It would be funny were it not so tragic. I have tried to stop short of calling Trump supporters stupid. I have referred to them as lemmings and other terms, but have never outright called them stupid. Today, I must re-think that and admit what has been obvious for some time now: Trump supporters fall far short of being the brightest bulbs in the pack. What, you may ask, has Filosofa stirred up today?
Shakespeare. Specifically, one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, Julius Caesar. This play has been politicized numerous times in the past:
On the eve of World War II, Orson Welles staged a landmark anti-Fascist production with a Mussolini-like Caesar. The Royal Shakespeare Company recently set the play in Africa, powerfully evoking the continent’s dictators and civil wars. Five years ago, the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis staged a production featuring the assassination of an Obama-esque Caesar by a group of right-wing conspirators. Even John F. Kennedy was once depicted as Caesar! But never before has it stirred quite so much controversy as it did this week, when a production in New York’s Central Park became the flashpoint for threats of violence around the nation.
Oskar Eustis, the director, chose to make his Caesar decidedly Trumpian, giving him a shock of hair, an overlong red tie and a wife with a recognizably Slovenian accent. As all Caesars are, he’s killed in the middle of the play — bloodily — by Brutus and his band of co-conspirators. And the fallout from right-wing dim-bulbs has been ridiculous!
Delta Airlines and Bank of America have pulled their sponsorship from the Public Theater’s free Shakespeare in the Park program. But the most troubling aspect is that New York Classical Theatre, which performs in Central Park, has received a host of threatening messages, as have theaters around the country where Julius Caesar is being performed. Shakespeare Theatre Company of Washington, D.C., has received about a dozen caustic e-mails and numerous tweets accusing the company of inciting violence and linking it to this week’s shooting at a congressional baseball practice..
Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts received roughly 40 venomous messages, including one that wished the theater “the worst possible life you could have and hope you all get sick and die.” At Shakespeare Dallas, executive and artistic director Raphael Parry says his company has received about 80 messages, including threats of rape, death, and wishes that the theater’s staff is “sent to ISIS to be killed with real knives.”
One protestor, Laura Loomer, was charged with criminal trespass and disorderly conduct after interrupting a New York production of Julius Caesar during the assassination scene and shouting: “This is violence against Donald Trump. This is political violence against the right!” Audience members booed and shouted for her to get off the stage. I suspect that this was not a random act, but was planned, since the incident was filmed by Jack Posobiec, a rightwing provocateur best known for helping to spread the Pizzagate conspiracy theory. He stood up as Loomer was escorted off stage by security guards and yelled at the crowd: “You are all Goebbels. You are all Nazis like Joseph Goebbels … You are inciting terrorists. The blood of Steve Scalise is on your hands.”
A Public Theater spokeswoman said: “Our production of Julius Caesar in no way advocates violence towards anyone. Shakespeare’s play, and our production, make the opposite point: those who attempt to defend democracy by undemocratic means pay a terrible price and destroy the very thing they are fighting to save.”
Of course the dim-bulbs need someone to tell them when to be outraged, and the majority do not live in New York City, probably have only the vaguest notion who Shakespeare was and even less about who Julius Caesar was. Enter Fox News and Breitbart who can always be counted on to stir the masses and they did not disappoint this time, either. True to form, Breitbart led the pack with an article titled “‘Trump’ Stabbed to Death in Central Park Performance of ‘Julius Caesar’”, and Fox News fed the flames, tweeting “NYC Play Appears to Depict Assassination of @POTUS.”
Now, it has been said that if the shoe was on the other foot, so to speak, liberals would have the same reaction. But … in 2012 the shoe was on the other foot. The Acting Company teamed up with the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis to produce a version of Julius Caesar in which the title character was very similar to then-President Obama. No corporate sponsors pulled out or even made a comment. No hate mail was sent. And the New York Times gave it a positive review, calling it a “tough act to follow”.
Two points need to be made. First, those who have a bit of knowledge of Shakespeare and the play Julius Caesar understand that the entire message of the play is NOT to promote assassination, but rather to warn against it. Those who have no knowledge of the premise of the play ought to educate themselves before going off the deep end and sending hate mail regarding that which the do not understand. Second, this is a play. It is art. Art is always subject to interpretation. If we allow people, fueled by right-wing media, to ban interpretations of plays, to shut them down through threats of violence, then what is the next step? Book burnings? Censorship of the press? Arrests of peaceful protesters? Think about it.