived notions and MAKES YOU THINK NEW THOUGHTS!!!

I understand the motive behind doing it, I just don’t think it nets us what it should.  Now maybe I’m wrong and maybe tons and tons of people will think to themselves “I should go read that play and see what it’s really about” and the world will suddenly be a more educated place…but color me skeptical.

I do not blame the theatre company or their choices for having caused this uproar because they did exactly what theatre companies have done with this play since it was written.

I blame the extreme extent of our nationwide willful ignorance and quickness to follow the beating drums of outrage and insult with NO actual facts or details required.

I blame our nationwide indulgence in the love of accusation and simplification and the comfort of finding some easily identified “enemy”.

Theatre companies all over the country are getting death threats right now.  Not because Shakespeare in the Park in NYC is doing something controversial…but because we’ve become a country of people who are willing to vilify anyone who isn’t us, under any circumstance, for a chance to feel superior and justified in our outrage.  We’re happy to miss the point if we can have a chance at that particular indulgence.

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