Shakespeare in the Park and the “Eye That Sees Not Itself”

“Alas, thou hast misconstrued everything!”

 

Those are the words of the servant Titinius after finding his master, Cassius, one of the conspirators in the assassination of Julius Caesar, dead in Shakespeare’s play, “Julius Caesar.”

 

Ever the dadist modernists, Manhattanites flocked tpo The Public Theater Shakespeare in the Park 2017 production of Julius Caesar, which places the ambitious, would-be dictator in the middle of New York City’s Central Park, casting an actor who resembles President Donald Trump in the eponymous role.

 

The audiences have cheered and laughed at the assassination scene. Indeed, the Trumpized Roman emperor did not go gently into that good night in this production, which is said to have closed since advertisers pulled their support from the controversial play.  He body slams one assailant and manhandles others before he’s murdered in a gory re-enactment of Caesar’s murder.

 

The play ends with the new emperor, Octavianus and Marc Antony doing honor to the ringleader of the conspirators, Brutus.

 

Upon finding him dead, Antony says, “This was the noblest Roman of them all. All the conspirators save only he did that they did in envy of great Caesar; He, only in a general honest thought and common good to all, made one of them.”

 

Octavius: According to his virtue let us use him, with all respect and rite of burial.  Within my tent his bones tonight shall lie, most like a soldier, ordered honorably.  Call the field [the army] to rest:  and let’s away, to part the glories of this happy day.

 

Brutus meant well, did he? No ancient Roman ever gloried more in the bloody, savage entertainment of the Roman Colosseum than did the noble residents of Manhattan witnessing this modernized, blood-soaked rendition of “Julius Caesar.”

 

Nor do they hold the common man in any more high esteem than did the Establishment of Rome. A seat in the Roman Senate was a highly sought position, bought with money and fraught with power.  The Roman Assembly was no match for it.

 

The first thing to understand about any Shakespeare drama is the first line: it sets the tone for the entire play.

 

Flavius [opening line]: Hence! Home, you idle creatures, get you home!  [An officer in Senator Brutus’ army, he later goes on to warn them that it’s not a holiday and that it’s illegal for them to walk in public without wearing a sign of their trade]

 

The senators and assemblyman are supposed to represent the citizens of Rome. However, the Roman Senate had become so corrupt that they believed themselves to be above the citizens whom they represented. Caesar was ambitious, indeed, but he also knew that that body was blocking legislation meant for the benefit of the citizens.

 

Flavius asks the man what trade he is. The man answers that he is a “cobbler.”  In true Shakespearean fashion, this is a play on words, for in English of the times, “cobbler” meant “a mender of shoes” but also “a bungler.”

 

Marullus: But what trade art thou, sir.  Answer me directly.

 

Cobbler: A trade sir, that I hope I may use with a safe conscience, which is indeed sir, a mender of bad soles [with a pun on the word “souls”]

 

Flavius and Marsullus, Brutus’ officers are ordered to take down the decorations from Caesar’s statues and to “drive away the vulgar from the streets.” Supporters of the now-dead Pompey, for whose death they blame Caesar, although he was actually murdered by the Egyptians, they scorn the vacillating citizens who once cried for Pompey and now cheer for the conqueror they believed murdered him.

 

History (according to Wikipedia, at least) tells us that Caesar was, indeed, an ambitious if frustrated ruler. As a military tactician, he was brilliant, conquering half the known world in the name of Rome.  As a member of the First Triumvirate (60 B.C.), Caesar proposed a law for redistributing public lands to the poor—by force of arms, if need be—a proposal supported by Pompey and by Crassus, making the triumvirate public. Pompey filled the city with soldiers, a move which intimidated the triumvirate’s opponents.  Bibulus attempted to declare the omens unfavourable and thus void the new law, but he was driven from the forum by Caesar’s armed supporters.

 

Bibulus’ (a consul and opponent of Caesar’s) bodyguards had their ceremonial axes (fasces) broken, two high magistrates accompanying him were wounded, and he had a bucket of excrement thrown over him. In fear of his life, he retired to his house for the rest of the year, issuing occasional proclamations of bad omens. These attempts proved ineffective in obstructing Caesar’s legislation. Roman satirists ever after referred to the year as “the consulship of Julius and Caesar.”

 

When Caesar was first elected, the aristocracy tried to limit his future power by allotting to him the woods and pastures of Italy, rather than the governorship of a province, as his military command duty after his year in office was over. With the help of political allies, Caesar later overturned this, and was instead appointed to govern Cisalpine Gaul (northern Italy) and Illyricum (southeastern Europe), with Transalpine Gault (southern France) later added, giving him command of four legions. The term of his governorship, and thus his immunity from prosecution, was set at five years, rather than the usual one. When his consulship ended, Caesar narrowly avoided prosecution for the irregularities of his year in office, and quickly left for his province.

