“Et tu, Brute?”
“It’s all Greek to me.”
”Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.”
“Let slip the dogs of war”
These are some of the lines from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar that have made their way into our cultural lexicon. Shakespeare’s play about power, democracy, and tyranny in ancient Rome was popular with audiences in the years following its 1599 premiere, and continues to be one of the Bard’s best-known and most-studied tragedies. OSF is thrilled to share our powerful 2017 production of Julius Caesar, directed by the amazing Shana Cooper. You can watch it HERE.
Here are five things to know about the play before you sit down to watch:
1.) Julius Caesar was probably written in early 1599, an important year in Shakespeare’s life and in English politics. In A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599, Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro writes that the Bard penned Julius Caesar after “something of a creative hiatus,” and that in 1599 he also completed Henry V and As You Like It, while also drafting Hamlet and participating as a shareholder in the construction of the Globe Theatre. While 1599 was a full year for Shakespeare, it was a tense one for England: The Crown had crushed a rebellion in Ireland, the people had panicked at the threat of another attack from the Spanish Armada, and the whole country was waiting anxiously to see who might succeed the aging and childless Queen Elizabeth I.
2.) Shakespeare’s source for the play was Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans (translated into English by Sir Thomas North and published in 1579 and again in 1595). Shakespeare was an inveterate adaptor of historical accounts, ancient myths, and cultural tales, often making judicious cuts and creative embellishments to craft a compelling story for the stage. With the history of Julius Caesar’s assassination, this meant compressing the chronology of events, condensing two separate battles into one climactic skirmish at Philippi, and injecting soaring rhetoric and moving poetry into both Brutus’s and Mark Antony’s now-famous funeral orations
3.) The earliest known performance of Julius Caesar was held on September 21, 1599. We know this thanks to the Swiss traveler Thomas Platter, who recorded the date in his diary after seeing the performance in 1599. Now you have a reason to keep a journal—it might come in handy 422 years later.
4.) Julius Caesar has been produced eight times in OSF’s history. The most recent production before 2017 was performed in the Thomas Theatre in 2011, directed by Amanda Dehnert. Vilma Silva played Julius Caesar, Jonathan Haugen played Brutus, Gregory Linington played Cassius, and Danforth Comins (who plays Brutus in our 2017 production streaming now) played Mark Antony.
5.) Movement was central to Director Shana Cooper’s vision of the world of Julius Caesar. Learn more in this essay from the 2017 OSF Playbill.
Bonus fact! Julius Caesar is one of Shakespeare’s shorter plays at approximately 2,636 lines (Hamlet, by comparison, has approximately 4,024 lines).