I believe the reason why Julius Caesar has stood the test of time is because wherever there is politics, there is ambition, betrayal, rebellion, conflict, and other traits less than virtuous that are revealed. Since the moment a person was deemed more powerful than another, that power has been envied and lusted after by others.
|Painting by Paul Peter Rubens|
The events in Julius Caesar are actually pretty close to history. What the play didn't dwell on, however, was the turmoil Rome was reeling from before the play opens. It was on Caesar's watch, essentially, when Rome's republic fell apart and faded into an empire. Caesar had a few impressive military conquests on his résumé, which led to his popularity. But some of those conquests were in direct violation with the Roman Senate's wishes. And the one referenced in Shakespeare's play, against Pompey, was against a former close friend of Caesar's. In fact, Pompey was one of the members of Rome's first triumvirate. With Caesar. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Republic#First_Triumvirate, http://www.gradesaver.com/julius-caesar/study-guide/about/)
In Shakespeare's time, England was going through its own turmoil. Julius Caesar was written in 1599, about 50 years before the English Civil War. But already, the war drums were beating. The Elizabethan era dealt with clashes among England's House of Commons and aristocrats and royalty. England was shifting from a monarchy to a parliament, as Rome was shifting from a republic to an empire.
Of course, today, political intrigue continues. It may be less bloody, especially in the more stable democracies. But that doesn't mean the end of controversy and upheaval.
|Last week, I gave you George Washington killing zombies. Now, here's Abraham Lincoln with a machine gun riding a bear. Don't overthink it.|
In my live blogging and blogging between reading acts of Julius Caesar, I found a lot of connections between the play and American history and politics. What fits best with this analysis though is the American Civil War and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. In the American case, it wasn't so much a war over two types of government as much as two types of culture and society (which, come to think of it, might be more precarious). It's hard to imagine now, but the American experiment came very close to failing. Lincoln's murder was not committed by someone merely insane, as was William McKinley's or the near-miss against Ronald Reagan. John Wilkes Booth was clearly motivated by politics. He and his co-conspirators really thought that with Lincoln gone, more things would go their way and the South could stay in power.
So what does this mean for us in 2011? Are the days of blood at the hands of politicians over? We don't have to go back too far to know the answer is a resounding no. Just this year, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was almost killed. And although Jared Loughner wasn't necessarily trying to usurp power, he was definitely motivated by politics. This tragedy hit close to home for me. And it shows that the world is still a dangerous place. It was in Caesar's day, Shakespeare's day, Lincoln's day, and our day.
Like our class discussed with Hamlet, what makes Shakespeare so special is his understanding of human frailties. His plays resonate because he touched on the natural man, something that transcends centuries and civilizations.
That's one of the many lessons I gained from Julius Caesar. As long as politics exist, people will do whatever it takes to gain power.
To briefly analyze the movie Julius Caesar (since I said so much about it last week):
What I did notice was the backdrop of the Roman Empire in all its grandiose ornateness and sophistry. I think that was probably the main selling point of the movie, was Shakespearean elegance surrounded by an epic set, like The Ten Commandments. It was very small-scale compared to The Ten Commandments, but it plays into Hollywood's fascination with Rome. (The other main selling point was Marlon Brando.)
As far as connecting Julius Caesar to my personal interests, I think I've done plenty of that already. It's probably best summed up here, but if you dare read my whole process, click here.
And I had a lot of fun going back and forth with Averill about Julius Caesar. She started out with a goal to read the play with a historical perspective, but ended with a religious one that I thought was very interesting and valuable. You can read her posts and my comments here:
History is a thing of the past
Et tu, Brute?
Marlon Brando = Stud
Caesar and Christianity