 

While Caesar was in Britain his daughter Julia, Pompey’s wife, had died in childbirth. Caesar tried to re-secure Pompey’s support by offering him his great-niece in marriage, but Pompey declined. In 53 B.C. Crassus was killed leading a failed invasion of the east. Rome was on the brink of civil war.  Pompey was appointed sole consul as an emergency measure, and married the daughter of a political opponent of Caesar. The Triumvirate was dead.

 

In 50 B.C., the Senate, led by Pompey, ordered Caesar to disband his army and return to Rome because his term as governor had finished. Pompey accused Caesar of insubordination and treason, Caesar feared he would be prosecuted if he entered Rome without the immunity enjoyed by a magistrate.  On Jan. 10, 49 B.C., Caesar crossed the Rubicon River (the frontier boundary of Italy) with only a single legion, the Legio XIII Gemina, and ignited civil war. Upon crossing the Rubicon, Caesar, according to Plutarch and Suetonius, is supposed to have quoted the Athenian playwright, Menander, in Greek, “the die is cast” or “let the die be cast.”

 

Pompey and many of the Senate fled to the south, having little confidence in Pompey’s newly-raised troops. Pompey, despite greatly outnumbering Caesar, who only had his Thirteenth Legion with him, did not intend to fight.  Caesar pursued Pompey, hoping to capture [not kill] Pompey before his legions could escape.

 

Pompey managed to escape before Caesar could capture him. Heading for Spain, Caesar left Italy under the control of Mark Antony. After an astonishing 27-day route-march, Caesar defeated Pompey’s lieutenants, then returned east, to challenge Pompey in Illyria, where, in July 48 B.C. in the Battle of Dyrrhacium, Caesar barely avoided a catastrophic defeat. In an exceedingly short engagement later that year, he decisively defeated Pompey at Pharsalus, in Greece.

 

In Rome, Caesar was appointed dictator with Mark Antony as his Master of the Horse (second in command). Caesar presided over his own election to a second consulship and then, after 11 days, resigned this dictatorship.  Caesar then pursued Pompey to Egypt, arriving soon after the murder of the general. There, Caesar was presented with Pompey’s severed head and seal-ring, receiving these with tears.  He then had Pompey’s assassins put to death.

 

Caesar then became involved with an Egyptian civil war between the child pharaoh and his sister, wife, and co-regent queen, Cleopatra. Perhaps as a result of the pharaoh’s role in Pompey’s murder, Caesar sided with Cleopatra. He withstood the Siege of Alexandria and later he defeated the pharaoh’s forces at the Battle of the Nile in 47 B.C. and installed Cleopatra as ruler. Caesar and Cleopatra celebrated their victory with a triumphal procession on the Nile in the spring of 47 B.C. The royal barge was accompanied by 400 additional ships, and Caesar was introduced to the luxurious lifestyle of the Egyptian pharaohs.

 

Caesar and Cleopatra were not married. Caesar continued his relationship with Cleopatra throughout his last marriage—in the eyes of pagan Roman, this did not constitute adultery—and probably fathered a son called Caesarion. Cleopatra visited Rome on more than one occasion, residing in Caesar’s villa just outside Rome across the Tiber.

 

Late in 48 B.C., Caesar was again appointed dictator, with a term of one year. After spending the first months of 47 B.C. in Egypt, Caesar went to the Middle East, where he annihilated the king of Pontus [the Black Sea region of Turkey]; his victory was so swift and complete that he mocked Pompey’s previous victories over such poor enemies. On his way to Pontus, Caesar visited Tarsus from 27 to 29 May 47 B.C. (where he met enthusiastic support, but where, according to Cicero, Cassius was planning to kill him at this point.)  He then proceeded to Africa to deal with the remnants of Pompey’s senatorial supporters. He quickly gained a significant victory in 46 B.C. over Cato, who then committed suicide.

 

After this victory, he was appointed dictator for 10 years. Pompey’s sons escaped to Spain; Caesar gave chase and defeated the last remnants of opposition in the Battle of Munda in March 45 B.C. During this time, Caesar was elected to his third and fourth terms as consul in 46 B.C. and 45 B.C. (this last time without a colleague).

 

While he was still campaigning in Spain, the Senate began bestowing honors on Caesar. Caesar had not proscribed his enemies, instead pardoning almost all, and there was no serious public opposition to him. Great games and celebrations were held in April to honor Caesar’s victory at Munda. Plutarch writes that many Romans found the triumph held following Caesar’s victory to be in poor taste, as those defeated in the civil war had not been foreigners, but instead fellow Romans.

 

On Caesar’s return to Italy in September 45 B.C., he filed his will, naming his grandnephew Gaius Octavius (Octavian, later known as Augustus Caesar) as his principal heir, leaving Octavian his vast estate and property including his name. Caesar also wrote that if Octavian died before Caesar did, Decimus Junius Brutus would be the next heir in succession. In his will, he also left a substantial gift to the citizens of Rome.

