“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears…”
I saw an abridged version of Julius Caesar at our local Fringe Festival this weekend. I have mostly read the comedies and tragedies, and have only started learning about the history plays recently, so I saw it as a good opportunity to go see it.
Interestingly, this theatre company is made up entirely of women. This is a play that is pretty much entirely about men and the politics and wars between them, and this probably made it easier to change genders compared with the comedies where there are romantic couples, fathers, mothers, sisters and so on. Change the pronouns, and change brother to sister, and the only change in thinking the audience has to do is accept a world where women rule and carry the high positions. It didn’t seem odd at all to me.
Julius Caesar follows a few key players in the conspiracy to kill Caesar- from when Brutus is being convinced to join them, to the act and then on to the retribution afterwards. Brutus thinks deeply before (s)he acts, and only does so believing that it is what is right for Rome. It appears that all went to plan, but the fickleness of the public, and the brilliance of Marc Antony’s speech turns the course of history towards inexorable doom for the conspirators. Although perhaps not entirely inexorable- there were a few silly mistakes and different choices that still could have been made after the act that might have helped. (note- killing yourself based on second hand information is never a good idea.
Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.
Like many Shakespeare plays, a lot of people die, or talk about dying. This play asks what is honourable about death and how you face it- can it be honourable to kill a leader, is it more honourable to kill yourself than to let yourself be killed, is it dishonourable to fear death.
And I will leave you with a quote, that you may see a reference to in a recent young adults book and movie, which I think could be taken as a piece of advice.
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.
We may not be able to control our death, but we can take charge of our lives.