Julius Caesar

By William Shakespeare
June 1 2000
directed by Patrick Kelly

Peace has come to Rome following the defeat of Pompey's sons. As Caesar celebrates his victory, Cassius reminds a distressed Brutus of traditional republican rights that have been trampled on by the now all-powerful leader. Though he has no personal quarrel with Caesar, Brutus fears his ambition enough to listen to Cassius' implied proposal: a conspiracy to murder the dictator. In the midst of a strange, violent storm, Cassius and Casca plot to convince the well-respected Brutus of widespread support for their plans. Swayed, he and the six other conspirators lay their trap. Though Cassius suggests the simultaneous killing of Antony, Brutus vetoes the idea. After the others leave, Brutus' wife Portia wonders at his strange behavior and demands a reason for it. Ignoring his wife Calphurnia's entreaties and other warning signs, Caesar goes to the capitol accompanied by Antony and the conspirators. The session begins, and he is stabbed to death. As the murderers rejoice, Antony makes peace with them in return for the chance to speak at Caesar's funeral. Brutus opens the ceremony by carefully explaining his actions, but Antony follows and whips the mob into a frenzy. Riots engulf Rome as the conspirators are driven out or killed. While Antony and Octavius (Caesar's grand-nephew and heir) decide who will die as they assume full power in Rome, Brutus and Cassius assemble their armies near Sardis. They quarrel before Brutus reveals Portia's suicide. He convinces Cassius to attack quickly, initiating the final fateful showdown with Antony and Octavius at Philippi. 
--Jeffrey Grapko

Date Time
Thursday June 1 12:00 am
Closed

Shakespeare's Rome as seen in Julius Caesar is rife with anachronism: clocks strike, speakers resort to public pulpits (a Puritan innovation) and senators speak of such things as hats and sleeves common to Elizabethan fashion but unknown in the toga-wearing days of the first century BC. Everything in Shakespeare's text is expressive, and even these ahistorical touches offer clues to the play's ambitions, as well as signposts to a style of presentation. Shakespeare had an audience like us, one that demanded a sense of immediacy, of events coming to life before them, sharing their air, unfolding in their own time. To bring that urgency to the well-known and ancient events of this play, Shakespeare boldly combined the "now" of his own time with the "then" of Roman history into a "Rome" of his own invention. His Rome was "then" in its places, names, historical events and cultural flavoring (augurers, "et tu, Brute" and so on), all details from North's translation of Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, a best-seller of the day. But it is the "now" qualities (the "now" of 1599) that surely struck the dominant note: the characters spoke, thought, dressed and felt in the ways of Shakespeare's own time. So today we perform the play 400 years later--a mere 400 years later, compared to the 1600 separating the original audience from the Roman history. And we have to ask which "now" is our "now"? The Roman Republic with everyone wearing authentic togas which, thanks to post-Shakespearean archeology, we know so well? Or Shakespeare's historic moment when people wore ruffs, farthingales and pumpkin breeches, freshly familiar thanks to Shakespeare in Love? Or our own time, projecting Caesar and Company onto a current political struggle (as Orson Welles chose Mussolini's fascists for his great 1930s production)? At Shakespeare's Globe the solution apparently was a melding of two periods: contemporary fashions "Romanized" with classic-line capes ("Senatores [sic] cloakes" appear in a surviving wardrobe inventory) and accessories. Here on the stage of the Mary Rippon, we are pursuing a path paralleling the Elizabethan approach. To surround and support the art of our actors--the primary communicators of the author's work--our designers Jeanne Arnold (costumes), Bruce Brockman (scenery), Michael Wellborn (lighting) and Kevin Dunayer (sound) have taken themes of our own times as the basis of Shakespeare's Rome. Our Rome and its Romans have a modern familiarity overlaid with Romanesque elements and "quotes," like Elizabethan wearers of "Senatores cloakes". This production attempts to put the obsession of the play center stage: personal politics--that tangled, dark and perilous labyrinth within our hearts. Though rooted in a story two millennia old and written four centuries ago, Julius Caesar unfolds in that tragic milieu. And the wonder of theatrical performance allows us to bear fresh witness to the terrible costs and glories of political life, and to its perennial fascination. 
--Patrick Kelly

