Thursday, March 07, 2013

The Ides of March

Julius Caesar 

Chicago Shakespeare Theatre 
Jonathan Munby, Director

"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings."
-  Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140-141)

This is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays and one that I have read and reread over the years in addition to seeing several performances of the play. The classic story is informed by history as we know from Roman accounts about the life and death of Julius Caesar. Shakespeare adhered closely to the version of the story in Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans. In comparing prominent figures from Greek and Roman history , Plutarch presented history as a compendium of the deeds of great men, portraying the characters with all the ambiguities and idiosyncrasies that were present in their lives. The writings of Marcu Tullius Cicero also informed Shakespeare. Cicero was a staunch republican and his dislike of Caesar preceded the conspiracy that led to his assassination, a conspiracy in which Cicero did not directly participate.  A final source for Shakespeare was the Roman historian Appian who chronicled the civil wars as part of his longer history of Rome. All of these sources inform the dramatic tension within this play adding an historical realism to Shakespeare's own dramatic genius. I especially like the relationship between Caesar and his wife. I also found the psychology of the characters, particularly Brutus, an important aspect of the drama. This helps make many of the characters from Brutus and Cassius to Mark Antony as memorable as the title character. It is one of the great Roman plays in Shakespeare's works, and it is both an historical and a dramatic achievement.

On this past Wednesday I attended a performance of Julius Caesar at Chicago Shakespeare Theater.  Under the direction of Jonathan Munby Chicago Shakespeare Theater produced the famous play in a contemporary setting with a stellar cast.  This was the third time I have seen Julius Caesar on the stage starting with a college production in the late 1960s and a previous production at Chicago Shakespeare a decade ago directed by Barbara Gaines.  This is one Shakespeare's three great Roman history plays that include Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus.  While they are history there is great drama and aspects of tragedy in each of them.  The current production included tremendous performances by John Light and Jason Kolotouros as Brutus and Cassius, respectively.  By the moment of each or their deaths they had effected me deeply, creating a sympathetic feeling that I had never experienced with these characters at precious productions.  The production enhanced its contemporary credentials by embracing modern technology through the inclusion of cell phones and Caesar had his own web site (  The set, lighting and sound were particularly effective in creating an intensity that carried the actors forward inexorably toward the bloody battles that ended with the triumph of Octavian and Antony.

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