Actually, this is a closer examination of power - who covets it and who mishandles it - than the Mankiewics version; which is to say it's closer to the spirit of the play than the glossier 1953 film. The editing in this one plays down, if not altogether omits, the more fantastic/prognostic aspects found in he play (the forebodding tempest in Rome, the ghost appearances of Caesar, etc., that highlight the Mankiewicz production) and enlarges the intrigue among and between the political players. It was a mistake, I think, to enact Portia's dream of Caesar's assassination. Perhaps it was done to compensate for the exclusion of the night tempest, but to me seemed unnecessary. Her description alone seems always to suffice.
Biggest blunder: Jason Robards as Brutus. Though he rises to the occasion in the third act, for the first two he hardly looks the part of the stalwart Roman patrician but more like a misinformed brother at a dry frat reunion.
Biggest coup: Richard John as Cassius. Every bit as good as Gielgud in the Mankiewics film. Hard to buy Gielgud as Caesar, though. He has the majesty but little of the command and vigor Caesar must have possessed. That said, the assassination is truly frightening and the high point of the movie.
Shakespeare's African Play ?
G.B. Shaw felt his portrait of Caesar to be superior to Shakespeare's though he admitted his Caesar & Cleopatra was a lesser play than Julius Caesar: Shaw's proof video.
Though I much like Caesar and Cleopatra, the movie version is protracted shit -- despite the excellent cast.
Shaw's Caesar is a much larger character than Shakespeare's, but it should be remembered that Shaw made him the hero of his play, while Shakespeare's hero was Caesar's murderer.
As a victim, Shakespeare's Caesar is naturally less interesting. His death concludes nothing. Indeed, after et tu, Brute, there's still a half-a-play left to unfold.
Shaw, on the other hand, may have created a more powerful and memorable figure -- it's hard not to admire "My friend, taxes are the chief business of a conqueror of the world " and "Caesar looks his fate in the face " and "If one man in all the world can be found, now or forever, to know that you did wrong, that man will have either to conquer the world as I have, or be crucified by it " -- but his own Victorian prissiness distorts the truth so as to avoid Caesar's sexuality -- which was a significant topic in Caesar's lifetime.
Hence, the Caesar who drilled the teen-aged Cleopatra blind and knocked her up is nowhere to be found in Shaw's play. He's treated like a Dutch uncle who can make prodigious sense when he chooses to exercise his power. No doubt this is a richer creation than what John Masefield called Shakespeare's "touchy man of affairs," but he's still much less than Rex Harrison's version of him in Joe Mankiewicz' Cleopatra.
Indeed, the best historians are storytellers. The reverse is certainly true:
This is not my first exposure to axe-to-grind history. Indeed, some of the greatest historians -- not only the ancients Parenti mentions, but other guys, too, like Guicciardini, Sarpi, Trotsky, and so many others -- have approached their subject with attitude.
However, dere's dat ol' slipp'ry slope to worry 'bout. I agree to a considerable extent with Parenti's Marxist view of Rome's republican period as a history of violent class struggle. And in my own readings I often sympathize with the populares -- who generally got the worst of it. But in one's zeal to "right the balance" it's too easy to overlook unpleasant facts, when they contradict your point of view. Sulla did break tradition by marching his army into Rome. He did massacre a shitload of political enemies and -- worse still -- people who never did him wrong, but whom he proscribed just to get their property.
But Sulla was not bred in a vacuum. He had his analogue in Marius -- indisputably a great popular leader -- who murdered his foes with such savage thoroughness that his reputation has never shaken off the stain.
Unlike most people I do have some exposure to the historians of classical Rome. They're not all elitists who see the events through oligarchic eyes. Parenti is as off the mark as the historians he discredits. While my vote will ultimately be with the so-called left-wing, I won't insult anyone's intelligence by cooking up sentimental lies to justify it.
The history of Rome between the Gracchi and the death of Caesar is an example of a whole state, a whole people, in uproar and civil strife. In all of this I'm on the side of the populares, but I won't bullshit myself into believing that our murderous atrocities are better than their murderous atrocities.
Like Parenti says, where have we heard this before?
P.S. Although he doesn't come out and say it, Parenti's quick mention of Mommsen gives the impression that he regards the great 19th century historian as another of the elitist oligarchic asslicks whom he condemns. In fact, Julius Caesar never had so devoted, so vigorous, a defender and admirer as he had in Mommsen.
Yes. My point was that historians often make the worst storytellers - which is not to say that Parenti's ax-to-grind approach is invalid but that the best storytellers, like Shakespeare, purposely circumvent historical accuracy (even in simple portraiture) for the sake of dramatic power. The entire populare/optimate opposition in the Roman senate is played down if not entirely absent in Shakespeare's telling. Caesar, as we've seen, is reduced to little more than a wise egotist. We have to learn from Antony's postmortem that Caesar had any thought of the plebs he supposedly represented. "Ambition" is the catch-all word that Brutus uses to argue against a consul, who in reality, was gradually stripping the privileges of the senatorial elite. So Parenti has a point. But when you remember that Shakespeare was under the patronage of English noblity and, later, direct royal patronage, you realize that he could hardly have made such an argument as the one that Parenti puts forth and the play takes on a more subtle perspective (though the play isn't subtle, by any means. In fact, I think it's one of his more "slight and unmeritable" works; more a study of rhetoric than history, certainly.)
Gary Will's Rome & Rhetoric bears a once over, at least.
My point was that historians often make the worst storytellers . . .
It was the story-telling that first drew me to historians. I realize that some of the best -- guys like Burkhardt and Huizinga, for example -- are not so much storytellers as highly organized and observant culture junkies. But the ones that stay with me all have stretches of pure narrative -- or at least dramatic -- excitement. Even Gibbon, who ambles through a thousand years while smirking over his tea cup, can tell a great yarn when called upon to do so. His accounts of Julian and Andronicus, for example. And he really got his dick stiff for the fall of Constantinople -- I thought I was watching it in Cinemascope.
(Of course, one only partially goes to Gibbon for storytelling. His easy scholarship -- expressed in his notes, where some wag suggested Gibbon lived out his sex life -- contain glimmering nuggets like his citing that Elagabalus appointed men enormitate membrorum .)
And, of course, history is traditionally associated with epic poetry -- storytelling in excelsis.
Good points. Of course, a good deal of that can be chalked up to your fecund imagination, Sev. But I meant storytelling in the oral tradition. Storytellers, traditionally, don't write but tell. Mostly lies. Shakespeare was obviously one (his contemporaries admit as much). The storyteller has a different objective than the historian. He's primarily interested in effect. Marc Antony, Brutus and, especially Cassius, for instance, are all storytellers in Shakespeare's account. Cicero could never have been a good storyteller, burdened with a historian's prerogative for method or procedure (not necessarily the truth).
Once you start writing tales in books the objectives have altered considerably.
Slightly off century/millennium, but I find that I learn more about the actual reality of the situation/history from non professional writers who (even if they've had a little ghosting) were actually there. Robert Mason's Chickenhawk is an account of his Huey flying days during the Vietnam War - an excellent example of this "First Person History".
Hard one to find, et. The NYPL has no circulating copies. Perhaps I can find a cheapie on Amazon.