Thursday, March 15, 2012

Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar
by William Shakespeare
live stage performance by a full cast starring Ralph Richardson
Ⓟ 1964, 1996, Caedmon, An imprint of Harper Audio
2.50 hours

Cassius and Brutus and a handful of other Roman senators close to Julius Caesar perceive that Julius Caesar's ambitions are a threat to the Republican ideals - as remembered from the Golden Era of Pompey's reign. Cassius is the key dissenter, recruiting the others into a conspiracy to depose Caesar via assassination and install the naive and idealistic Brutus as the new Caesar. The time is the year 44 B.C.; but the interplay of politics are still relevant today.

Political Assassination: Cause and Effect

The point is made that Julius Caesar was killed not for what he had done; but for what he might have done and yet, clearly the Roman Republic represented in the persons of Cassius and Brutus felt compelled to move against Julius Caesar personally, and at this time. What was the flash point?Julius Caesar had already crossed the Rubicon, defeated the Republican forces under Pompey, and consolidated his position by marginalizing Republican politicians (and thereby repudiating Republican ideals.) Was it the Lupercalian festival conflated with Caesar's triumphal procession the "final straw;" to see the public fickleness or sheep-like willingness to go along with the prevailing authority despite their disenfranchisement? But this does not address Caesar's ambitions, which were ostensibly part of the faulty logic used to justify the assassination. Did Shakespeare, in moving the time of the declaration of Caesar as "dictator perpetuo," seek to plant this intention as the act of Caesar's ambition, vanity and arrogance to which the audience would react? Historically, the trigger was when Caesar failed to rise to meet a senatorial delegation that had come to inform him of new honors that had been bestowed upon him (he was already "dictator perpetuo.") Interestingly, Shakespeare has removed this much clearer example of Julius Caesar's exaggerated sense of self and opted for the much subtler exemplification of supposed intent.

If it is true that Shakespeare wrote this play so that Elizabethan audiences could draw parallels between their own situation (For Elizabethan audiences, the English Settlement was a bone of contention as the Emancipation Proclamation was for 19th century Confederates and, the Patriot Act for many 21st century Americans. These are issue of civil liberties and rallying points for action) and that of the Roman Republic, he fails to make clear that critical "thing" upon which the play's action is impelled. In justifying the murder of Julius Caesar upon "what might be," the assassination becomes an act of envy and cowardice (Cassius) as well as naivete (Brutus.) The assassination is not a proactive move to defend democratic principles, but the last ditch effort of the fearful and desperate to gain traction with the public. It becomes more personal and less political. The assassination becomes, not the wrong thing done for the right reasons; but the wrong thing done for the wrong reasons.

Julius Caesar (by William Shakespeare; performed by a full cast starring Ralph Richardson) was performed in the theater's heyday of the 1960's. Theater had embraced the Stanislavski "method" of performance which brought a better sense of realism and believable emotions to the stage (as opposed to the more formal declamatory style favored in the 19th century.) This performance is a preserved example of this acting style; but the listener should be prepared for a lot of emoting which may seem over the top to 21st century ears. Certain lines are delivered with a very low intensity which recommends a more intimate listening environment than a car allows [I ended up listening on headphones.] For those not closely familiar with Shakespeare's works, the plays in audio format can be difficult to follow without visual cues such as the stage or even the text on hand and, this audio is no exception.

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I salvaged a CD edition of Julius Caesar (by William Shakespeare; performed by a full cast starring Ralph Richardson) from a load of stuff designated as refuse from the Blackstone Audio warehouse. The paragraphs on "Political Assassinations: Cause and Effect" was originally created and posted by me to a Barnes & Noble forum/board on Shakespeare/The Tragedy of Julius Caesar. Despite having seen "Julius Caesar" many times when I worked for a Shakespearean theater and, having read the play again a couple of years ago for the aforementioned B&N board, I had difficulty tracking the play from a strictly audio approach. I dnloaded a World Library, Inc. copy of the play from and read along with the audio. I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.


  1. I'm one of those who would need the visual clues to follow this story.

    1. I admit that I had a false start with this audio. As the play opens, the people of Rome are celebrating Lupercalia. What I got as a listener was that there were people, perhaps at a tavern, in great spirits. All well and good that I got the general intent; but I was unable to pick out specifics, including who was speaking and what was important. Having the text in hand to follow along made everything very clear :-)