Monday, March 15, 2010

"Beware the Ides of March"

What better day than today to celebrate a little Shakespeare. My own introduction to Shakespeare occurred more than forty years ago when I read Romeo & Juliet and Julius Caesar during my first two years in high school. Julius Caesar has been close to me as a play for it was also the first Shakespeare I saw in a live stage production (although I had previously viewed the Franco Zeffirelli film of Romeo & Juliet). Subsequently I have both seen and read this play as much as most any of Shakespeare's plays other than the great tragedies.

The Ides of March (Latin: Idus Martias) is the name of March 15 in the Roman calendar. The term ides was used for the 15th day of the months of March, May, July, and October, and the 13th day of the other months. The Ides of March was a festive day dedicated to the god Mars and a military parade was usually held. In modern times, the term Ides of March is best known as the date that Julius Caesar was killed in 44 B.C. Julius Caesar was stabbed to death in the Roman Senate led by Marcus Junius Brutus, Gaius Cassius Longinus and 60 other co-conspirators.

According to Plutarch (Shakespeare's source for this drama), Caesar was warned by a seer to be on his guard against a great peril on the Ides of March. On his way to the Theatre of Pompey (where he would be assassinated) Caesar saw the seer and joked "Well, the Ides of March have come," to which the seer replied "Ay, they have come, but they are not gone."

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