Trump Family Attacks Shakespeare- Julius Caesar Protest

Donald Trump Jr tweeted two questions after the Julius Caesar play protest I posted over the weekend:

“When does art become political speech, and does it change things?”

 I would like to try to answer these questions and by doing so, see if I can explain this fascinating moment in Shakespearean performance history.
Though this production raised new questions about art, and has raised passion from many people, it is not as radical as the protesters might think:
1. This is not the first time a Shakespeare play has been seen as a spur to violence: In February of 1601, The earl of Essex commissioned Shakespeare’s company to perform a scene of the deposing and killing of King Richard the Second one day before he attempted to overthrow queen Elizabeth and make himself head of the English government. 

Deposition by Augustine Phillips about how Shakespeare’s company was innocent of treason.

Shakespeare’s company was exonerated, but Essex himself was tried convicted, and executed for high treason. In addition, when John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Lincoln, he had previously performed in Julius Caesar, and reportedly complained, (while on the run from the law),  that “I am being hunted for what Brutus did so freely” Source: New York Times Review. Now in both cases it is worth noting that Shakespeare’s company was not responsible for the death of a political figure, it was the people who interpreted his work that bear the responsibility themselves.

2. This play is also not the first time a director has portrayed Caesar as a contemporary president-

An Obama-like Caesar is murdered in The Acting Company’s 2012 production of “Caesar”

As many people have pointed out, in 2012 The Acting Company put on a production of Caesar with an Obama-esque version of the title character. No protests came from the left or right, though Caesar died in the exact same way- bloodily stabbed onstage. I would argue that this shows portraying Caesar as a contemporary figure does not itself incite violence. The audience knows that this figure is simply meant as a link between Shakespeare and contemporary politics. This is how the director Oskar Eustis of the Shakespeare in the Park production defended himself against criticism of his staging: https://www.google.com/amp/s/mobile.nytimes.com/2017/06/13/theater/donald-trump-julius-caesar-oskar-eustis.amp.html

I frankly also find the disregard of Obama’s presidency rather insulting. When Obama was in office, he got plenty of negative criticism that sometimes extended to threats of violence. If you click here you can see a threat by country music singer Ted Nugent who threatens to shoot the president with a machine gun. The double standard that threatening a president on the left has no consequences, but threatening a republican president is worthy of scorn, derision, and pulling of support by it’s backers, is deeply hypocritical.

3. Thirdly, this is not the first time a Shakespeare play has depicted Trump negatively. If you look at the comments of my Trump villain post, a director mentioned his production of Henry the sixth part two, in which Trump was portrayed as Jack Cade, who is also murdered in the course of the play. Clearly, portraying Donal Trump as a Shakespearean character is not what is unique here.

4. Also, it is certainly true that the play depicts violence and the overthrow of a regime, but it doesn’t endorse violence, and is not intended to glorify the murder of a president or even a demagogue like Caesar. As I will later discuss, this play can’t be an  endorsement of violence, since everyone who commits violence is duly punished.

So why has this particular production, that uses a Caesar that resembles this president, gotten such a big reaction? Part of the issue admittedly is the timing. The protest specifically mentions the attempted murder of a GOP senator, which happened last week. It is only natural that given the threats of violence that have happened to those in power that some would fear that this production might incite others to violence. Yet, as I said before, a thorough analysis of the play shows that it does not condone violence against a political leader.

Additionally, given today’s divisive political environment, it is understandable why an audience of right wing protesters might be concerned about this scene in which Cesar is murdered on stage. They may vey well think the play is wish fulfillment for those  on the left, who might enjoy watching the bloody assassination of someone who is vey unpopular right now. However, let me emphatically put point out that first of all, no one on the left has endorsed violence against Trump. If you look at the backlash to Kathy Griffin’s picture of herself holding a bloody makeshift Trump head, you can see that no one left or right has endorsed support for such a treasonous un-American act. Secondly, with regards to Caesar,the  play’s point is actually nonviolent. When Brutus and Cassius kill Caesar, it starts a violent uprising that leads to anarchy, precisely what the two Roman senators hoped to avoid. Seeing their designs fail which certainly discourage anyone attempting violence against a sitting authority figure. 

