If honour and principle were the watchwords for Caesars of the nineteenth century, and totalitarianism the core of twentieth, the word which ghosts twenty-first-century productions most clearly is 'spin'. This book traces this evolutionary journey, and discusses productions because they somehow speak to ideas about the play which characterise their period of production, or they have significant features in their own right. It first gives an account of productions of the play prior to the Second World War, right from the stagings at the Globe Theatre's in 1599 to William Bridges-Adams's productions till 1934. The 1937 Orson Welles's production of Julius Caesar, staged at New York's Mercury Theatre was decked out with all the trappings and scenic theatricality of contemporary European Fascism. Shakespeare's play becomes a forum for a consideration of an ethics of American identity with John Houseman's 1953 film. The book discusses three modernist productions of Lindsay Anderson, John Barton and Trevor Nunn, and the new versions of the play for the British TV. The productions under Thatcher's Britain are also focused as well as the unknown accents, especially the Indian and African ones. The productions of Italy, Austria and Germany productions have eschewed direct political association with past or present regimes. The book also presents a detailed study of two productions by a single company, Georgia Shakespeare. In the new millennium, the play's back-and-forth exchange between its long past and the shrill and vibrant insistence of its present, have taken centre stage.
Julius Caesar opens with a scene in which authority figures struggle to read their audience. That audience, which is celebrating Caesar's triumphal return on the death of Pompey, have dispensed with those signs of their profession which would normally announce their function and status. On a crucial level, Julius Caesar is about theatre and its use on the political stage. But for a play so charged with the theatrical and with ideas of performativity, the play's stage history has been chequered at best, and reviews of strong productions invariably open with a note of surprise. Unlike other Shakespeare plays, there has been no seismic shift in Caesar's stage history, no new reading or production innovation which has transformed the play entirely in the theatre. Julius Caesar recorded historical events for its original audience, but it did so for a world which has itself become history.
The evolution of Shakespeare play on stage is always in part the story of Shakespeare's standing in society at large, and the trajectory mapped by Julius Caesar is a familiar one. David Daniel calls the story of the prelude to and aftermath of Julius Caesar's death 'the most famous historical event in the West outside the Bible'. The play reappears on Drury Lane, performed by the King's Company with Charles Hart as Brutus and Michael Mohun as Cassius, both of whom had been actors before the Civil War and saw military service during it. Thomas Betterton continued to play Brutus until January 1707/8, treating the role as that of a dignified, patriotic and thoughtful hero, establishing a sense that he was the play's tragic hero. Thomas Hamblin was particularly renowned for his Brutus in the 1830s and 1840s, and Edward Loomis Davenport persisted in the role from 1853 to 1870.
In November 1937, Orson Welles's production of Julius Caesar, staged at New York's Mercury Theatre on Broadway, opened to immediate adulation and controversy. The production, famously, was decked out with all the trappings and scenic theatricality of contemporary European Fascism and renamed Caesar: Death of a Dictator. Caesar was the Mercury's Theatre's inaugural production, brought to the stage only a few months after the increasingly financially precarious outfit, headed by Welles and John Houseman, who had worked together at the Federal Theatre, came into being. Welles's cavalier attitude to characterisation took its toll with the actors, and not just those who had to share the stage with Brutus. Welles's effective absence from rehearsal as an actor led to a performance which was often hesitant about such basics as physical placement, blocking and script.
John Houseman believed that Herman Mankiewicz should have been considered the primary writer, instead of sharing writing credits with Orson Welles as appeared in the billing. One of the MGM pictures paired John Houseman with Herman Mankiewicz's younger brother Joseph as director, and returned him to Shakespeare's Caesar. Shakespeare's play becomes a forum for a consideration of an ethics of American identity. The film's American affect was emphasised by moments like the battle scenes, which were filmed to resemble contemporary Westerns and shot on location at Bronson Canyon. MGM had dominated the 1930s box office but had struggled to draw audiences after the war as television kept people at home. On Mankiewicz's return to Hollywood, B. DeMille engineered another open ballot calling for his dismissal, a ballot permitting only a 'yes' verdict, which was forcibly hand-delivered by motorcycle couriers during the night to the entire membership.