 

During his early career, Caesar had seen how chaotic and dysfunctional the Roman Republic had become. The republican machinery had broken down under the weight of imperialism, such a vast amount of territory being virtually ungovernable from Rome, the central government had become powerless, the provinces had been transformed into independent principalities under the absolute control of their governors, and the army had replaced the constitution as the means of accomplishing political goals. With a weak central government, political corruption had spiraled out of control, and the status quo had been maintained by a corrupt aristocracy, which saw no need to change a system that had made its members rich.

 

Does that sound familiar to modern-day readers?

 

Between his crossing of the Rubicon in 49 B.C., and his assassination in 44 B.C., Caesar established a new constitution, which was intended to accomplish three separate goals. First, he wanted to suppress all armed resistance out in the provinces, and thus bring order back to the Republic. Second, he wanted to create a stronger central government in Rome.  Finally, he wanted to knit together all of the provinces into a single, cohesive unit.

 

The first goal was accomplished when Caesar defeated Pompey and his supporters. To accomplish the other two goals, he needed to ensure that his control over the government was undisputed, so he assumed these powers by increasing his own authority, and by decreasing the authority of Rome’s other political institutions. Finally, he enacted a series of reforms that were meant to address several long-neglected issues, the most important of which was his reform of the calendar.

 

When Caesar returned to Rome, the Senate granted him triumphs for his victories, ostensibly those over Gaul, Egypt, Pontus, and Juba (the Sudan), rather than over his Roman opponents. Not everything went Caesar’s way. When Arsinoe IV, Egypt’s former queen, was paraded in chains, the spectators admired her dignified bearing and were moved to pity. Triumphal games were held, with beast-hunts involving 400 lions, and gladiator contests. A naval battle was held on a flooded basin at the Field of Mars. At the Circus Maximus, two armies of war captives, each of 2,000 people, 200 horses, and 20 elephants, fought to the death. Again, some bystanders complained, this time at Caesar’s wasteful extravagance. A riot broke out, and only stopped when Caesar had two rioters sacrificed by the priests on the Field of Mars.

 

After the triumph, Caesar set out to pass an ambitious legislative agenda. He ordered a census be taken, which forced a reduction in the grain dole, and decreed that jurors could only come from the Senate or the Equestrian (military) ranks.

 

This probably palliated the elites, whom he needed to court in order to pass his policies. The decree did little to bring justice and equality to the common man, however, leaving them out of the important business of governing their lives.  Yet the common man was probably as unconcerned then as he is today, content to leave government to representatives and relieving them of the time-consuming burden.  If politics and corruption did not enter into governing, this would be the right and proper way to rule.  Left unchecked by the common people, profligacy will prevail.

 

That’s why it’s important to study Shakespeare and all those other hi-falutin’ Greeks – and do your research and vote in the primaries.

 

Caesar passed a sumptuary law that restricted the purchase of certain luxuries. After this, he passed a law that rewarded families for having many children, to speed up the repopulation of Italy. Then, he outlawed professional guilds, except those of ancient foundation, since many of these were subversive political clubs. He then passed a term-limit law applicable to governors. He passed a debt-restructuring law, which ultimately eliminated about a fourth of all debts owed.

 

The Forum of Caesar, with its Temple of Venus Genetrix, was then built, among many other public works. Caesar also tightly regulated the purchase of state-subsidized grain and reduced the number of recipients to a fixed number, all of whom were entered into a special register. From 47 to 44 B.C., he made plans for the distribution of land to about 15,000 of his veterans.

 

The most important change, however, was his reform of the calendar. The calendar was then regulated by the movement of the moon, and this had left it in a mess. Caesar replaced this calendar with the Egyptian calendar, which was regulated by the sun. He set the length of the year to 365.25 days by adding an intercalary/leap day at the end of February every fourth year.

 

To bring the calendar into alignment with the seasons, he decreed that three extra months be inserted into 46 B.C. (the ordinary intercalary month at the end of February, and two extra months after November). Thus, the Julian calendar opened on 1 January 45 B.C. This calendar is almost identical to the current Western Calendar.

 

Shortly before his assassination, he passed a few more reforms. He established a police force, appointed officials to carry out his land reforms, and ordered the rebuilding of Carthage and Corinth. He also extended Latin rights throughout the Roman world, and then abolished the tax system and reverted to the earlier version that allowed cities to collect tribute however they wanted, rather than needing Roman intermediaries. His assassination prevented further and larger schemes, which included the construction of an unprecedented temple to Mars, a huge theater, and a library on the scale of the Library of Alexandria.

 

He also wanted to convert Ostia to a major port, and cut a canal through the Isthmus of Corinth. Militarily, he wanted to conquer the Dacians and Parthians, and avenge the loss at Carrhae. Thus, he instituted a massive mobilization. Shortly before his assassination, the Senate named him censor for life and Father of the Fatherland, and the month of Quintilis was renamed July in his honor.