Perhaps the best way I can prove this point is to remind everyone that Shakespeare himself lived in a monarchy. His theatre was strictly controlled by the government. If anyone in 1599 believed that Julius Caesar seemed to support the killing of queen Elizabeth, the play would have been burned and Shakespeare and his whole company would have been arrested and hanged.

https://youtu.be/Y7BtKlGGFKs

Also, people have criticized the murder of Caesar as “too realistic,” again believing that the gore is intended to glorify violence. In reality the violence of the murder is intended to incite revulsion and disgust. Look at Mark Antony’s reaction when he shows Caesar’s body to the crowd. https://youtu.be/tRceRJAz6_Q

I frankly think that the main reason why this production is getting bad press is  because it’s a portrayal of President Trump, not Obama, not the historical Caesar, not Hitler, not even Trump before he was president, but the current president, that a group of people elected, and who believe support their values.

I believe that the main reason Trump’s  supporters are angry at this production is they feel an attack on him is an attack on them. The president’s supporters have shown repeatedly that they are willing to overlook almost anything to show their support of him. And I imagine that they have no desire to see him as an autocrat and dictator, let alone entertain the notion that he might ever be taken down by his opponents. 

The irony is that the real Caesar was a man of the people who died because his opponents thought he was an autocrat. The real Caesar helped create the modern calendar, gave money to the entire city, and according to Marc Anthony, “When the poor hath cried, Caesar hath wept.” Trump is the exact opposite; he is a self-centered con artist who pretends to be a man of the people. As I predicted, after his imagination, he has vowed to cut taxes on businesses like his, he put his family in positions of power, used diplomatic meetings and press conferences to sell his products, and obstructed justice when his FBI director tried to investigate him. With this in mind, it seems bizarre to claim that this production is designed to ridicule the right, since Trump is neither Julius Caesar, nor is he an embodiment of the political right. He only stands for his own interests. Therefore an attack on Trump is not an attack on conservative values. 

So to go back to the beginning point, “When does art become political speech?” I would argue art always becomes political when it comments about our world, and that this is essential for our society to function. We need a healthy dose of satire and critical thinking and art can provide this. However, there is a difference between disagreeing with a play and openly shunning it onstage.

To address Mr. Trump’s second question,art  doesn’t change things, people change things, so we need to temper our reactions, including to art pieces like Julius Caesar. Remember, Caesar only died because people said he wanted to be king Cinna the poet died because the mob said he should. This play warns us all to be careful and remain critical thinkers, or mob rule will result. 

References

What depicting Julius Caesar as Donald Trump really means – CBS News

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.theatlantic.com/amp/article/530037/

https://www.google.com/amp/s/mobile.nytimes.com/2017/06/12/theater/julius-caesar-shakespeare-donald-trump.amp.html

https://apple.news/AW6FmlDY3TEe4C97AG7UI4Q
Ted Nugent once said Obama should ‘suck on my machine gun.’ Now he wants to tone down ‘hateful rhetoric.’ – The Washington Post

View story at Medium.com

https://apple.news/AE9eeH-L6TxeY1qJwq4Ur8w

Shakespeare’s Perfect Halloween Play

With just a few days left until Halloween, many of us will be anxious to put the candy bowl away, dim the lights, and watch a scary movie. I’d like to recommend my pic for the single best Shakespeare play for Halloween, and you might be surprised to learn which one it is:

It’s not Macbeth, despite its ghosts and witches, it’s not Hamlet, though it has a famous scene in a graveyard. In my opinion, the scariest, most horrific, most disturbing Shakespearean play is the ancient Roman revenge tragedy Titus Andronicus!

Titus Who?

Titus is the most violent, most outrageous play in the Shakespearean cannon and features murder, mutilation, cannibalism, (and even featured the first recorded trick or treating). It was also his first tragedy ever, written around 1590. Back in this period, Shakespeare’s theater was also the site of public executions and blood sports like Bear-baiting, so Shakespeare knew that gore sells. He also knew that people were reading the bloody tragedies of the Roman poet Seneca, so he created a play that out-does the Roman master of bloody violence!

So why have you not heard of it?

