June 12, 2017

The Play is the Thing..


I wanted to briefly wander back to the modern rendition of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar being on offer for free in New York City's Central Park wherein the play's namesake is a character bearing a planned resemblance to President Donald Trump. Per the play and history, Julius Caesar is assassinated by Cassius, the ringleader of the conspirators and those who he has convinced to participate -- among them Brutus, a general and close friend of Caesar.

Because of the portrayal, there seems to be outrage from the right and counter-outrage from the left, apparently because corporate sponsorship has been disappearing faster that Kathy Griffin's roadhouse gigs.
But the controversy largely ignores the history of Julius Caesar, which has been nodding to contemporary politics since its very first staging. “The play was written for a fiercely politicized and partisan people,” the playwright Tony Kushner has argued, “during a time ... when democratic institutions were seriously jeopardized by immensely arrogant, immensely popular leaders with despotic inclinations and dreams of empires.” In 1599 when Caesar premiered, Queen Elizabeth I had been in power for four decades and the question of who would succeed her was a troublesome one. A “Bishop’s Ban” imposed on literary works the same year had cracked down on satire, and many have interpreted Caesar as critiquing the monarch’s stranglehold on power while slyly evading the wrath of the censors.
Yeah, yeah, yeah..whatevs. But a point is being missed. Those of you who have read/studied this play (oft required in high school English in the old days) should remember that, while Julius Caesar (Trump), was brutally murdered in Act 3 Scene 1, the play drags on for two more full acts ending up with a lot of the conspirators having their weekends ruined and otherwise "running on their swords", etc.

A good time was not had by all.

So, after the players get their yucks for the first two acts of the play (Caesar gets his in Act 3 Scene 1), the rest of the show slogs through hand wringing and the general unraveling of the conspirators' cohesion. Literally, from the moment of Caesar's death and, in fact, while he was lying on the steps of the Senate, Mark Antony steps in and gives the pivotal speech that basically turns the animosity and hatred of the assembled crowd towards Caesar and sympathy for the conspirators to antipathy for their deeds and sadness at the loss of their emperor. (Especially when they find that JC left them all something in his will.)

Below is Marc Antony's speech -- done by Marlon Brando in his tour de force 1953 performance. I excerpted some of the speech so you can appreciate how Antony sarcastically skewers Brutus and Cassius and the rest of that posse over the brutal assassination.

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones: So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus Hath told you Caesar was ambitious: If it were so, it was a grievous fault; And grievously hath Caesar answer'd it. Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest..for Brutus is an honourable man; So are they all, all honorable men.

Come I to speak in Caesar's funeral. He was my friend, faithful and just to me. But Brutus says he was ambitious; And Brutus is an honourable man. He hath brought many captives home to Rome, whose ransoms did the general coffers fill. Did this in Caesar seem ambitious? When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept. Ambition should be made of sterner stuff! Yet Brutus says he was ambitious and Brutus is an honourable man. You all did see that on the Lupercal I thrice presented him a kingly crown, Which he did thrice refuse. Was this ambition? Yet Brutus says he was ambitious and, sure, he is an honourable man. I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke, But here I am to speak what I do know. You all did love him once -- not without cause. What cause withholds you, then, to mourn for him? O judgment, thou art fled to brutish beasts, and men have lost their reason!

Bear with me. My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar, and I must pause till it come back to me.

But yesterday the word of Caesar might Have stood against the world. Now lies he there and none so poor to do him reverence. O masters, if I were disposed to stir Your hearts and minds to mutiny and rage, I should do Brutus wrong and Cassius wrong, who, you all know, are honourable men And I will not do them wrong. I rather choose To wrong the dead, to wrong myself, and you, than I will wrong such honourable men. But here's a parchment with the seal of Caesar -- I found it in his closet -- tis his will. Let but the commons hear this testament which, pardon me, I do not mean to read and they would go and kiss dead Caesar's wounds, and dip their napkins in his sacred blood, Yea, beg a hair of him for memory, and, dying, mention it within their wills, bequeathing it as a rich legacy Unto their issue.

Indeed, for the company of players -- who I will wager has few Trump fans in their midst -- it must have been a tough slog to the play's end with their having to choke out the ironic words that described the conspirators' downfall and the concomitant rise of the adoration of their Caesar~Trump. I am certain-sure they will bring it off like the troopers they are.

For they are, all, honorable men.

1 comment:

LL said...

Rep Pelosi (D-CA) back peddled her filthy anti-Trump rhetoric today after the shooting as a message that Republicans don't need to retaliate for the Democrat loon (egged on by the corrupt, elite, smug mainstream media) who opened fire on the baseball game.

Maybe the elite progs will tone it down, but I doubt that it will last for more than a day or two. It's not in their nature.