 

He was granted further honors, which were later used to justify his assassination as a would-be divine monarch: coins were issued bearing his image and his statue was placed next to those of the kings. He was granted a golden chair in the Senate, was allowed to wear triumphal dress whenever he chose, and was offered a form of semi-official or popular cult, with Mark Antony as his high priest.  Not content with being dictator-for-life, Caesar also wanted to be a deity.  Throughout the play “Julius Caesar,” Shakespeare points out the dictators many human foibles which made him unsuitable to be a god.

 

The history of Caesar’s political appointments is complex and uncertain. Caesar held both the dictatorship and the tribunate, but alternated between the consulship and the proconsulship. His powers within the state seem to have rested upon these magistracies. He was first appointed dictator in 49 B.C., possibly to preside over elections, but resigned his dictatorship within 11 days.  In 48 B.C., he was reappointed dictator, only this time for an indefinite period, and in 46 B.C., he was appointed dictator for 10 years.

 

In 48 B.C., Caesar was given permanent tribunician powers which made his person sacrosanct and allowed him to veto the Senate, although on at least one occasion, tribunes did attempt to obstruct him. The offending tribunes in this case were brought before the Senate and divested of their office. This was not the first time Caesar had violated a tribune’s sacrosanctity.

 

Caesar had crossed yet another “rubicon,” helping to seal his fate.

 

After he had first marched on Rome in 49 BC, he forcibly opened the treasury, although a tribune had the seal placed on it. After the impeachment of the two obstructive tribunes, Caesar, perhaps unsurprisingly, faced no further opposition from other members of the Tribunician College.

 

When Caesar returned to Rome in 47 B.C., the ranks of the Senate had been severely depleted, so he used his censorial powers to appoint many new senators, which eventually raised the Senate’s membership to 900. All the appointments were of his own partisans, which robbed the senatorial aristocracy of its prestige, and made the Senate increasingly subservient to him.  To minimize the risk that another general might attempt to challenge him, Caesar passed a law that subjected governors to term limits.

 

Barack Obama and the Democrats, not the Conservatives and Donald Trump, packed both Congress and the Judicial branch with partisans both on the Democrat and the Republican side. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is good friends with Open Society founder George Soros, as was his opponent in the 2008 election, Barack Obama.

 

In 46 B.C., Caesar gave himself the title of “Prefect of the Morals,” which was an office that was new only in name, as its powers were identical to those of the censors. Thus, he could hold censorial powers, while technically not subjecting himself to the same checks to which the ordinary censors were subject, and he used these powers to fill the Senate with his own partisans. He also set the precedent, which his imperial successors followed, of requiring the Senate to bestow various titles and honors upon him. He was, for example, given the title of “Father of the Fatherland” and “imperator.”

 

Coins bore his likeness, and he was given the right to speak first during Senate meetings. Caesar then increased the number of magistrates who were elected each year, which created a large pool of experienced magistrates, and allowed Caesar to reward his supporters.

 

This is what the Liberals fear; that Donald Trump will upset the “balance” of the court, by nominating Conservative justices to the Supreme Court. Their charge is hypocritical since the court has swung to the Left for at least a decade, allowing illegal immigrants to swarm our borders, unconstitutionally mandating Obamacare, and eventually, legalizing marijuana.

 

Caesar even took steps to transform Italy into a province, and to link more tightly the other provinces of the empire into a single cohesive unit. This addressed the underlying problem that had caused the Social War decades earlier, where individuals outside Rome and Italy were not considered “Roman,” and thus were not given full citizenship rights. This process, of fusing the entire Roman Empire into a single unit, rather than maintaining it as a network of unequal principalities, would ultimately be completed by Caesar’s successor, the emperor Augustus.

 

In February 44 B.C., one month before his assassination, he was appointed Dictator for Life. Under Caesar, a significant amount of authority was vested in his lieutenants, mostly because Caesar was frequently out of Italy. In October 45 B.C., Caesar resigned his position as sole consul, and facilitated the election of two successors for the remainder of the year, which theoretically restored the ordinary consulship, since the constitution did not recognize a single consul without a colleague.

 

Near the end of his life, Caesar began to prepare for a war against the Parthian Empire (Iran and Iraq). Since his absence from Rome might limit his ability to install his own consuls, he passed a law which allowed him to appoint all magistrates in 43 B.C., and all consuls and tribunes in 42 B.C. This, in effect, transformed the magistrates from being representatives of the people to being representatives of the dictator.

 

Uh-oh.

 

On the Ides of March (March 15) of 44 B.C., Caesar was due to appear at a session of the Senate. Several Senators had conspired to assassinate Caesar. Mark Antony, having vaguely learned of the plot the night before from a terrified liberator named Servilius Casca, and fearing the worst, went to head Caesar off. The plotters, however, had anticipated this and, fearing that Antony would come to Caesar’s aid, had arranged for Trebonius to intercept him just as he approached the portico of the Theatre of Pompey, where the session was to be held, and detain him outside. (Plutarch, however, assigns this action to delay Antony to Brutus Albinus.) When he heard the commotion from the Senate chamber, Antony fled.