  • Too violent for school For most people, their first encounters with Shakespeare is in the classroom, and because of the violence in this play it’s definitely not appropriate for high school. The most famous atrocity in the play happens to Titus’ daughter, who is raped offstage. Then, to keep her from incriminating the men who raped her, the rapists cut off her hands and cut out her tongue. Quite a departure from the “Honey tongued” Shakespeare we see in the comedies and sonnets.
  • It’s vulgar: T.S. Eliot declared that Titus Andronicus is “one of the stupidest and most uninspired plays ever written.” For people who expect Shakespeare to be poetic and romantic, this play is a sad dissapointment.
  • It’s Over the top- People don’t just die in this play, they get butchered horror movie style! Some get stabbed and thrown in a pit, some get their limbs chopped off, one character is buried alive! Many scholars say that after one atrocity after another, the only way you can react to the horror onstage is to laugh. Look at this scene where the villain of the play, Aaron the Moor, confesses to a laundry list of hideous atrocities which he did just for the pleasure of being evil:

Scholars often compare the dark comedy of Titus to the films of Quentin Tarantino, who will murder his characters in grotesque, but funny ways. I won’t even give away the surprise ending where Titus and his daughter gets their revenge, but let’s just say that they would certainly agree with Tarantino that revenge is a dish, best served cold!

  • It might be racist As I mentioned in the clip above, the main villain of the play is a black man. Aaron, like Richard III is completely evil and unapologetic about it.  When I was studying Shakespeare in college, James Earl Jones, (Darth Vader himself) came to my school to talk about Shakespeare’s racially diverse characters. He argued though that nobody treats Aaron any differently until they learn about his heinous crimes and that the person who seems to hate Aaron’s blackness the most is himself. Look at this passage and see if you agree:

AARON

I go, Andronicus: and for thy hand

Look by and by to have thy sons with thee.
Aside Their heads, I mean.

O, how this villany
Doth fat me with the very thoughts of it!
Let fools do good, and fair men call for grace.
Aaron will have his soul black like his face (Titus, Act III, Scene 1).

Now the question to ask about Aaron and most of Shakespeare’s villains, is are they bad because they’re different (different race, differently abled, illegitimate birth), or did they become bad from people treating them badly?

Serious note– Even though productions often dramatize the violence and rape in Titus as over-the-top black comedy, this kind of rape and violence happens in real life, every day, particularly violence against women like Lavinia. One reason why this play is gaining popularity is sadly, that this kind of violence is more common in our current society with the shocking number of rapes committed in this country (1 in 5 women, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center), and the brutal murders in this play suggest many real-life atrocities such as Abu ghraib,

Plot summary and more at Schmoop.com

More at http://www.gradesaver.com/titus-andronicus/study-guide/summary

Review of Julie Taymor’s Titus

If you can’t get to the theater this Halloween and want to watch a production of Titus, you’re in luck: In 1999, Julie Taymor, famed director of the Broadway production of The Lion King, directed a film adaptation of Titus which I consider the single greatest Shakespearean film of all time. The movie captures the grotesque comedy of the play, while also visually showing the beauty of Shakespeare’s poetry. It also doesn’t get hung up on historical accuracy just because the play is set in Rome. Best of all, the cast in incredible: Anthony Hopkins, Jessica Langue, Alan Cumming, Harry Lennox and more. This cast knows how to do Shakespeare for the movies and their work shows in every scene. Interesting side note: Hopkins actually considered making this movie the last movie of his career, which explains his amazing glee and energy in the role of Titus. Below is a nice in-depth analysis of the film

Another good review comes from the French Shakespeare Society: https://shakespeare.revues.org/1558

And finally, a review from Roger Ebert: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/titus-2000

So that’s my two cents on Titus Andronicus. Happy Halloween everybody!

Useful Richard III Website, starring Ian McKellen!

Here’s a lovely website designed to help you learn about Richard’s first soliloquy by interacting with Sir Ian McKellen himself!

First, a video to see it in action:


And here’s the final website: http://www.stageworkmckellen.com/

As a bonus, here’s a review of Sir Ian’s new app, Heuristic Shakespeare:


http://www.avclub.com/article/ian-mckellen-launches-app-make-shakespeare-easier–236049

This app looks incredible, listen to this satisfied customer:

So far, the only play on the app is “The Tempest,” but hopefully if enough people buy it, it’ll expand and encompass all the plays. I hope you’ll check it out!
 

