So, after two months with a play I really didn’t enjoy all that much in the classroom, what’s my thinking now on Julius Caesar?
Do I like it better than before? Absolutely. I see it as a nastily cynical piece of political drama. Do I think it’s a good play? Sure (but not one to teach to tenth graders). But do I like it better than the tragedies that have come thus far in the project, Titus Andronicus and Romeo and Juliet? Not even close. Do I like it better than, say, half the project thus far? Yeah, probably in the top half, just outside the top third.
I’m thinking this might be the Anti-Lear for me. Let me explain:
I’ve always thought that King Lear was one of the greatest pieces of literature (dramatic or otherwise) ever written. However, what makes it it great on the page–its wonderful complexity–is what makes it nearly impossible to pull off on stage. Maybe the opposite is true with Julius Caesar. Maybe what makes it less than enjoyable as a reading experience (the short lines, the cynical world-view, the lack of any really positive characters–save for Lucius, I like that kid), might just open it up awesomely in performance.
I’ve only seen two productions of the play. One in 1991 at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, directed by Oskar Eustis. It set the play in the 60’s (think Kennedy), and in my opinion was striking more for its use of multimedia and lighting, than for its success as an overall production. The other was the same year at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. It was set pre-Rome, with rituals that foretold the future. The most I remember from it was that most of the actors were in loincloths.
Like I said, okay on the page, with wonderful opportunities for expansive thinking on the stage.
…or maybe just a different kind of page
I really enjoyed this version of Manga Shakespeare: Julius Caesar adapted by Richard Appignanesi, and illustrated by Mustashrik Mahbab. Very manga, very strongly done (with very little alteration/addition to the text, but with a futuristic setting). Extra bonus points in my book for depicting Portia as pregnant (which I believe is supported both by the text and history).