Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Shakespeare's Julius Caesar

I've never been much interested in this play. And now, having recently seen it in action (so to speak) for the first time, at the Ashland Shakespeare Festival, in Oregon, I am wondering why Shakespeare wrote it. You would never know, from reading or seeing this play, that Julius Caesar was one of the most brilliant and charismatic men of classical antiquity, who wrote Latin prose of such clarity, simplicity and power that even Cicero who didn't like him at all, admired it. Shakespeare's Caesar is indecisive, superstitious, a spent force at the age of 56, which wasn't at all the case. Where did Shakespeare get these ideas? Not from Plutarch; I think Shakespeare's portrait of Caesar is entirely made-up. So why might Shakespeare have wanted to diminish Caesar in this way? I don't know. If anyone else knows, I'd like to hear about it.

To make matters worse, the folks in Ashland cast Caesar as a woman! What could they have been thinking of?—if they were thinking at all.

This play isn't even a tragedy. Caesar was a man who lived his life to the full and was cut down in his prime. That's tragic but not in any Shakespearean sense of that word; this play is not a Shakespearian tragedy. It is quite unlike any of Shakespeare's other tragedies. Shakespeare, who knew as much about tragedy as anyone, missed his mark. No doubt he thought he'd hit it; I just don't what it was.