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Julius Caesar, Smothered in Trumpery

"The decision to stage Julius Caesar with “Trump” as the dominant production idea has generated controversy and was enough to make sponsors like Delta Air Lines withdraw their support. Ultimately, the production was not a threat or an incitement to violence, but merely tacky—and it mangled both the meaning of the play and the progressive causes its creators hold dear.

Shakespeare’s Caesar is no vulgar political neophyte, but a successful general and career politician remaking Rome in his image. Yes, he is something of a boastful demagogue, opposed by the “establishment” of Rome’s Optimates. But he is neither a fool nor a voluptuary. Bedecking him in the trumpery of a golden comb-over and golden bathtub undermines the central conflict of the story. Brutus loves and respects Caesar, yet chooses to kill him for the good of Rome. “We all stand up against the spirit of Caesar,” he says, “and in the spirit of men there is no blood./ O, that we then could come by Caesar's spirit,/ And not dismember Caesar!” Brutus’s faith that other Romans will so cleanly divorce political and personal considerations proves the undoing of the conspirators and of the republic.

Trump’s political opponents have no respect for Trump-the-person, yet they honor the office of the President—and so they are not very much like Brutus at all. The director Oskar Eustis has tried to frame his production as a warning against “fight[ing] for democracy by undemocratic means.” Perhaps a noble cause, but it fits neither the play nor this production. Shakespeare’s conspirators (not to mention Shakespeare) would not conflate Rome’s arcane aristocratic republic with a democracy. Casca jokes that he dared not laugh at the people’s fawning over Caesar “for fear of opening my lips and receiving the bad air.” The people’s champions these conspirators are not, and the Public can’t fool us by having Cassius don a pink pussy hat from the Women’s March."

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