 

The Theatre of Pompey was a structure in Ancient Rome built during the later part of the Roman Republican era. It was completed in 55 BC.  Enclosed by large columned porticos was an expansive garden complex of fountains and statues. Along the stretch of covered arcade were rooms dedicated to the exposition of art and other works collected by Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (English: “Pompey the Great”) during his campaigns.

 

On the opposite end of the garden complex was a curia (an assembly room) for political meetings. The senate would often use this building along with a number of temples and halls that satisfied the requirements for their formal meetings. The curia in the theatre is infamous as the place where Juliua Caesar murdered by the Liberatores of the Roman Senate and elite.

 

According to Plutarch, as Caesar arrived at the Senate, Tillius Cimber presented him with a petition to recall his exiled brother. The other conspirators crowded round to offer support. Both Plutarch and Suetonius say that Caesar waved him away, but Cimber grabbed his shoulders and pulled down Caesar’s tunic. Caesar then cried to Cimber, “Why, this is violence!” (“Ista quidem vis est!”), which was against the rules of the Roman Senate.

 

At the same time, Casca produced his dagger and made a glancing thrust at the dictator’s neck. Caesar turned around quickly and caught Casca by the arm. According to Plutarch, he said in Latin, “Casca, you villain, what are you doing?” Casca, frightened, shouted, “Help, brother!” in Greek (“ἀδελφέ, βοήθει”, “Adelphe, boethei“). Within moments, the entire group, including Brutus, was striking out at the dictator.  Caesar attempted to get away, but, blinded by blood, he tripped and fell; the men continued stabbing him as he lay defenseless on the lower steps of the portico. According to Eutropius, around 60 men participated in the assassination. He was stabbed 23 times.

 

According to Suetonius, a physician later established that only one wound, the second one to his chest, had been lethal. The dictator’s last words are not known with certainty, and are a contested subject among scholars and historians alike. Suetonius reports that others have said Caesar’s last words were the Greek phrase “καὶ σύ, τέκνον;”\ (transliterated as “Kai su, teknon?”: “You too, child?” in English). However, for himself, Suetonius says Caesar said nothing.

 

Plutarch also reports that Caesar said nothing, pulling his toga over his head when he saw Brutus among the conspirators. The version best known in the English-speaking world is the Latin phrase “Et tu, Brute?” (“And you, Brutus?” This derives from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, where it actually forms the first half of a macaronic (composed of or characterized by Latin words mixed with vernacular words or non-Latin words given Latin endings)  line: “Et tu, Brute? Then fall, Caesar.”

 

According to Plutarch, after the assassination, Brutus stepped forward as if to say something to his fellow senators; they, however, fled the building. Brutus and his companions then marched to the Capitol while crying out to their beloved city: “People of Rome, we are once again free!” They were met with silence, as the citizens of Rome had locked themselves inside their houses as soon as the rumor of what had taken place had begun to spread. Caesar’s dead body lay where it fell on the Senate floor for nearly three hours before other officials arrived to remove it.

 

Caesar’s body was cremated, and on the site of his cremation, the Temple of Caesar was erected a few years later (at the east side of the main square of the Roman Forum). Only its altar now remains. A life-size wax statue of Caesar was later erected in the forum displaying the 23 stab wounds. A crowd who had gathered there started a fire, which badly damaged the forum and neighboring buildings. In the ensuing chaos, Mark Antony, Octavian (later Augustus Caesar), and others fought a series of five civil wars, which would end in the formation of the Roman Empire.

 

To return to the play, the soothsayer warns Caesar to “Beware the idea of March.” But Caesar dismisses him as “a dreamer” and he and his party, except Brutus and Cassius, continue on to watch the race of the Festival of Lupercal, originally set in February, honoring the birth of Romulus and Remus to a female wolf who supposedly nursed them. Februa was the actual ritual of purification.

 

After the sacrificial feast, the Luperci (“the brothers of the wolf”) cut and wore thongs of newly-flayed goatskin, in imitation of Lupercus, and ran near-naked along the old Palatine boundary, which was marked out by stones. In Plutarch‘s description of the Lupercalia, written during the early Empire:

 

many of the noble youths and of the magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs. And many women of rank also purposely get in their way, and like children at school, present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped in delivery and the barren to pregnancy.

 

How Shakespeare came to include a pagan rite of February (meaning “spring cleaning” or “spring purge”) in the month of March is uncertain. How the company that produces Central Park’s Shakespeare in the Park came to confuse Trump with Caesar is equally uncertain.  To note, Barack Obama behaved more like Caesar – “he doth bestride the narrow world like a Colossus” – in his case, using the judiciary to bypass the legislature to enact his will.