Watch The Hollow Crown: Richard III

This amazing BBC series does all of Shakespeare’s histories, and for Richard III, they cast one of the greatest young Shakespearean actors: Benedick Cumberbatch!

The Hollow Crown: Richard III

As a bonus, here is an interview with the star, explaining why the play is still relevant today:

My Top Ten Shakespearean Apps For Teachers and Students, Part 2

As I said before, my criteria for these apps was “Free, functional (educational or useful in life,) and fun.”
6. Shakespeare by Shmop: incredible! This is a study guide for your phone of tablet. There are separate apps Hamlet, Macbeth, and R&J. Each one features a glossary, analysis, quotes, study questions, you get the idea. You can cover a lot of the play with this app. My favorite feature is “Why Should I Care?” This is a short essay that compares the themes and ideas of the play to modern life. Excellent app, and the website is great too for students and teachers: http://www.shmoop.com

7. Shakespeare for kids


 I believe nobody is too old or too young to enjoy Shakespeare, so I tried to find a Shkespeare app for young children and came up with this. To be honest, I was disappointed in this one; it’s basically an app version of Irene Lamb’s book “Tales From Shakespeare”. It consists of short summaries of the plays intended for children. There are no study guides, no quotes, and the games have nothing to do with Shakespeare. My advice, get the book, or go to these sites: 

8. Poems By Heart Made by the Penguin Publishing Co, it’s designed to help you learn a poem by quizzing yourself, one line at a time, (or one word if necessary). Friendly and enjoyable.


9. Soliloquy by playshakespeare.com. 

As you might expect, this app is a database of Shakespearean speeches. I normally don’t advocate actors learning speeches out of context without reading the whole play, but this app is useful for the professional actor on the go, who needs to pull out a speech in a hurry. It’s sort of a digital monologue portfolio. You can find a good speech, save it, then pull it out when you need to study it. There’s also a pro feature that allows you to edit the speech if it’s running long. What I really like is the fact that each speech is conveniently classified by gender/ genre/ length, and the helpful tips for young actors picking a good speech.

10. Shakespeare by Play Shakespeare.com


Well now we come to the end of the free Shakespeare app list I’ve compiled. Now what? I would recommend downloading Shakespeare by Playshakespeare.com, then BURN THE LIST! This is the most incredible Shakespeare app I’ve ever seen! It has tons of free and pay- only features and I’ve listed a few below:

  • Full text of the plays
  • A GPS feature where you can locate any Shakespearean theater near you.
  • A free passport to 57 theaters that offer discounts to members.
  • Study guides which include scene breakdown, poetry glossary, and notes on verse scansion
  • Shakeapeare quotes generator.
  • A glossary of over 40,000 Shakespearean words 

Much like this blog, I recommend this app to Shakespeare lovers of any age!


One more bonus review: this isn’t an app, but it’s a website created by Joel Eastman and Erik Hinton of the Wall Street Journal. Its purpose is to analyze the awesome lyric complexity of the Broadway musical “Hamilton.” http://graphics.wsj.com/hamilton/ 

The website uncovers the use of assonance, alliteration, near-rhymes, mid-line rhymes, and other strokes of Lin-Manuel Maranda’s lyrical brush. The best part is that you can feed any text you want into the website, and it will use the same algorithm to show you its lyrical elements, so I’d recommend using it as a tool to study Shakespeare. You’ll find that the Bard of Avon and Snoop Lion aren’t as different as they might seem.

So there you are, a few fun, friendly, and free tools for exploring the work and life of a timeless English playwright. As The Bard might say: “Sirs, betake you to your tools,” for such apps as these are only as good as the person who uses them.

Intro to Richard III

Hi everyone,

Introducing our new Play of the Month: Shakespeare’s dark history play about murder and corruption, Richard III. First, a short presentation I made that introduces the characters and themes of the play.

 

Second, a quick, funny summary of the play from the Reduced Shakespeare Company


And finally, this incredible animated version of the play, which looks like a stained-glass window come to life!