Peace has come to Rome following the defeat of Pompey's sons. As Caesar celebrates his victory, Cassius reminds a distressed Brutus of traditional republican rights that have been trampled on by the now all-powerful leader. Though he has no personal quarrel with Caesar, Brutus fears his ambition enough to listen to Cassius' implied proposal: a conspiracy to murder the dictator. In the midst of a strange, violent storm, Cassius and Casca plot to convince the well-respected Brutus of widespread support for their plans. Swayed, he and the six other conspirators lay their trap. Though Cassius suggests the simultaneous killing of Antony, Brutus vetoes the idea. After the others leave, Brutus' wife Portia wonders at his strange behavior and demands a reason for it. Ignoring his wife Calphurnia's entreaties and other warning signs, Caesar goes to the capitol accompanied by Antony and the conspirators. The session begins, and he is stabbed to death. As the murderers rejoice, Antony makes peace with them in return for the chance to speak at Caesar's funeral. Brutus opens the ceremony by carefully explaining his actions, but Antony follows and whips the mob into a frenzy. Riots engulf Rome as the conspirators are driven out or killed. While Antony and Octavius (Caesar's grand-nephew and heir) decide who will die as they assume full power in Rome, Brutus and Cassius assemble their armies near Sardis. They quarrel before Brutus reveals Portia's suicide. He convinces Cassius to attack quickly, initiating the final fateful showdown with Antony and Octavius at Philippi. 
--Jeffrey Grapko

Shakespeare and the Roman Republic Julius Caesar highlights the struggle between differing conceptions of Rome's political nature. Brutus chooses to assassinate Caesar, not because of any specific act or attitude by the dictator, but because his position stands in violation of the political traditions of the Republic. Since we today often equate republicanism with democracy, we must consider the nature of the Roman Republic as well as Shakespeare's conception of "rule by the people" in order to fully understand Brutus' actions. Rome established a Republic not to grant rights to its entire population, but to prevent tyranny, the rule of one powerful man outside the law. The last king of Rome (driven out by a legendary ancestor of Brutus) used his power to rape the daughter of a patrician (the upper class). Rome's great families were determined to prevent another crime of that magnitude from going unpunished. Power was divided between several offices and institutions. The Senate (a body of former officeholders and the leaders of patrician families) elected most offices and passed most laws, but their choices had to be approved by the citizens as a whole or through their representatives, the Tribunes. Several complicated checks demonstrated the great fear Romans had of concentrating power in the hands of too few people; even in emergencies, for example, a Dictator could only hold office for six months. Caesar broke with these traditions by being elected Dictator for life while simultaneously holding several other powerful offices. Brutus represents Romans who were proud of their system and their various roles in it; for the most part, the Republic thrived with few major political upheavals for several hundred years. The arguments that sway Brutus to act appeal to his rights as a member of one of Rome's leading families, and he believes that his action is a duty to save the state of Rome from degeneration into personal rule. Shakespeare lived in a time when democracy was considered a dangerously unstable system of government; the ruling class of England (nobles, large landowners, and great merchants) had very little respect for the opinions or the needs of the lower classes. Shakespeare demonstrates this in his portrayal of the Roman mob. In Act I, the mob responds with near-ecstasy to Caesar's manipulation of his refusal of the crown. In Act III, the mob first fully supports Brutus' defense and then turns against him once Antony enflames their passions. They not only riot and burn the houses of the conspirators, they even kill an innocent man because he shares the name of one of Caesar's assailants. Shakespeare paints the Roman people as controllable only by those who rule through terror; the institutions of Rome, nominally responsible to the citizenry, are in fact made easier to manipulate because of that responsibility. Brutus falls partly because he trusts the people to once again embrace the system that their ancestors had created. In this way, Julius Caesar demonstrates an Elizabethan concept of the people as uncontrollable, lacking in judgement, and potentially dangerous. 
--Jeffrey Grapko