Shakespeare on leadership - via BBC panel:
More on Brutus and the conspirators (lecture by Professor J. Rufus Fears)-
Thanks for the link, et.
Brando's famous turn -
Gielgud, playa hatin'; Mason, wishing he was in Bermuda
even more famous -
This forum scene (new to me) is a British film from 1945.
Striking. I see they couldn't resist the Hitler reference. Not crazy about Felix Aylmer as Brutus (though his turn as Polonius in Olivier's Hamlet set the bar for some time.)
James Shapiro, in a discussion about his Shakespeare book, 1599, which covers Julius Caesar, makes a nice segue into Hamlet (which is probably what I'll post next)...
Sevorin: "Shakespeare is just not a man of ideas. Why pretend he is?"
I thought your statement deserved a more adroit response that I was immediately capable of providing. So I waited, stewed and eventually found an appropriate passage from Germaine Greer's book on Shakespeare's ideas, Shakespeare (A Brief Insight) (according to Greer, "I think it's called an introduction to Shakespeare - that's absolutely not what it is. It's about what you're meant to think when you watch Shakespeare's plays"). From Chapter 4, Politics, he states:
"There is nothing innovative in Shakespeare's idea of history, no ideology or philosophy which he imposed on the material that he organized. Rather he took the mass of mutually conflicting notions which he found expressed in the bible and interpreted by his contemporaries, the homilies, the chronicles, broadsides and ballads, popular plays and traditions, and in the compendia of wisdom from all kinds of sources, and made of it something remarkably exiting and alive, repaying all kinds of analysis and suggestive of all kinds of alternatives. Keats called Shakespeare's faculty for allowing mutually conflicting notions full imaginative development "negative capability".
The inclusiveness of Shakespeare's intelligence is a characteristic he shared with many of his contemporaries. The compilers of collections of sententiae and proverbs did not concern themselves with whether the wisdom they culled from the ancients was consistent or could supply some feasible rule of life. It was unimportant that if one aphorism was true another on the same page would have to be false. Schoolboys learned to think and write by applying generalizations to particular cases, and to develop the dry sententiae so that they became alive and interesting thy produced examples of the ways in which these propositions became true or were realized. They were not asked to erected philosophical systems on the basis of selected premises, but to consider the kind of truth inherent in all of them. Nowadays, students of logical form might call this kind of compendious thinking "fuzzy logic". The term does not imply a value judgemeny: what it really refers to is the protean nature of all concepts, and the importance of the ambiguous are that lies around the nucleus of definition, as the white lies around the yolk of the egg. Definitio est negatio; in Shakespeare's mind concepts were alive, growing, changing, proliferating and dying, like man himself. Nowadays, logicians, shocked into humility by he capacity of mathematics to confound their notions of certainty, are beginning to recognize what they are pleased to call "paraconsistency". By a similar process, secular Renaissance philosophers like Pierre de la Ramée and even Bacon and Montaigne sought to open the mind to all kinds of protean possibility rather than t mechanize its operations in the development of a system."
The passage expands the scope of your point, Sev, but is at heart, in accord with what you're implying. Greer, whose lecture I'm attaching to the group discussion, is a champion of the feminists (though I'm not sure a self-avowed one) and seems to me an interesting (and much needed) alternative voice in Shakespearean scholarship.
An all female Julius Caesar ? Never mind Brutus and Antony, what are Calpurnia and Portia looking like...?
This review of The RSC's all black/Caribbean 2012 production of Julius Caesar is followed by a filmed record of the show:
Theatrical productions are rarely the talk of the town the way the RSC’s all-black Julius Caesar currently is. The show recently transferred to the West End after rave reviews and a sell-out run in Stratford-upon-Avon, and London’s theatre-land is genuinely abuzz with excitement and praise for the show’s stellar cast and their dynamic rendition of one of Shakespeare’s most enduring and powerful plays.
Why we do love Julius Caesar so much? Fascinated as we undoubtedly are by the demise of the most famous Roman statesman from antiquity, we are also able to see the play’s many contemporary parallels. For as long as we have human societies, we will always have politics. And for as long as we have politics, we will always have politicians thirsty for power, self-aggrandisement and ultimate control. Moreover, we will always have both the desire to oppress and the desire to liberate from tyranny and oppression. This was as true in ancient Rome 2000 years ago as it was in Shakespeare’s England some 400 years ago, and, I am sure, will be 500 years hence.
