It has been more than 400 years since William Shakespeare told the story of infamous Roman emperor Julius Caesar, murdered brutally by seven of his senators.
Since then, the original material source that has the uncanny ability to resonate with every time period has been adapted thousands of times, both in theater and on big screen, in a number of different ways befitting an era’s political scenario.
This summer, New York City’s Public Theater decided to do something similar with its production of “Julius Caesar” for the annual Shakespeare in the Park program. The play took on a modern setting, which is not unprecedented, and opened at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park on June 12.
Given the current politically charged climate in the United States, it would not be entirely wrong to call “Julius Caesar” a great choice for the public theater. After all, it is a great way to expose children to visual arts and literature because, to be honest, not every parent can afford those costly Broadway tickets.
However, the production sent some people, namely the far right, into a meltdown because the narcissistic lead character — dressed in an ill-fitting blue suit, yellowish-blond hair, possessing a gold bathtub and having a Slavic wife — bore eerie similarity to President Donald Trump.
Considering how the plot revolves around Caesar’s murder, it did not come as a surprise (at least to most) when a group of smartly dressed senators stabbed their leader in Act 3.
Some Trump fanatics, on the other hand, did not take it lightly.
This is the Breitbart headline:
Trump’s favorite Fox News went a step ahead and removed any mention of “Julius Caesar” from their headline altogether — probably because it would have been much less sensational had they opted to include it.
Following the far right outrage, two high-profile donors and self-assigned guardians of morality, Delta Air Lines and the Bank of America, pulled their funding of the production.
“No matter what your political stance may be, the graphic staging of ‘Julius Caesar’ at this summer’s free Shakespeare in the Park does not reflect Delta Air Lines’ values,” Delta said in a statement. “Their artistic and creative direction crossed the line on the standards of good taste. We have notified them of our decision to end our sponsorship as the official airline of the Public Theater effective immediately.”
The Bank of America released a similar statement.
“The Public Theater chose to present ‘Julius Caesar’ in a way that was intended to provoke and offend,” said bank spokesperson Susan Atran. “Had this intention been made known to us, we would have decided not to sponsor it. We are withdrawing our funding for this production.”
Do people working at Delta and the Bank of America have any idea what the play is about or what it represents?
Well, here is a brief recap:
Caesar starts out as a beloved Roman leader, who with incredible military prowess dissolves the Roman republic and establishes himself as a dictator. His actions lead Brutus, who wants a republican government, and Cassius, who is jealous of Caesar, to conspire with other Roman senators and assassinate their leader. However, the assassination sparks a riot that ultimately leads to a civil war that Brutus and Cassius lose.
The president’s oldest son also sent out a tweet criticizing the production.
I wonder how much of this "art" is funded by taxpayers? Serious question, when does "art" become political speech & does that change things? https://t.co/JfOmLLBJCn— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) June 11, 2017
Can someone tell Donald Trump Jr. that art is supposed to be reflective of our current world and that is exactly what the show did?
To cut the long story short, neither the original play nor the Shakespeare in the park production, in any way, glorify violence or murder. In fact, it sends the message that violence is never an appropriate response.
Moreover, contrary to what the conservative media is saying, Brutus and Cassius, the traitors who murdered the Trump-link Caesar, were the real villains of the show, not the other way around. The audience is not going to leave the show praising the murderers for their actions. Instead, their sympathies would be with Caesar, who lost his life to his trusted advisers.
How hard is it for the right-wing media to understand that?
This plot is literally hundreds of years old. The controversial “Trump assassination” in the play is not meant to endorse such heinous actions.
Several social media users expressed their disbelief and anger over Delta and Bank of America’s decision.
Delta should not be interfering in a theater's presentations. Suggest supporters of the arts & Public Theater cease patronizing Delta. https://t.co/fkScXPlfA2— Joyce Carol Oates (@JoyceCarolOates) June 12, 2017
Delta and Bank Of America have pulled funding from the Public Theater due to a creative interpretation of Shakespeare. Act accordingly.— Ron Perlman (@perlmutations) June 12, 2017
Delta and Bank of America are catastrophically betraying their public arts commitments on behalf of right-wing reactionary pressure.— Jack Smith IV (@JackSmithIV) June 12, 2017
So Public Theater's Julius Caesar dressed as Trump = intolerable.— Jeremy Newberger (@jeremynewberger) June 12, 2017
But Alex Jones saying Sandy Hook was a hoax = tolerable.
Bank of America, too.— Cassius Lucis Caelum (@giantspatula) June 12, 2017
Donate to the Public Theater, y'all. This is how art dies.
Meanwhile, Oskar Eustis, the director of the new “Julius Caesar,” released a beautifully artistic statement on the theater’s website.
“Julius Caesar can be read as a warning parable to those who try to fight for democracy by undemocratic means,” he wrote. “To fight the tyrant does not mean imitating him.”
In addition to that, as a journalist named Isaac Butler pointed out, this is not the first time a theater production has featured a sitting U.S. president in its adaptation of “Julius Caesar.” In 2012, the Acting Company produced the play with a lead bearing uncanny resemblance to former President Barack Obama.
Not only was there was no controversy, Delta Air Lines also rewarded the company with a sponsorship a year later.
Talk about hypocrisy.
Banner/thumbnail credit: Reuters