 

To be sure, our modern Congress is decidedly corrupt, as corrupt as ever the Rome Senate was. The Roman Assembly had long since been stripped of its power.  Caesar was not actually the first emperor of Rome – perhaps he wanted to be an emperor, but he never lived to have the title.

 

To accuse Trump of obstructing or going around the courts as Caesar did is ludicrous, as the courts were previously filled by a much more ambitious, tyrannical president claiming to be a man of the people while casting scorn upon them, especially middle class workers and homeowners. Obama has not left his own estates to the poor; he’s left our modest homes and properties to the vulgar herd.

 

In the wake of the civil war following Caesar’s assassination, his great nephew and adopted heir, Octavian, became the first de facto emperor as a result of the ‘first settlement’ between himself and the Roman Senate.

 

He, Mark Antony, and Marcus Lepidus formed the Second Triumvirate to defeat the assassins of Caesar. All the principle conspirators committed suicide.  Does Shakespeare in the Park show that part of the play?

 

Following their victory at the Battle of Philippi, the Triumvirate divided the Roman Republic among themselves and ruled as military dictators. The Triumvirate was eventually torn apart by the competing ambitions of its members. Lepidus was driven into exile and stripped of his position, and Antony committed suicide following his defeat at the Battle of Actium by Octavian in 31 BC.

 

After the demise of the Second Triumvirate, Augustus restored the outward façade of the free Republic, with governmental power vested in the Roman Senate, the executive magistrates, and the legislative assemblies. In reality, however, he retained his autocratic power over the Republic as a military dictator. By law, Augustus held a collection of powers granted to him for life by the Senate, including supreme military command, and those of tribune and censor.

 

It took several years for Augustus to develop the framework within which a formally republican state could be led under his sole rule. He rejected monarchical titles, and instead called himself Princeps Civitatis (“First Citizen of the State”). The resulting constitutional framework became known as the Principate, the first phase of the Roman Empire.

 

The reign of Augustus initiated an era of relative peace known as the Pax Romana (The Roman Peace). The Roman world was largely free from large-scale conflict for more than two centuries, despite continuous wars of imperial expansion on the Empire’s frontiers and the year-long civil war known as the “Year of the Four Emperors” over the imperial succession. Augustus dramatically enlarged the Empire, annexing Egypt, Dalmatia, Pannonia, Noricum, and Raetia; expanding possessions in Africa; expanding into Germania; and completing the conquest of Hispania. Beyond the frontiers, he secured the Empire with a buffer region of client state and made peace with the Parthian Empire through diplomacy.

 

He reformed the Roman system of taxation, developed networks of roads with an official courier system, established a standing army, established the Praetorian Guard (a sort of Secret Service for the Emperor and some high officials), created official police and fire-fighting services and for Rome, and rebuilt much of the city during his reign.

 

But to return to the play, for that is the thing, Cassius, whom our Shakespearean Caesar regards cautiously as a man having “a lean and hungry look” knows that Brutus opposes Caesar’s ambitions but does not want to act against the man or his conscience.

 

Cassius has no problem where conscience is concerned. Privately, to Brutus, he berates Caesar as a flawed poser, much as Establishment Republicans derided Trump.  After challenging the aging Caesar to swim the Tiber, Cassius rescued the would-be god from drowning.

 

“Ay, as Aeneas, our great ancestor, did from the flames of Troy upon his shoulder the old Anchises bear, so from the waves of Tiber did I the tired Caesar. And this man is now become a god, and Cassius is a wretched creature and must bend his body if Caesar carelessly but on him.  He had a fever when he was in Spain, and when the fit was on him, I did mark how he did shake.  ‘Tis true, this god did shake.  His coward lips did from their color fly, and that same eye whose bend doth awe the world did lose his luster.  I did hear him groan.  Ay, and that tongue of his that bad the Romans mark him and write his speeches in their books, “Alas!” it cried, “Give me some drink, Titinius.”  As a sick girl.  Ye gods, it doth amaze me a man of such a feeble temper should so get the start of the majestic world and bear the palm [of victory] alone [as opposed to sharing it with a co-ruler].”

 

Cassius isn’t through berating Caesar though.

 

“Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world like a Colossus, and we petty men walk under his huge legs and peep about to find ourselves dishonorable graves. Men at some time are masters of their fates.  The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves, that we are underlings.  Brutus and Caesar.  What should be in that ‘Caesar’?  Why should that name be sounded more than yours?  Write them together, yours is as fair a name; sound them, it doth become the mouth as well…When went there by an age, since the Great Flood, but it was fam’d with more than with one man?  [Cassius speaks of Deucalion, the son of Prometheus, and Deucalion’s wife, Pyrrha, who, in Greek mythology, built the first cities – in Biblical terms, the couple was Nimrod and his wife, Semiramis].”

