'Julius Caesar': A Cautionary Tale Centuries Later

Lately, we’ve all heard a lot of discussion surrounding Public Theater’s production of ‘Julius Caesar’ that depicts Caesar as being rather Trump-like in appearance. If you are familiar with the play, you know Caesar’s character doesn’t make it to curtain call. Therefore, of course, it is a bit shocking for anyone to see the like of a sitting president go down by the sword-bearing hands of many.

It’s important, however, to consider what happens in the play after this moment: utter chaos. A riot breaks out, the conspirators are forced to flee the city, a war begins and Caesar continues to haunt Brutus. Hardly a black and white tale of a victorious overthrow of power. I’d like to think that is why the play continues to live on as it does: you simply cannot leave a production without questions stirring around in your mind. It is unclear who the good guys are, what perspective is the trustworthy one - Shakespeare intentionally orchestrated the story that way by including no narrator, by designating no singular point of view. Even Caesar’s death isn’t really final as his character returns as a ghost in the final act. You are made to question things you thought to be true: that a playwright would designate right from wrong and that mortality is certain.

If you understand the play from this perspective - from the understanding that the play indeed does not conclude over the words of “Et tu, Brute?” you know that the decision cast a Trump-like Caesar isn’t as straight-forward as an anti-Trump message. Instead, the rendition is likely a cautionary tale of what can happen when those near to power attempt to topple power in an undemocratic way.

The scene of Caesar’s fall in every rendition is a shocking one - whether or not the audience or director has chosen to incline sympathy on the conspirators or not. This creative decision by Public Theater isn’t meant to be taken lightly - isn’t meant to inspire violence in today’s political arena - more likely it was to shock onlookers and to inspire dialogue in the framework of a centuries-old production. I’d say they have succeeded.

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