Wednesday, September 23, 2009

(Not So) Random Thoughts about "Caesar"


From a Sound Ninja:

I've seen Julius Caesar about 10 times in the past month. And there are aspects to the story and the way it's told that are kind of noteworthy to me. So this is a list, with no priority, of thoughts I've had about the show:

I'm fascinated by the infirmities that several of the main characters have. Caesar is deaf in his left ear and has epilepsy. Cassius can't see very well - his sight has been "ever thick" and Calpurnia is barren. Portia's a cutter. What's up with Brutus? We never hear anything about a physical or mental infirmity. Hmmm. Does that mean something. These characters of history/myth made humbly human by physical weakness. That's cool. And ironic when you consider the power they are attempting to create around themselves.

When Cassius and Brutus have their breakup/makeup fight one of the key points seems to be that Brutus sent to Cassius asking for gold to pay his troops. But Cassius refused to give it to him. When Brutus brings this up Cassius replies that it was a "fool that brought [his] reply". Implying that his actual message was "sure, or yeah, eventually I'll get you some gold." How crappy of a messenger do you have to be to turn that into a "no, no gold for you." It's also surprising how easily Brutus accepts that as a possible miscommunication. Sure, that happens all the time. Maybe it does.

Maybe being a messenger for the nobles is really hard. Mark Antony's messenger has a lot of careful things to say when he goes to the Senate to ask for audience with the murderers of Caesar. He must have been a better messenger than Cassius's guy. Bet when you found someone who could really say your thoughts you tried to hold on to them. But how would you know? You'd never be there to hear them tell it. And how hard would it be not to embroider on a message when you were the messenger?

The mirror kneeling of Portia and Calpurnia in scenes with their husbands is interesting. Does it mean something or did Shakespeare just get lazy?

I love the relationship between Cassius and Brutus. Early on I thought Cassius was a villain, scheming to get Brutus to agree to his plans. But now I see that's not the case. I suspect Brutus is using Cassius to further his own instincts, although I doubt he would admit to it. Cassius is constantly overruled by Brutus, often in cases where Cassius is actually right on. He's like the Cassandra of this story - able to see the truth but not able to sway the powerful to his vision. He's more like Brutus's little brother. I love how he doesn't stop trying. And he's always ready to die. At least 3 times he bares his chest to his own dagger. Maybe it's four.

You know who scares me in this story? Mark Antony. In the first act he seems so sympathetic, understandably enraged by the cold-blooded murder of his friend Caesar. But the way he twists the crowd in the second act to mutiny and then revels in the monster he has created gives you a whole different side of his character. And he seems to glory in the cruelty and meanness of his new role as Caesar's revenger.

Mark Antony's funeral speech reminds me a lot of the speech Nixon had to give when he was VP(or running for the office). It was a televised speech that was meant to answer doubts as to his reliability and honesty as a politician. Point is, I watched it in speech class and I remember my professor pointing out two things that Nixon did which made a big difference in getting the audience to react sympathetically: 1) he showed a folded piece of paper that he said was an audit of his finances by a reputable, independent accounting firm; and 2) he made it clear that his wife wore a cloth coat, not a fur coat. The key is that the "audit" could not be confirmed by the watching public. The paper could have been anything. Antony uses the will of Caesar in a similar way. Same thing with the cloth coat - meant to put Nixon on the level of "just folks, you can trust me, I'm like you." Antony does the same with phrases like "I only speak right on": I'm no orator, he says, you can trust me not to twist you. Best example of early spin-doctoring I've seen.

I have really enjoyed watching this show become what it is. Following it through rehearsal into performance. It's been such a pleasure seeing how the cast transforms mouthfuls of words into relationships, shot through with menace, desperation and desire.


Flatwater Shakespeare Company's Julius Caesar

Swan Theatre, Wyuka Cemetery, 3600 O Street in Lincoln

7:30 Thursday through Sunday, September 24-27

Tickets: $18, $15 seniors, $10 students

Call 473-2897 for reservations


Artist: Elisabetta Sirani (Italy, 17th-century), Portia Wounding Her Thigh

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