I was asked to jot down a few thought's for next week's reading of EVE OF IDES at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. I may turn this into something more at a later date – there's so much to say about Shakespeare's portrayal of Brutus – but here's the one-page version. Enjoy!
The historian Plutarch tells us the night before he was assassinated, Caius Julius Caesar attended a dinner party. Also in attendance were his nephew Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony) and the leader of the regicidal assassins, Marcus Junius Brutus.
It’s hard to think of any historical figure more redeemed with the stroke of a playwright’s pen than Brutus. Before Shakespeare’s play, he lived in an icy lake at the bottom of Hell. Dante gave Lucifer three mouths, allowing the Devil to chew forever history’s greatest betrayers: Judas Iscariot, Caius Cassius, and Brutus. Right through the Renaissance, Brutus was a villain, a treasonous coward who killed perhaps the greatest military and political leader the world had ever known.
Yet in an act of brazen daring, Shakespeare makes Brutus into a hero.
We all agree that it’s Brutus’ story. For a play named THE LIFE AND DEATH OF JULIUS CAESAR, it’s astonishing how little of Caesar there actually is — no Consulship, no pirate ship, no Gaul, no Civil War, no Pompey, no Cleopatra. We pick up at the end of the dictatorship, mere days before his death. Alas, Caesar was far too successful in his life to be made into a tragic hero. So Shakespeare, in his brilliance, turns 1600 years of history on its head, transforming Caesar into a half-deaf epileptic narcissist and instead making his play about Brutus, the honorable man.
If there is one great fault in Shakespeare's JULIUS CAESAR, it is the lack of interaction between Brutus and Caesar themselves. Shakespeare's audience was much more knowledgeable about Roman history, so he could take for granted that the nuances would be understood. Today we are not informed of the great and twisted personal relationship these men had, we do not know why Brutus repeatedly says he loves Caesar, nor do we see how they got to the point where murder is necessary, where Brutus believes that it indeed “must be by his death.”
EVE OF IDES explores that relationship, both before and after death. The first act records the events of that fateful dinner the night before the Ides. The second act is a scene hinted at in Shakespeare's play, but never staged – the second appearance of Caesar's ghost to Brutus.
Thanks to Rick and Bonnie for making this happen, and thanks to the cast for tackling what is a very word-dense script.
(Disclaimer – any similarity to modern politics is purely coincidental – and scary as hell)