 

After this conversation, the pair learn from Casca that the shouts they heard were the people of Rome three times offering Caesar a crown, as king, which he refused each time. But then Caesar fell down in a fit of epilepsy, during which the adoring crowds mocked him.  Still, they learn that the Roman Senate means to establish Caesar as their king.  The conspirators meet to plan the assassination, in the Theater of Pompey, not in the actual Senate itself, as some have believed.

 

Brutus is uneasy about this action.

 

Brutus [in soliloquy]: Since Cassius did first whet me against Caesar, I have not slept.  Between the acting of a dreadful thing and the first motion, all the interim is like a phantasma, or a hideous dream.  Genius and the mortal instruments are then in council; and the state of man, like to a little kingdom, suffers then the nature of an insurrection.”

 

Defendants of the Shakespeare-in-the-Park production protest that it’s merely a play – which is based on an historical event. We poor mortals who can scarcely afford to cross into Manhattan, much less attend a play in Central Park, where we would have to park our cars in an expensive garage, saw no more of the play than the assassination scene.  “Hideous?”  Yes.  “A dream?”  Maybe.  But whose dream?  Who dreams of such monstrous violence?

 

The conspirators agree to the plan, but Brutus refuses to swear an oath to carry it out.

 

Brutus: No, not an oath.  If not the fame of men, the sufferance of our souls, the time’s abuse- [they’re wasting their time].  If these be motives weak, break off betimes, and every man hence to his idle bed; so let high-sighted tyranny range on, till each man drop off by lottery.  But if these, as I am sure they do, bear fire enough to kindle cowards and to steel with valor the melting spirits of women, then, countrymen, what need we any spur but our own cause to prick us to redress?  What other bond than secret Romans, that have spoke the word and will not palter?

 

The conspirators take the law into their own hands, as they believe their cause is just enough to commit murder, the taking of a life. Cassius suggests also severing Caesar’s right hand – Mark Antony.

 

Brutus: Our course will seem too bloody, Caius Cassius, the head cut off and then hack the limbs, like wrath in death and envy afterwards;  for Antony is but a limb of Caesar [in pagan rituals, the “limb” – a tree branch – represented the priest or priestess carrying out the will of the gods].  Let’s be sacrificers, but not butchers, Caius.  We stand up against the spirit of Caesar and in the spirit of men there is no blood.  O, that we then could come by Caesar’s spirit, and not dismember Caesar!  But, alas, Caesar must blood for it.  And, gentle friends, let’s kill him boldly but not wrathfully; Let’s carve him as a dish fort for the gods, not hew him as a carcass for hounds.  And let our hearts, as subtle masters do, stir up their servants to an act of rage and after seem to chide ‘em.  This shall make our purpose necessary, and not envious; which so appearing to the common eyes, we shall be call’d purgers, not murderers.”

 

How often have Liberal agitators done this very thing, working their followers up into a rage with violent rhetoric and then unleashing them onto the streets to do their dirty work? When did you last hear of Conservatives resorting to such tactics?  When did Donald Trump ever sanction such tactics?  He may have sounded tough during the campaign, but generally he’s a fellow hail and well met.  Maybe too hail.  He is a businessman after all.  What did the character in the movie Die Hard say, “You negotiate with a gun, I negotiate with a fountain pen.  What’s the difference?”

 

Although the night is filled with strange and evil portents, Caesar determines to go to the Senate hearing where Decius assures him he will receive the title he craves.

 

Caesar [to the soothsayer]: The ides of March are come.

 

Soothsayer: Ay, Caesar, but not gone.

 

It is Casca who declares the fatal words:  “Speak, hands, for me!”  Violent action over civil discourse.

 

The conspirators deliver 23 wounds to Caesar (Shakespeare declares the number is 33). As we read in the history, some sixty Roman senators were thought to have participated in the assassination.

 

After the deed is done, the murderers crow like cocks:

 

Cinna: Liberty! Freedom!  Tyranny is dead!  Run hence, proclaim, cry it about the streets!

 

Cassius: Some to the common pulpits, and cry out:  “Liberty, freedom, and enfranchisement!”

 

Brutus: People and senators, be not affrighted.  Fly not; stand still.  Ambition’s debt is paid.

 

Casca: Go to the pulpit, Brutus.

 

Decius: And Casca, too.

 

Brutus: Where’s Publius?

 

Cinna: Here, quite confounded with this mutiny [Publius was an elderly senator].

 

Metellus: Stand fast together, lest some friend of Caesar’s should chance-

 

Brutus: Talk not of standing.  Publius, good cheer.  There is no harm intended to your person, nor to no Roman else.  So tell them, Publius.

 

Cassius: And leave us, Publius, lest that the people, rushing on us, should do your age some mischief.

 

Brutus: Do so, and let no man abide this deed but we the doers.  [Exeunt all but the Conpirators]

 

Enter Trebonius.

