Review of Julius Caesar, Shakespeare's Globe
Sheffield Hallam University
Hopkins, Lisa. "Review of Julius Caesar, Shakespeare's Globe." Early Modern Literary Studies 5.2 (September, 1999): 14.1-4: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/05-2/hopkrev.htm
Julius Caesar. The Red Company, Shakespeare's Globe, 13 May- 21 September, 1999. Master of Play Mark Rylance, Master of Verse Giles Block, Master of Clothing & Properties Jenny Tiramani, Master of Music Claire van Kampen, Master of Fights Terry King, Master of Dance Sue Lefton with Jackie Matthews, Masters of Voice Peter Bridgmont and Jeannette Nelson. With Danny Sapani (Marcus Brutus), Toby Cockerell (Portia and Octavius Caesar), James Gillan (Lucius, Young Cato, and Publius), Richard Bremmer (Cassius), Liam Hourican (Trebonius, Claudio, and Dardanius), Ben Walden (Decius Brutus and Titinius), Terence Maynard (Metellus Cymber, Varrus, and Flavius), Timothy Davies (Cinna and Lepidus), Roger Gartland (Caius Ligarius, Cicero, and Cinna the Poet), Michael Rudko (Casca and Messala), Mark Lewis Jones (Mark Antony), Benedict Wong (Lucillius, Calpurnia, and Popillius Lena), Paul Shelley (Strato and Julius Caesar), Jimmy Gardner (Clitus and Soothsayer) and Quill Roberts (Artemidorus and Pindarus).
I find this a difficult production to evaluate on a number of counts. In one way, it is easy enough to describe: if you want to know what I thought of it, I thought it was awful. However, normally when I see a production, I feel as though I've wasted my time and wish I'd stayed at home, and this time I didn't. The Globe's Julius Caesar was, paradoxically enough, interestingly awful. Moreover, I could believe in its authenticity; only, just like poor sanitation, elaborate forms of torture, and the prevalence of foul smells (and, I'm sorry to say, the actors' jig at the end of the play), it is a manifestation of early modern authenticity which I could well do without.
The principal problem is the lack of emotional depth. I'm sure Danny Sapani must have had a reason for killing Caesar, but I never had any idea of what it was. Perhaps he was expressing it while I was distracted by the usherettes reproving members of the audience for video-recording the production or for letting their mobile phones go off, or perhaps I was looking away because it was the moment when the schoolchildren standing in the yard below me finally gave up the struggle, and sank as one child to the ground. In any case, the nearest I ever came to emotional involvement with the production was a sense of profound pity for Richard Bremmer's Cassius, who insisted on acting, and on trying to project a commanding stage presence and meaningful emotional trajectory for his character, even though no-one else around him seemed to feel any such amenities necessary.
So why, if the acting was so dire and the characterisation so woefully underdeveloped, was it interesting? Partly because this wasn't just a production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, but, more particularly, of Steve Sohmer's Julius Caesar. Sohmer's work, which first appeared in two articles in this journal, is essentially based on the idea that Shakespeare's plays explore calendrical change, and propounds this with both an eagerness and a methodology which sometimes transgress more conventional academic norms. Sohmer's book, Shakespeare's Mystery Play, is advertised in the programme and prominently displayed in the bookstall, and the production is guided very much by his controversial thesis that Julius Caesar, a play which he sees as primarily about Elizabeth's failure to follow the lead of Catholic Europe in reforming the Julian calendar, was expressly intended to open the new Globe theatre in June 1599. At the production which I (courtesy, like the many other academics present, of Sohmer himself) attended, the 22 June matinee, Mark Rylance came on at the beginning to declare his personal conviction that we were effectively present at the 400th anniversary of the Globe's opening performance. (Though the same announcement had apparently also been made two days earlier!) Numerous little details also reflected the influence of Sohmer's book. Sohmer argues that Brutus resembles St Peter and Cassius St Paul, so this production clearly and unequivocally had Cassius buried at Tarsus; he claims too that Caesar's role as priest is of the utmost importance to the play, so this production's Caesar wears a purple ceremonial robe over the Elizabethan costume which is otherwise all the characters' standard garb. It was, in itself, intriguing to see an instance of so direct a correlation between academic publishing and theatrical practice.
- Other aspects of the production were also of interest. Opportunities for audience involvement were never ignored, and indeed the production revealed some unexpected possibilities for this. Cassius' costume at Philippi was strongly reminiscent of Gheeraerts' portrait of Essex, and characters when they spoke of the Tiber gestured towards the invisible but adjacent Thames, giving some sense of the topicality and edge which the play must have possessed when first performed. Indeed something of that same sense of contemporary urgency was evoked when one of the plebeians who had attacked Cinna the poet poured petrol over him and prepared to torch him, while the act break which immediately followed (there was no interval, just a short break after every act) made one forcibly aware of the cleverness of construction which had ensured that the end of each act saw props or a body needing to be removed, while otherwise the action was able to flow freely. The production was, therefore, by no means devoid of interest, but too much of that interest is supplied by the nature and mechanics of the theatre itself, so that if you have seen one play performed there you have no particularly pressing reason to see another -- and that really isn't authentic.
- Steve Sohmer. Shakespeare's Mystery Play. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1999.
Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.
© 1999-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).