Friday, October 14, 2011

Julius Caesar and 2012 Politics

So far, it seems like Julius Caesar is a lot easier to understand than other Shakespeare plays. It's nice, because instead of using all my brainpower to translate the words into plain English, I can appreciate the artful way that Shakespeare's characters say things. This is a lot of fun.

Here are some applications from Julius Caesar to politics today:

1) When Marullus says this in the first scene...

"... You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things!
O you hard hearts, you cruel men of Rome,
Knew you not Pompey? Many a time and oft
Have you climb'd up to walls and battlements,
To towers and windows, yea, to chimney-tops,
Your infants in your arms, and there have sat
The livelong day, with patient expectation,
To see great Pompey pass the streets of Rome:
And when you saw his chariot but appear,
Have you not made an universal shout,
That Tiber trembled underneath her banks,
To hear the replication of your sounds
Made in her concave shores?
And do you now put on your best attire?
And do you now cull out a holiday?
And do you now strew flowers in his way
That comes in triumph over Pompey's blood..."

It immediately made me think of this:

In the current race for the Republican nomination, it seems like it's either Mitt Romney or the current flavor of the month. No one can get excited about anybody for very long, and they're hoping they don't have to vote for Mitt Romney because he's the best they have. It's very fickle, that conservative base. (I remember an episode of The Daily Show when Jon Stewart shows footage of Fox News, the very next day after Rick Perry announces he's running for president, wondering if Paul Ryan or Chris Christie should run.)

2) Does anyone else see this paradox?

Cassius: "... 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 alone."

Cassius is afraid of Caesar becoming a king and a tyrant, and yet at the same time he says he would be a bad king because he's so weak. If he was worried about impending tyranny, then wouldn't he want Caesar rather than someone who would actually be too strong and powerful if given the chance?

It's like when people criticize President Obama for being too smart and intellectual. Um, wouldn't you want your president to be smart? In Julius Caesar's case, Cassius is criticizing Caesar for being too weak, but shouldn't he want him to be too weak?

3) When Cassius says this...

"... But if you would consider the true cause
Why all these fires, why all these gliding ghosts,
Why birds and beasts from quality and kind,
Why old men fool and children calculate,
Why all these things change from their ordinance
Their natures and preformed faculties
To monstrous quality,—why, you shall find
That heaven hath infused them with these spirits,
To make them instruments of fear and warning
Unto some monstrous state. ..."

... it makes me think of Rahm Emanuel's quote: "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste." Cassius sees this crazy night as an opportunity, and he welcomes it. I don't know if Rahm Emanuel would have Cassius' extreme point of view, and he certainly wouldn't think of an assassination as an opportunity.

4) Also, when Cassius says this...

"... what trash is Rome,
What rubbish and what offal, when it serves
For the base matter to illuminate
So vile a thing as Caesar!"

... I think of this quote from Tommy Boy: "What the American public doesn't know is what makes them the American public."


  1. How interesting. We as humans sure do like to pick out the worst of situations, and we seem to always be looking for something we can complain about.

    With Cassius, I was under the impression that he didn't REALLY dislike Caesar, he just wanted power, and would have overthrown anyone to get it. He was trying to convince Brutus with all these tactics, that seemed like to me, he didn't really even believe in.... maybe?

  2. Hmm, I didn't catch that, but I bet if I read it again I would.

    I didn't think Cassius was necessarily power-hungry, but that he was overly concerned without legitimate reason that Caesar would reach intolerable heights of tyranny. In other words, I thought Cassius acted too early to really tell that Caesar would get out of hand.

    But maybe if I read it again, and looked for signs that Cassius wanted Caesar out whoever he was, I would probably find it.