 

Cassius: Where is Antony?

 

Trebonius: Fled to his house, amaz’d.  Men, wives, and children stare, cry out, and run as it were Doomsday.

 

Brutus: Fates, we will know your pleasures.  That we shall die, we know; ‘tis but the time, and drawings days out, that men stand upon.

 

Casca: Why, he that cuts off twenty years of life cuts off so many years of fearing death.

 

Brutus: Grant that, and then is death a benefit.  So are we Caesar’s friends, that have abridg’d his time of fearing death.  Stoop, Romans, stoop, and let us bathe our hands in Caesar’s blood up to the elbows, and besmear our swords then walk we forth, even to the market-place, and, waving our red weapons o’er our heads, let’s all cry, “Peace, freedom, and liberty!

 

Cassius: Stoop then and wash.  [They bathe their hands and weapons.]  How many ages hence shall this our lofty scene be acted over in states unborn and accents yet unknown?

 

How many generations in the future will reenact the “Lefty” scene in Central Park in states ceded and accents melded?

 

Brutus: How many times shall Caesar bleed in sport, that now on Pompey’s base lies along no worthier than the dust?

 

Cassius: So oft as that shall be, so often shall the knot of us be call’d the men that gave their country liberty.

 

So often shall the knot of Manhattanite Liberals be called the men and women that robbed their country of their liberty?

 

The mutineers go off into the center of Rome to explain their actions to a wary public.

 

“Not that I lov’d Caesar less,” Brutus says, “but that I lov’d Rome more. Had you rather Caesar were living and die all slaves, than that Caser were dead, to live all free men.  As Caesar lov’d me, I weep for him; as he was fortunate, I rejoice at it, as he was valiant, I honor him; but, as he was ambitious, I slew him.  There are tears for his love; joy for his fortune; honor for his valor; and death for his ambition.”

 

But then Marc Antony, given permission by Brutus and the other senators to eulogize Caesar, reads his will, which left some considerable money to every Roman citizen and all his estates to their public trust. Antony then shows those closest the torn and bloodied mantle, and then the body itself.

 

With the public opinion turned against the conspirators, Antony and Octavius, the new emperor, execute some seventy senators, then take their armies to hunt down the conspirators.

 

At Philippi, they meet in battle. But the conspirators’ armies soon desert them.

 

Cassius: O, look, Titinius, the villains fly!  Myself have to mine own turn’d enemy.  This ensign here of mine was turning back; I slew the coward and did take it from him.

 

Titinius flies off into battle. Pindarus, Cassisus’ slave, incorrectly reports that Titinius is captured and Cassius has him run him through, promising that with the deed, he will be freed from slavery.  Finding Cassius dead, Tintinius stabs himself with Cassius’ sword, the same sword that killed Caesar.

 

Cornered, Brutus asks the remainder of the band to lend him one of their swords so that he might die an honorable death. Finally, one of his slaves, Strato, agrees.  At Brutus’ bidding he turns his head away as Brutus runs himself on the sword and dies.

 

Brutus: Caesar, now be still.  I kill’d thee not with half so good a will.

 

Upon finding him dead, Antony says, “This was the noblest Roman of them all. All the conspirators save only he did that they did in envy of great Caesar; He, only in a general honest thought and common good to all, made one of them.”

 

The play ends with the new emperor, Octavian, honoring Brutus:

“According to his virtue, let us use him,

With all respect and rites of burial

Within my tent his bones tonight shall lie,

Most like a soldier, ordered honorably.

So call the field [the army] to rest; and let’s away,

To part [share] the glories of this happy day.”

 

We are not far from the bloodthirsty citizens of Rome if we revisit Shakespeare’s play in this sort of spirit, cheering for the assassins and calling for the blood of an elected leader.

 

Brutus: Good gentlemen, look fresh and merrily;

Let not our looks put on our purposes,

But bear it as our Roman actors do,

With untir’d spits and formal constancy.

 

When Antony returns to the scene of the crime, he asks the conspirators:

“I know not, gentleman, what you intend,

Who else must let blood, who else is rank?”

 

What sort of world, what sort of society have we become that we not only welcome such spectacles as entertainment, but place ourselves, and more particularly, our political adversaries in their roles, and transfer their violence to our modern times?

 

Conservatives do not and never have advocated violence. We wish for a peaceful society.  Liberals, on the other hand, crave centralized government, an uncontrollable bureaucracy to stamp upon the people, and a corrupt judiciary to do its will while the Legislature lies glutted at its banquet of corruption.  They encourage every form of licentiousness, rage, and criminality and call it “resistance.”  It is the resistance of Nimrod.

 

Heed well the words of your hero (did you know that the word “hero” was originally ascribed to Nimrod?), “the lean and hungry” Cassius, you Liberals:

 

“Show yourselves [to be] true Romans.”

 

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Published in: on June 21, 2017 at 12:18 pm  Leave a Comment  

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