This chapter considers three productions which model different forms of that modernist impulse: Lindsay Anderson's 1964 production at the Royal Court; John Barton's 1968 production for the RSC; and Trevor Nunn's production, also for the RSC, in 1972. It focuses on an aspect of the staging of Julius Caesar as a particular instance of a larger debate surrounding Shakespeare on stage. In 1964, Lindsay Anderson directed Julius Caesar at the Royal Court for the English Stage Company. If Britain in the 1960s and 1970s was to find a modernist frame for this emphatically premodern play, it would have to come to it via some route other than a deconstruction of what Anderson called rhetorical acting. As Lindsay Anderson was mounting his iconoclastic Caesar, sights levelled on the Peter Hall verse-speaking method, John Barton was working with Hall on The Wars of the Roses.
Julius Caesar on stage had been defined by the play's classicism, by its oratory, and by a perceived idealist treatment of its characters and subject matter. Charlton Heston's Mark Antony is, not surprisingly, the stand-out performance. He brings a refreshing sense of character to the film in moments such as his flippant damning of his nephew with a drop of wine in the proscription scene. With Heston looming so large over the production, it is tempting to read it in terms of the actor's own politics, but this is surprisingly tricky. Sarah Hatchuel credits Heston for his variety compared to Brando but gives the palm to Mankiewicz for his approach to cinematography. Between 1937 and 1996 the BBC aired an astonishing twelve different versions of Julius Caesar on television.
The Britain of the 1960s and 1970s lacked the kinds of dominant political figures to make Caesar feel topical, but the 1980s and 1990s positively brimmed with analogues to the story of a dictator's demise and its aftermath. Margaret Thatcher emerged from her first re-election campaign in the summer of 1983 riding a wave of nationalist fervour generated by war against Argentina over the Falkland Islands. Caesar is one of Shakespeare's most single-mindedly masculine plays. Despite the obvious parallels with Thatcher in the play, it requires a particular leap of the imagination for an audience to see a specific female leader in the physical presence of a male actor. Leftist activist theatre had come under attack early in Thatcher's regime, most dramatically and publicly over two Howard Brenton plays, both staged in 1980, which caused a firestorm of protest and recrimination, much of it with significant financial implications.
In the Soviet Union, the Julius Caesar seems to have been considered too republican for its dictators, but not clear-sighted enough about that republic to be a useful tool for those opposed to communism. This chapter considers those places where Julius Caesar has been a significant force on stage, first in those countries most clearly marked by European Fascism and then in the postcolonial cultures of India and South Africa. As Wilhelm Hortmann points out, Shakespeare was staged with astonishing regularity in early twentieth-century Germany, performed largely in translations by August Wilhelm Schlegel working with Ludwig and Dorothea Tieck, translations which had been well-known for a century. After India achieved independence from Britain, productions of Shakespeare in indigenous languages became more common, the translations tapping into those elements of the stories that made them feel familiar to audiences used to their own brand of folk drama.
This chapter looks at Caesar in regional theatre, presenting a detailed study of two Caesar productions by a single company, Georgia Shakespeare. Georgia Shakespeare is one of approximately 233 active Shakespeare-driven theatre companies in the United States. Georgia Shakespeare's early years featured several playful, mainstream adaptations of Shakespeare including a musical Shrew and a Mafia-themed Hamlet. Though Georgia Shakespeare had weathered the fiscal crisis of 2009 better than most regional companies due to some voluntary cost-cutting the previous year, money was tight. Moreover, as a LORT theatre, they are obligated to maintain a ratio of 12 (higher paying) Equity to every 2 non-Equity contracts. Georgia Shakespeare's expanded Casca continued the character's life as follows. When civil war broke out, Casca went to war as an officer defending the new Brutus-led regime against Mark Antony and Octavius.