Presented in repertory, William Shakespeare's JULIUS CAESAR and Marcus Gardley's X: OR, BETTY SHABAZZ VS THE NATION examine two charismatic leaders who rise only to fall victim to rivalry, resentment and retribution. More information about X may be found here.
Synopsis of William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar
The Acting Company's Julius Caesar will be a 90-minute abridged version of Shakespeare's tragedy.
Shakespeare's play begins on the Festival of Lupercal as Julius Caesar and his forces return to Rome after defeating the armies of Pompey, Caesar's primary political rival. While Rome is celebrating his triumph, some senators are worried that Caesar is on the path to becoming a king.
Gaius Cassius, a powerful senator, approaches fellow senator Marcus Brutus, a close friend of Caesar, to elicit support for a conspiracy against Caesar. The discussion becomes more urgent as Mark Antony publicly offers Caesar a crown three times, to which Caesar refuses. They part. promising to meet soon and discuss concrete plans.
That night a terrible storm descends on the city; observers describe rains of fire, beasts and dead warriors walking the streets. Under the storm's cover, the Conspirators gather and make plans to murder Caesar the following day. Brutus is recruited as their leader and spokesmen, despite his qualms. After a sleepless night, the senators meet Caesar in the morning to ensure he makes his way to the Senate. They find Caesar already awake, checking the omens and trying to assuage his wife's concern for his safety.
As Caesar enters the senate, the Conspirators distract Mark Antony while Caska leads them to gather around and murder Caesar. Mark Antony finds them with bloodied hands and arranges to accompany Caesar's body, see to his honorable burial and address the gathered funereal crowd. The Conspirators reluctantly agree. After they leave, Mark Antony vows to Caesar's corpse that his death will be avenged.
At the funeral, Brutus placates the crowd by assuring them of the noble intent behind the assassination. After Brutus leaves, Mark Antony speaks to the crowd and persuades them that Caesar was a generous leader who brought wealth and glory to Rome. The crowd's resulting rage is so intense that they immediately riot. They hunt down the Conspirators, burn their homes and murder villagers. In the aftermath, Mark Antony, Lepidus and Octavius Caesar form a new triumvirate to seize control of the city. They execute a large number of the Conspirators. Brutus and Cassius escape to gather their armed forces.
Months later, Brutus and Cassius have taken control of a war-torn nation and amassed a significant army; Octavius and Mark Antony set out to confront them. Both sides struggle with distrust and division amongst their leaders, but overcome it in the face of the larger battle. At Phillipi, the armies meet and the forces of Cassius and Brutus are defeated. Brutus and Cassius each decide to commit suicide rather than accept defeat, and Mark Antony and Octavius return to Rome victorious.
As is often found in Shakespearean productions, some cast members play multiple roles.
Julius Caesar, a great Roman general who has recently returned to Rome after a military victory in Spain
Marcus Brutus, a high-ranking, well-regarded Roman nobleman who participates in a conspiracy to assassinate Caesar
Julius Caesar is not the main character of the play that bears his name; Brutus has over four times as many lines, and the play does not show us Caesar's point of view. Nonetheless, virtually every character is preoccupied with Caesar—specifically, with the possibility that he may soon become king.
Caesar becoming king would mean the end of Rome's republican government system, in which senators, representing the citizens of Rome, would lose their power. To noblemen like Brutus and Cassius, who consider themselves equal to other citizens, Caesar's coronation would mean they would no longer be free men. Caesar never explicitly says that he wants to be king—he even refuses the crown three times in a dramatic public display—but he seems to regard himself as special and superior nonetheless. In his own mind, he is already an absolute ruler.
Brutus is motivated by his sense of honor, which requires him to place the good of Rome above his own personal interests or feelings. Thus, he plots against Caesar to preserve the republic even though he personally loves and admires Caesar. Brutus's sense of honor is also his weakness, as he tends to assume that his fellow Romans are as like-minded as he is, which makes it easy for others to manipulate him.
Mark Antony, general and loyal friend to Caesar
Caius Cassius, conspirator against Caesar
In contrast to the self-disciplined Brutus, Antony is notoriously impulsive and pleasure-seeking; passionate rather than principled. As resourceful as he is unscrupulous, Antony proves to be a dangerous enemy of Brutus and the other conspirators.
Octavius Caesar, Caesar's adopted son and appointed successor
A talented general and longtime acquaintance of Caesar, Cassius resents the fact that the Roman populace has come to revere Caesar quite like a god. He slyly leads Brutus to believe that Caesar has become too powerful and must die, finally converting Brutus to his cause by sending him forged letters claiming that the Roman people support the death of Caesar. Impulsive and unscrupulous like Antony, Cassius harbors no illusions about the way the political world works. A shrewd opportunist, he acts effectively but lacks integrity.
Casca, one of the conspirators
Octavius, who had been traveling abroad, returns after Caesar's death, then joins with Antony to fight Cassius and Brutus. Antony tries to control Octavius's movements, but Octavius emerges as the authoritative figure.
Portia, wife of Brutus and the daughter of a noble Roman (Cato) who took sides against Caesar
Casca is a tribune (an official elected to represent the common people of Rome) who resents Caesar's ambition. A rough and blunt-speaking man, Casca relates to Cassius and Brutus how Antony offered the crown to Caesar three times and how each time Caesar declined it. Casca insists, however, that Caesar was merely acting, manipulating the populace into believing that he has no personal ambition. He is the first to stab Caesar.
Calpurnia, wife of Julius Caesar
Portia, accustomed to being Brutus's confidante, is upset to find him so reluctant to speak his mind when she finds him troubled.
Decius Brutus, a conspirator against Caesar
Calphurnia closely follows omens and portents. She warns Caesar against going to the Senate on the Ides of March, for she has had terrible nightmares and heard reports of many bad omens.
Titinius, an officer in Brutus's Army
Played by the same actor who portrays Octavius Caesar
Cinna, a conspirator against Caesar
Played by the same actor who portrays Casca
Luculius, an officer in Brutus's army
Metellus Cimber, a conspirator against Caesar
Played by the same actor who portrays Calphurnia
Lucius, Brutus's servant and an officer of Brutus's army
Played by the same actor who portrays Portia
Pindarus, an officer in Brutus's army
All played by the same actor
Trebonius, a conspirator against Caesar
Messala, an officer in Brutus' army
All played by the same actor
For interactive projects and discussion guides, try the production's Family Activity and use JULIUS CAESAR as inspiration to discuss power, legacy and the nature of leadership. (Coming soon!)