For some reason the “Illiterari” have decided, after more than 400 years, to become offended by William Shakespeare. This may trace back to a deeply held resentment at being forced to read “Macbeth” in high school. On a side note, actors in the theater world are highly superstitious about “Macbeth” considering it an “unlucky” play. They will only refer to it as “The Scottish Play” since even using the name Macbeth is considered a portent of ill fortune.
But back to Julius Caesar. Shakespeare wrote a number of his plays based on historical figures. And some of them were pure Tudor political propaganda. Henry V is portrayed as a gallant warrior king, which is not surprising since Henry Tudor (Henry VII) based his claim to the English throne on a somewhat dubious connection to the earlier Henry.
Perhaps Shakespeare’s biggest hatchet job was the one he did on Richard III. This portrayal of the last Plantagenet monarch became the stereotype of a deformed, evil man who would do anything for power. Richard was also the last English king to die leading his troops into battle against – you guessed it, Henry Tudor.
The facts surrounding the life and death of Julius Caesar are undisputed. At the time of his assasination Rome had been a republic. Caesar was an immensely popular general who defied Roman law by bringing his troops back into Rome with him. The Roman Senate was justly alarmed that he planned to make himself dictator of Rome. Others had done it in the past.
It is also true that Julius Caesar was stabbed to death by a group of senators on the steps of the Roman Senate. Two of the Senators involved are Cassius and Caesar’s friend Brutus. Remember the famous phrase “Et tu Brute?”
But stop and think for a moment. Would William Shakespeare, considering the time in which he lived, be allowed to write a play where the killing of a popular potential ruler was a GOOD THING? Of course not.
The turning point in the play comes when Caesar’s friend Marc Antony, against the advice of Cassius, is allowed to make his funeral oration. Anyone with a glancing familiarity with English literature can recall the opening words of that speech:
“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ear. I come not to praise Caesar but to bury him.”
Long story short, Antony’s speech so aroused the people of Rome that Cassius and Brutus were forced to flee the city. Antony, accompanied by Caesar’s nephew Octavius, led an army against them. Facing certain defeat both Cassius and Brutus literally fell on their swords.
Thus the moral of the story, and the point of the play is this: assasination, no matter how noble the cause might be, ends badly for the assassins.
Beginning in the 20th century it became popular to re-set Shakespeare’s plays in contemporary settings-frequently to make a political point, or to try to make them more relevant to modern audiences.
In recent years nearly every President, from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama, has been identified with the character of Julius Caesar in this play. The sudden outrage by right-wing “social justice warriors” baffles many, including Ben Shapiro who has faced more protests against his speeches in college campuses than many.
Nobody stormed the stage of these earlier productions. Why? Because this is just a play – by William freaking Shakespeare. These so-called protesters are trying to make a big deal about something that doesn’t exist.
Or as the Bard himself might say “Much Ado About Nothing”