Rick Ungar Op Ed: Et Tu, Trump? Politicians Have Always Been a Target of Julius Caesar Productions
“Men in general are quick to believe that which they wish to be true.” – Julius Caesar.
Many who identify with “The Right” are apoplectic over the staging of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” by New York’s Public Theater – the people who brought you the original productions of “Hair” and “Hamilton”.
A decidedly Trump like character in the role of Julius Caesar, in a production faithful to Shakespeare’s original dialogue, is brutally assassinated by power hungry Senators who convince themselves that they are doing what is in the best interest of the Republic.
Lest there be any question that the lead character is a Trump stand-in, note that Caesar has blonde hair and comes dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and a red tie which hangs down well below his belt. What’s more, he is mourned in death by his beloved wife, Calpurnia, who is played with a Slavic accent clearly intended to mimic the speech of our current First Lady, Melania Trump.
Clearly, this was a case of “the left” acting out their fondest desires by a perversion of one of Shakespeare’s finest literary works – depicting the final demise of their hated nemissis, the President of the United States.
Or was it?
Anyone offended by the idea of a current president being assassinated in “Julius Caesar” must have had something to say about it when Minnesota’s famed Guthrie Theater presented “Julius Caesar” in 2012 with the Caesar character portrayed by a tall, lanky black man with a great love for basketball.
The iconic conservative publication “The American Conservative” praised the show in a review entitled, “Obama’s Ides of March: The Acting Company Production of Julius Caesar”.
Here is just a portion of Noah Millman’s commentary:
“Director Rob Melrose has set his Caesar at our precise historical moment, in Obama’s Washington, D.C. The capital is rocked by “Occupy Rome” protests. His Caesar (the suavely confident Bjorn DuPaty) is a tall, charismatic African-American politician; he doesn’t look or sound much like Obama (he more closely recalls Michael Jordan), but the audience is unquestionably going to read him as an Obama stand-in nonetheless, particularly when his opponents bear a marked resemblance to Eric Cantor (Sid Solomon’s snappy terrier Cassius) and Mitch McConnell (Kevin Orton’s cynical old pol Casca). Even Mark Antony is recognizable as a standard Democratic politician type, Clinton/Gore division.”
I do want to be fair. Maybe you simply missed the Guthrie Theater production.
But certainly, you must be aware of the 2015 production of “Julius Caesar” staged in Providence, RI and performed by the Trinity Rep Group? In that incarnation, a woman, dressed in a white pants suit, played the Caesar role.
Missed that one too? You might want to take a moment to check out the reviews of that show as it was clear to all that this was intended to be a depiction of Hillary Clinton.
Then there was that 2013 production of Shakespeare’s play by the Chicago Shakespeare Theater where Vice President Dick Cheney was cast in the role of Caesar. And the 1990 presentation- directed, as it happens, by the same director of the current version featuring President Trump- where the Caesar role is cast as a John F. Kennedy depiction. That production came replete with film of the Kennedy assassination included in the production.
Haven’t heard of any of these?
Well, your basic high school English class delving into the works of Shakespeare should have told you that modern political figures have been inserted into the role of Julius Caesar for the past four hundred years or, put another way, ever since the time William Shakespeare wrote the play.
In point of fact, monarchs and political leaders have long been depicted as Julius Caesar in productions of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”.
Had you not skipped English Literature that semester, you would have also learned that the entire point of Shakespeare’s great work was that assassination solves nothing. Inevitably, those who perceive themselves as heroes of the empire, republic, monarchy or whatever, by carrying out the brutal act of assassination end up making matters far, far worse.
No, the New York production of Julius Caesar was not some liberal prayer in support of the assassination of our president. Quite to the contrary, it was simply the latest portrayal of Shakespeare’s cautionary tale that disposing of the King, the Queen, the President or the Pope through murder will only bring ill – not salvation.
I understand that not everyone has this literary history at their fingertips. But now that you know the truth and the history of “Julius Caesar”-and that it was no more a plea for the assassination of Donald Trump than it was a call for the death of Barack Obama when it was his turn in the role-do us all a favor and set your audiences, friends or whomever straight.
False narratives do nothing to improve the quality of our country.