No offense i’ th’ world


Well, a bit of a storm blew up this weekend when it emerged that Shakespeare in the Park, a venerable New York institution which has been putting on productions in Central Park since the 1950s, is this year staging Julius Caesar in modern dress with a titular character who is blonde, has an eastern European wife, and (no spoiler to anyone who knows the play) get assassinated.

Less than a week from the end of its run, the more reactionary parts of the US seem to have made the connection, and have decided to be offended. Two major companies (Delta and Bank of America) have withdrawn sponsorship. There is a right-wing consensus that it is outrageous – outrageous! – to imply the assassination of a sitting President.

Except that of course, it isn’t. It isn’t even something new. There’s a tweet going round that claims that Presidents Obama, GW Bush, Clinton, Reagan and Lincoln have all been portrayed as Julius Caesar in their time. That Obama interpretation played at the Guthrie theatre in 2012, while he was the sitting President, so the precedent couldn’t be clearer. Even worse for the faux outrage, Delta was perfectly happy to sponsor the Guthrie (if not explicitly that production) at the time.

Perhaps it is more interesting to note that John Wilkes Booth, the man who shot Lincoln, played both Brutus and Mark Anthony in Julius Caesar at various times – the latter including a performance which raised money for a statue of Shakespeare which still stands – in Central Park…


On a related note – I was disappointed by the brief flurry of outrage which accompanied the announcement of Antic Disposition’s tour of Richard III, which will include Leicester Cathedral as a venue. This was described as “insensitive and disrespectful” given it’s the real man’s current resting place, and that no-one nowadays really, truly believes he resembled the Shakespearean villain*. On the other hand, if anything remains of him to be bothered by it, I would have thought it would be rather more put out at being buried in Leicester Cathedral (rather than York as he specifically requested) and laid to rest with the rites of a church to which he did not belong (the Church of England not having been invented at the time of his death).

In both cases, I am heartened to note the general public is not taking heed of the offence-mongers. Julius Caesar is sold out, so too are Antic’s two dates in Leicester. A bit of outrage is good for audience numbers – and it’s hard to argue that they won’t get a valuable evening out of it when both productions are pure Shakespeare**.  In which case, it would be remiss of me not to point out that the rest of Antic’s dates – in Peterborough, Ely, Gloucester, Bristol, Salisbury and London – all have some availability…

* And a large number of people have always tried to whitewash him entirely – I recently read Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time, which seeks to acquit him of the murder of the Princes in the Tower – largely on the evidence of a portrait. It’s rather glorious hokum but hardly a convincing argument…

** I would say quality but I haven’t read the reviews for Julius Caesar and my only run-in with American Shakespeare was not a happy one. Antic Disposition have been consistently good though.

4 thoughts on “No offense i’ th’ world

  1. “To accept sponsorship is to accept censorship” it is said (can’t find the attribution quickly) though this would be nothing new to Shakespeare of course. Thank you for the reference back to “Dream” at the Folger Library – I previously missed your excellent “Bottom’s wonderful ass costume” comment which works so well in American English (two nations divided by a common language). As for the Yorkists and Leicester – they need to accept that they lost…..

    Liked by 2 people

    • Bottom’s shoes were truly awesome. As was the mask – which was attached to the actress’s face with string which helped to pull her mouth into a more donkey-like shape. It must have been astonishingly uncomfortable!


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