A lofty leader is betrayed by trusted companions and brought down by his own weakness during this month’s Bard on Bower presentation of Julius Caesar.
The drama that opens on Thursday, July 14, on the outdoor stage at Bower Ponds will lend gravitas to a season that also includes the light-hearted comedy Love’s Labour’s Lost, opening July 21.
Prime Stock Theatre’s artistic director, Thomas Usher, is directing the play based on a momentous event in ancient history — when the leader of the Roman Republic is assassinated by members of his own senate after declaring himself dictator for life.
The saying “Beware the ides of March” comes from this script. It refers to March 15 44 B.C. when Julius Caesar was stabbed to death on the steps of the forum by a group of democrats he thought were his allies. The act becomes a turning point in Roman history and a cautionary tale — lest future politicians also compromise their ideals to cement their grip on power.
Yet the lesson from the rise and fall of Julius Caesar has been largely ignored by politicians throughout the ages. From Napoleon Bonaparte to Benito Mussolini, self-proclaimed dictators have regularly met various ignoble ends.
“How many times will this story keep repeating?” asked Usher, who believes William Shakespeare has sharply pinpointed many aspects of human nature through Julius Caesar.
There’s the allure of absolute power, the struggle between one’s conscience and convictions, and the fickleness of a public that can be easily swayed. (This latter aspect makes Usher think of the Donald Trump-mania of the U.S. presidential campaign).
The plot of Julius Caesar mostly centres on the inner turmoil that besets Marcus Brutus, who must choose between friendship to his benefactor and his political ideals. Although once loyal to Caesar, he now fears being ruled by a tyrant.
Brutus and Mark Antony, who still supports Caesar, debate about what should be done. Brutus eventually decides his love of country must take precedence over loyalty to its leader: “Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more.”
The script yields many other great lines, including Antony’s speech: “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones; So let it be with Caesar.”
Usher promises the audience action to go with all the philosophizing. Battles will be fought in Roman armor, as the play is set in ancient times.
He believes viewers will be surprised by the contemporary insights that can be gleaned from a script written 400 years ago.
Admission to Julius Caesar on the outdoor stage is by donation ($20 suggested). The two-hour production runs at 7 p.m. July 14-16 and 20, 24, 28, and at 2 p.m. on July 23 and 30. (Bring bug spray, lawn chairs and a blanket).
(A preview story on Love’s Labour’s Lost, directed by Emily Pole, will run in the Advocate on Saturday, July 16.)