Stuff that Happens
Stuff that happens during the play
- In Rome, the people are celebrating the return of Caesar from a military triumph over Pompey’s sons.
- Caesar’s growing popularity spurs a conspiracy among the late Pompey’s followers and among others worried about Caesar’s power.
- Cassius tries to convert Brutus to the conspiracy.
- On a stormy night, the conspirators convince Brutus of their cause. Brutus’s wife, Portia, asks him to tell her what is troubling him.
- On the night before the coup, Caesar’s wife, Calphurnia, has a disturbing dream and asks him to stay home. The priests, too, try to prevent Caesar from leaving the house; a conspirator, Decius Brutus, reinterprets Calphurnia’s dream favorably and conducts Caesar to the Capitol.
- While Mark Antony – loyal to Caesar – is distracted, the conspirators stab Caesar. Antony submits to the conspirators and obtains Brutus’s permission to speak at the funeral.
- After Brutus defends his actions to the crowd, Mark Antony incites the crowd against the conspirators, who flee Rome.
- Antony joins Octavius Caesar (Julius’s nephew) and Lepidus to battle the conspirators.
- Antony and Octavius combine forces and pursue Cassius and Brutus who are in a camp near Sardis.
- Brutus and Cassius argue bitterly but make up. Brutus tells Cassius some bad news. Brutus persuades Cassius to meet the enemy at Philippi.
- Ghostly visitations, battles, and bad judgement ensue.
Notes from the Director
what was and what may be
“…How many ages hence
Shall this our lofty scene be acted over
In states unborn and accents yet unknown!”
Williams Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar was first performed at the Globe in 1599, so the theatrical enactment of the assassination of Caesar has been performed for over 400 years. Considering that the actual events surrounding this assassination occurred in 44 BC, however, this “lofty scene” has been enacted world-wide for 2,050 years. Twenty centuries and a half of noble causes, honorable intentions, bold enterprises, courageous actions, righteous rebellions, abuses of power, political overthrows, persuasive speeches, assassinations, social dissent, war, and death. As dramatic scenes go – quite a long run for mankind.
What is it that keeps man acting out this real-life scene and stage-life play? This question permeates Shakespeare’s text. In fact, the word “why” appears over forty times in Julius Caesar. Although Shakespeare does not provide an answer, he does create characters who are searching for the answer – characters sorting through a dilemma of purpose and explanation. Ultimately, how they choose to reason, justify, and motivate their way to taking action, will define who they are in the world. These are stage characters in search of character at a deeply personal level.
The play begins with two Roman tribunes chastising citizens for behaving out of character. The play ends with Antony praising the ethical make-up of Brutus: “the elements / So mixed in him that Nature might stand up / And say ‘This was a man!'” The characters who journey between the beginning and end of this play do not enjoy a simple, comfortable, present-tense existence. These are characters who are haunted by the past and ruled by the future; characters caught in a struggle between heart and mind, between serving self and serving the good of the world, and between the truth of what was and the possibility of what might be.
As in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, much of this play takes place in the interval between thought and action; at a time when, as Brutus observes:
“…The genius and the mortal instruments
Are then in council, and the state of man,
Like to a little kingdom, suffers then
The nature of an insurrection.”
To quote Hamlet, “What a piece of work is man, how noble in reason…” Well, sometimes. Reason can certainly direct hopes and dreams toward wonderful invention. Yet, as in Julius Caesar, reason informed by fear can lead to action in the absence of evidence. As Brutus’s reasoning concludes,
“So Caesar may.
Then, lest he may, prevent. And since the quarrel
Will bear no color for the thing he is,
Fashion it thus: that what he is, augmented,
Would run to these and these extremities.
And therefore think him as a serpent’s egg
Which hatched, would as his kind grow mischievous,
And kill him in the shell.”
In our political world today, the “lofty scene” continues to play. A memory of what was and a concern for what may be drives us to reason, justify, and motivate, the “why” of noble causes, honorable intentions, bold enterprises, courageous actions, righteous rebellions, abuses of power, political overthrows, persuasive speeches, assassinations, social dissent, war, and death. Personally, I prefer the stage version.