Monday, June 19, 2017

Julius Caesar -- past, present, and future

In NYC, there has been a production of William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar -- read one writer's perspective on it here -- and because of (or in spite of) the notoriety attached to the production, which I will avoid critiquing because I did not see it, I am reminded of when I first encountered Shakespeare's version of Roman history. It was during my junior high school years, but I cannot remember which year, and everyone in my English class struggled (well, I certainly struggled) through in-class readings and discussions of the play; I went away from the experience more impressed with Roman history than with William Shakespeare. The Bard would have to wait a while for me to become another of his fans.

Later in my schoolboy days -- first in high school and then in college (when I turned my back on history studies and became a theatre major who read more of Shakespeare's plays, but see the confession that follows in a later paragraph) -- while sitting and studying as a student, I began to appreciate much more the poet-playwright's creations in some profound, life-changing ways. This appreciation was especially enhanced when I saw Richard Burton as Hamlet in John Gielgud's production. And my several opportunities to perform in and design productions of Shakespeare's plays were icing on the cake. I had become both a Shakespearean actor and a worshipful reader of the Bard of Avon.

Much later in life, when I retired from the Navy, went to graduate school, and became an adjunct instructor of English composition and literature, I stood at a different place in classrooms, and my syllabus staples were Hamlet, Othello, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Tempest, Twelfth Night, Othello, Macbeth, and even Percicles. Students may have suffered through the close readings, animated "lectures," and challenging discussions, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Ah, I was on stage again, but this time without greasepaint and footlights, and I was performing one of my favorite roles! 

Now, however, here is the promised confession: Even though I have had some good experiences with Shakespeare in my lifetime, I have never gotten around to reading and studying all of his plays. Some conspicuous gaps and oversights embarrass me. So, motivated by the recent kerfuffle over Julius Caesar in NYC -- much ado about nothing (in my opinion) -- and anxious to do penance for those gaps and oversights, and eager to add some structure and purpose to my final scenes, I am going to try (again) to read every one of Shakespeare's plays before the final curtain comes down. 

But, as you know, I can hardly ever close a posting without asking you at least one bothersome question, so I will now ask you several:

What was your first and/or most memorable Shakespeare experience?
Have you read all of his plays? (Which one(s) do you most regret not reading?)
Do you have any opinions about the controversial Julius Caesar production in NYC?


  1. I remember studying Julius Caesar in secondary school, Tim. Our teacher was one of those inspiring teachers who really shared her passion with us, so I remember that experience quite well.

    1. Margot, teachers can make Shakespeare come alive. In college I had one of the best.

  2. i read JC at an early age and remember thinking it was a silly play; don't recall why, now, though...
    i've read all the works of WS, some more than once, and no longer regard him as silly; well, mostly not, anyway... Bottom was pretty zany, and some of his friends, but mostly his characters were designed to reflect given human attributes... i like the sonnets a lot, "The expense of spirit in a waste of shame" etc.
    i never fail to get a kick out of the silliness of humans, also; the NY production of JC was hilarious, i thought... for various reasons...

    1. Julius Caesar is a silly play? Hmmm. I look forward to reading it again and looking for silliness.

      Bottom is one of the great asses of all time: he is Everyman, and we are no better. How's that for sublime silliness?

      The NYC production became a director's polemic rather than a playwright's provocative political tragedy. I'm glad I didn't have to sit through a performance.

  3. I have read most of Shakespeare. I have missed Titus Andronicus and Henry XIII.

    I like Julius Caesar a lot. The character of Brutus really steals the show.

    1. Brian, I too like _Julius Caesar_, and I wait to be reintroduced to Brutus and the rest of the gang. Shakespeare's contexts and his political environment are, as I recall, most important in this play. I look forward to saying, "I have read all of Shakespeare's plays and poems."