The Play Julius Caesar and Its Relevance to Recent Events
Julius Caesar is a play written by William Shakespeare in 1599 before his other great tragedies. However, it became famous for its outstanding language and structure, making it easy to act it out in the theatre. Since the play concerns political and moral matters, it remains to be interesting with different interpretations depending on the situation. The play is now often produced in numerous theaters all over the United States; the play's directors often step away from classical Shakespearean concepts in order to relate the actions to recent trends. This paper aims to investigate some of the contemporary productions of Julius Caesar in order to demonstrate how the directors connect and compare classical drama to current events in politics and government. The play's productions by Brian Isaac Phillips at Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival (March 2007), by Winter Mead in the Loeb Experimental Theatre (March 2007), by Arthur Nauzyciel in the American Repertory Theatre (2007), and by Dennis Lee Delaney at UCF Shakespeare Festival (April 2006) shall be analyzed.
The popularity of Caesar's topic in modern America is easy to explain. The US is involved in a continuous war with terrorism all over the world, and the Republican freedom is being limited more and more under influence of the "hawks" in the US government. This makes a clear analogy to the termination of the Roman Republic by a lucky and popular general like Julius Caesar.
Arthur Nauzyciel, as he himself explained, tends to relate historical events to modern actions, calling Julius Caesar as the greatest play of our time. In his play, he tends to create an atmosphere of political uncertainty, caused by change of regime and therefore he steps away from classical Shakespearean text to create a feeling of "history, of ghosts and night, of the supernatural." (1)
All of the above mentioned productions of Julius Caesar hint the connection between antiquity and modern military dictatorships by using modern costumes and sceneries. In Phillip's version of Julius Caesar, the characters wear uniforms very much alike to the one of Nazi SS troops (an obvious analogy to antidemocratic trends of Caesar). On the other hand, Delaney's production on Caesar's clothes looks like a dress of African or Latin-American dictator. Finally, Winter Mead has gone even further, dressing his characters in the modern US uniforms. Thusly, the first way of making analogy with foreign events is visual a comparison of Caesar to the modern dictators or possible dictators.
The sense of modernity is made stronger by Phillips, when the characters of his play greet each other by the words "Heil Caesar" - a Nazi greeting. Delaney has used modern devices for the same purpose. Spectators can observe metal detectors as well as hear sounds of missiles and machine guns during the show.(2) All of these create "a war-time feel that brings forth a terrific sense of the director's concept."(3) The same approach to the scenery is applied by Mead, whose actors seat on the sandbags against chain-link fencing along the back. This, combined with half-Spanish half-Oriental music by Salas, creates an impression of Middle Eastern atmosphere.(4)
It should be also pointed, that the directors aim to create an impression of modern mob, and not an ancient crowd. Such group of citizens believes that they can still influence the process of decision making. However, their voices can only be heard but never taken into account by the rulers, which is another obvious analogy to contemporary politics. In Delaney's play, there are sounds of a giggling woman whose voice becomes very loud as Caesar is killed. In Caesar by Mead, there are unclear sounds of a crowd behind the scene, which never appears on the stage.(5)
Phillips passed yet another analogy to modern politics by giving many roles to females, as females play a major role in contemporary government. He also mixes parts of the play, so that in the last scenes Caesar continues to exist as a ghost, and his ghost is used for manipulation,(6) just as a resort to great personalities of the past is actively used to justify actions of the present.
It can therefore be clearly stated, that directors of modern play willingly and consciously relate the events described by Shakespeare in Julius Caesar to modern times. Such effect is achieved by means of modern military clothes of the characters, images of modern cities or fields of battle on the background, modern sounds and music, and finally, by introducing elements which Shakespeare has not used. All of these create an impression of modernity. As reviews noticed about the mentioned plays, the murderers of Caesar look like "purgers, not murderers."(7)
- Gideon Lester, Introducing Julius Caesar, August 2009,
https://amrep.wordpress.com/2007/04/17/introducing-julius-caesar (accessed May 28, 2012)
- Elizabeth Maupin, The Orlando Sentinel, April 17, 2006,
https://www.shakespearefest.org/julius_caesar06.htm (accessed May 28, 2012)
- Matthew MacDermid, Orlando Shakespeare's Caesar: intense, passionate, and even a little gory..., available at:
https://www.shakespearefest.org/julius_caesar06.htm (Last viewed: May 28, 2007)
- Elizabeth J. Bloomberg, "Julius Caesar' an Ambiguous Success," Artsmonday, March 24, 2007.
- Bloomberg, "Ambiguous Success"
- Tom McElfresh, Julius Caesar Brings An Accessible Play To Life,
https://www.citybeat.com/2006-02-22/onstage2.shtml (accessed May 28, 2012)
- Maupin, Orlando Sentinel.