Much critical attention has been devoted to director Greg Doran’s inspired decision to set the production in modern day West Africa. Contemporary Africa is (like many places around the globe) sadly rife with corruption, political jerrymandering, and despotic, charismatic, venal leaders who command the fickle masses with their oratorical prowess, personality cults and extreme ruthlessness in dispatching the opposition. Many modern African leaders live perennially in fear of their power being usurped by younger, stronger and more brutal challengers.
Moreover, political assassinations have always been part of the African political landscape. Probably the most famous is that of Patrice Lumumba in the Congo of the 1960s (now thought to have been sanctioned by the CIA), which was immortalized by the Martinican poet and politician Aimé Césaire in his play Une Saison Au Congo.
Hence in Doran’s production the West African setting works very well, as the parallels are legion and never feel contrived. It feels both timely and (though I cringe to use the word as I abhor what this desire is doing to art in general) incredibly relevant.
As the West’s power declines and moves East, and with what some optimists would call an African Renaissance at hand, this production gently shakes us out of our Eurocentric complacency, both literary and political, whilst still provoking us to look at our own shortcomings. Such is always Shakespeare’s manifold genius. His magisterial study in the nature of tyranny, liberty and the desire for freedom from oppression transcends race, geography and time, and is as apposite today as it would have been some four hundred years ago.
Admittedly the affected African accents were not to my liking, as they occasionally obscured an appreciation of the beauty of Shakespeare’s verse. With little consistency, they ranged in tone from strong influences of Nigerian to South African, then incongruously across the ocean to the Caribbean, then back to East Africa. That said, Julius Caesar is a play on one level about the beguiling power of rhetoric and contains some of the most famous, profound and beautiful speeches in the entire Shakespearean corpus. Hearing these lines, replete with their gently probing wisdom, delivered in whatever accent can only ever be a joyous pleasure.
With Brutus and his fellow conspirators’ camouflage fatigues, AK-47s and serrated knives as they march towards battle with Mark Antony at Phillipi, I was reminded more than once (intentionally I am sure) of The Wild Geese, that classic 70s film with Richard Burton as the leader of a bunch of mercenaries on a do-or-die rescue mission in Africa.
The Ozyamndias-like statue of Caesar which is pulled down during the play invoked for me not only Shelley’s masterful sonnet on the ephemerality of earthly glory (which all modern politicians and dictators would do well to read), but also the spectre of clinical brutality inherent in totalitarian regimes.
The massive hype surrounding the production having an all-black cast is sadly, truth to tell, somewhat off-putting. I mean, if the production is set in modern-day West Africa, you would hardly imagine them to have lots of white actors, would you? There is nothing spurious or out of the ordinary whatsoever in this decision to employ an all-black cast, as befits a play set in such a milieu. In fact, I think the buzz surrounding the fact tells us more about the inveterate prejudices of our own age, then anything about the cast. What, I am inclined to wonder mischievously to myself, will it say about the state of Britain if and when we have an all-black production of Noises Off?
What will, however, be a sure sign of progress for racial dynamics in Britain is when a play with a wholly comprehensible reason for having an all-black cast (like this one) has no shock value whatsoever, such that the fact is not mentioned in the promotional material. All the actors are unambiguously black. Does it therefore need such forceful spelling out?
That said, the proliferation of Black couples in the audience was an especially pleasing sight, and, although sadly somewhat rare for the West End, certainly put pay to the myth that black people don’t go to the theatre. By the looks of things, the Black British middle class, hitherto so painfully and frustratingly nascent, is beginning to grow and mobilize. We can but hope that soon more people of colour will begin to attend plays without black actors or protagonists in them.
Of especial note were the theatrical master-classes given by Patterson Joseph as Brutus, cunning, effeminate and strong by turns, and Ray Fearon as Mark Antony, possessing a distinct, charismatic swagger and ruthless charm. His Friends, Romans and Countrymen speech is delivered with great aplomb, never lapsing into caricature or cliché. Cyril Nri as Cassius is Machiavellian, duplicitous and oleaginous to just the right degree and Jeffrey Kissoon, despite his strong Caribbean lilt, is nonetheless remarkably convincing as Caesar, a fading, former colossus now beset with self-doubt.
I think it was the American novelist James Baldwin who entitled a collection of his non-fiction work The Price of the Ticket. This muscular Julius Caesar is well worth that and much more. Impassioned, generous and nuanced, this production is a polished and radiant gem, like the diamonds from the mines in the continent where the play is set, which in their time have given rise to so much bloodshed and slaughter.
- Lindsay John, August 28, 2012, dailymail.co.uk.com