2058 years ago tomorrow, Julius Caesar was assassinated. On this, the anniversary of the eve of his murder at the hands of his political rivals, the Michigan Shakespeare Festival is having a one-night-only concert reading of my play, EVE OF IDES. Directed by Jan Blixt, the cast includes John Seibert as Caesar, Robert Kauzlaric as Brutus, Derek Ridge as Mark Antony, and Charles Sutherland as Varro, with Dan Helmer reading the stage directions and providing voices.
It’s hard to think of any historical figure more redeemed with the stroke of a playwright’s pen than Brutus. Before Shakespeare’s play, he lived in an icy lake at the bottom of Hell. In The Inferno, Dante gives Lucifer three mouths, allowing the Devil to chew forever history’s greatest betrayers: Judas Iscariot, Caius Cassius, and Brutus. Right through the Renaissance, Brutus was a villain, the treasonous coward who killed perhaps the greatest military and political leader the world had ever known.
Yet, in an act of brazen daring, Shakespeare turns Brutus into a hero.
We all agree that Shakespeare’s play is Brutus’ story. For a piece entitled The Life and Death of Julius Caesar, it’s astonishing how little of Caesar there actually is — no Consulship, no pirate ship, no Gaul, no Civil War, no Pompey, no Cleopatra. We pick up at the end of the dictatorship, mere days before his death. Alas, Caesar was far too successful in his life to be made into a tragic hero. So Shakespeare, in his brilliance, turns 1600 years of history on its head, transforming Caesar into a half-deaf epileptic narcissist. Instead he makes his play about Brutus, the honorable man. It is incedibly subversive, a remarkable feat of daring.
If there is one glaring dramatic fault in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, it is the lack of interaction between Brutus and Caesar themselves. Shakespeare’s audience was much more knowledgeable about Roman history, so he could take for granted that the nuances would be understood. Today we are not so well informed of the great and twisted personal relationship these men had. We do not know why Brutus repeatedly says he loves Caesar, nor do we see how they got to the point where murder is necessary, where Brutus believes that it indeed ‘must be by his death.’
As I am always drawn to gaps in stories, this was a siren’s call I could not resist.
The event is being held at the Kerrytown Concert House in my hometown of Ann Arbor. And the food for the event is being provided by Mani Osteria in downtown Ann Arbor (huge thanks to Adam Baru). If you're in Michigan, you can reserve your tickets here.
If you're not around, there's still a treat for you. To help promote the event, this week Amazon is giving away free Kindle copies of the play. You can get yours here. In return, I'd ask you to donate $5 (or more) to the Michigan Shakespeare Festival for their kindess in hosting the event. You can send your donations via Paypal here.