Reminiscent of the current political season fraught with lies, back stabbings and divisiveness, the plot in this Shakesperean play is based on socio-political polarization in the midst of public that is easily swayed when addressed persuasively. Each character is motivated by self-interest and also believes that they have the true interest of Rome, at heart. In the end, almost each one suffers the disastrous consequence of their violent and divisive plan.
The play begins with Romans celebrating Julius Caesar’s (Nick Mandracchia) triumphant return from the war with Pompey. Marullus (Josie Burgin Lawson) rebukes the public for changing their loyalty from Pompey to Caesar and disperses the crowd. Then Cassius (Doll Piccotto) persuades Brutus (Larry Barrott), a nobleman and Caesar’s trusted friend, to turn against Caesar and join the conspiracy to kill Caesar, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves, that we are underlings”, says Cassius.
They heard from Casca (Roger Hooper) that Caesar had declined thrice the crown of Rome offered to him by Mark Antony (Gabriel A. Ross). Despite having no proof that Caesar had done anything against the people of Rome, Brutus joins the conspiracy and appeases his conscience, by saying that while he had no personal grievance against Caesar, people do become more ambitious with power and that Rome was more important and he had to join the conspiracy to kill Caesar for the common good.
“Th’ abuse of greatness is when it disjoins remorse from power: And, to speak truth of Caesar, I have not known when his affections swayed More than his reason. But ’tis common proof that lowliness is young ambition’s ladder; ………So Caesar may. ……..And therefore think him as a serpent’s egg, Which, hatched, would, as his kind, grow mischievous, And kill him in the shell”.
A plot is hatched to kill Caesar in a bold manner. Brutus decides “Let us kill him boldly, but not wrathfully; let’s carve him as a dish fit for the gods, not hew him as a carcass fit for hounds…. This shall make our purpose necessary, and not envious; which so appearing to the common eyes, we shall be called purgers (healers), not murderers;…..”.
Caesar may be too ambitious but he certainly wasn’t a coward. He ignores the pleadings of his wife to heed to the rumor and stay home and says, “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.”
The assassination of Caesar was colorful. He was stabbed several times by the conspirators and the blood gushed forth. Falling from the final blow from Brutus, Caesar utters his famous line, “Et tu, Brute?“ (“And you, Brutus?”). And he adds, “Then fall, Caesar,” suggesting that his will to live was gone after the treachery. Brutus instructs everyone “stoop Romans and let us bathe our hands in Caesar’s blood”. Holding up blood streaked hands after having participated in the cruel act, Cassius says “So oft as that shall be, So often shall the knot of us be called, “The men that gave their country liberty.””
Mark Antony grieves at Caesar’s death, “O mighty Caesar! Dost thou lie so low? Are all thy conquests, glories, triumphs, spoils, Shrunk to this little measure? Fare thee well” but then pledges allegiance to Brutus and secures a spot to speak at Caesar’s funeral. There he rouses the public against the conspirators and the the conspirators are forced to flee. Getting the foreboding of things to come, Cassius speaks of misgivings; which is truly a hallmark of most of Shakespeare’s plays. Brutus is also haunted by Caesar’s ghost.
Antony and Octavius (Kevin Scofield) then begin to hunt down the conspirators one by one and the war culminates in the Battle of Phillipi. As per Cassius’s and Brutus’s misgivings, through a series of unfortunate events, the conspirators die one by one. At the end, Antony pays tribute to Brutus, lauding him that of all the conspirators, “This was the noblest Roman of them all” . Octavius agreed, “According to his virtue let us use him, With all respect and rites of burial. Within my tent his bones to-night shall lie, Most like a soldier, order’d honourably. So call the field to rest; and let’s away, To part the glories of this happy day.”
This play is considered to be one of Shakespeare’s distinctive plays where multiple tragedies occur where there isn’t a specific single villain but rather all people flawed in their reasoning. Caesar was undermining the republic, Brutus believed he was acting in the interest of the common good, Mark Antony was loyal to Caesar but not necessarily acted in the best interests of Rome and in the end, just replaced one dictator with another, Octavius, Caesar’s son. One would think that the answer would lie in handing over the reigns to the people, in the true spirit of the democracy. However, the people were the true wrongdoers, easy to be swayed by any persuasive argument and seemingly incapable of their own reasoning. This play is a fitting tribute to the current divisive political season.
Silicon Valley Shakespeare was formed in 1999 and since then has offered exciting plays of Shakespeare and other classic works. Artistic vision and direction by Angie Higgins in this play, is superb. The play is running in beautiful wooded setting at Sanborn County Park in Saratoga, till September 2nd, 2016, and tickets are available at www.svshakes.org .