Continuing the long tradition of hackneyed attempts to “make Shakespeare relevant,” Shakespeare in the Park this summer chose to stage its production of Julius Caesar with an eye towards current events. The conqueror of Gaul was therefore rendered with ginger hair and a red tie worn long enough to conceal ones manhood. Considering the probable political valence of this rendition, this was an odd choice.
The Bard portrays Caesar as the people’s hero, beloved by the unwashed of the Roman streets, who thrice rejects the offer of a crown (but also shares the president’s odd habit of referring to himself in the third person). The political elite, disgusted by the pomp and popularity (“Rome, thou hast lost the breed of noble bloods,” laments Cassius), decide to take matters into their own hands. It ends badly: in death both for the assassins personally and for the republic they claimed to love, with Caesar’s heir Octavian installed as emperor. Shakespeare in the Park turned Elizabethan drama into alt-right allegory, a warning against those who talk too loosely of removing the people’s chosen representative. The whole display is as inexplicable as it is gauche.
Choosing to look a gift horse in the mouth, the trumpkins raised hell. No other president would have been subjected to the indignity of being assassinated on stage, they asserted(other than, well, all those presidents who have). This left wing “violence” could not be countenanced. When an unstable man opened fire on the congressional baseball practice earlier this month, they had their proof: the “climate of hate” was responsible for the attack. Shakespeare in the Park had blood on its hands. Certain brave citizens chose to take proactive measures. One Laura Loomer, of a Canadian media outlet known as “The Rebel,” charged onto the stage to personally admonish actors for putting on such an opprobrious play. Security removed her, as security is wont to do. Her employers quickly setup “FreeLaura.com,” because the domain was available, to solicit donations for the legal defense of this patriot—well, they actually set up the website hours before the stage-storming. Like Nelson Mandela before her, Loomer was released from the Central Park jail after a couple of hours.
Jack Posobiec, an unemployed journalist who Wikipedia describes as “known primarily for his controversial comments on Twitter,” filmed the episode from their seats in what must have been a particularly inexpensive section of the audience, screaming something about “Goebbels” (or maybe he’s talking about gerbils, given his pronunciation—it’s hard to tell) haphazardly throughout.
Posobiec’s previous contributions to the national discourse include the assertion that a member of my law school’s faculty trafficked catamites through the basement of a Chevy Chase pizzeria, planting “Rape Melania” signs at anti-Trump protests, and hosting a podcast about the television program Game of Thrones. For this, and other services to the republic, he was, until recently, entitled to a White House press credential.
The ignorant misdeployment of art in service of politics has a long pedigree. Ronald Reagan used to enter campaign events to a bitter, ironic lament of the ways in which the country had abandoned its veterans. Then-Baltimore-Mayor Martin O’Malley declared his candidacy for governor of Maryland by taking inspiration from The Great Gatsby, claiming that under his leadership the state would “beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” John Wilkes Booth cited none other than Julius Caesar as inspiration for his actions (one imagines he forgot how it ends, though his demise was fittingly comparable to the antagonists’ in the play). Trotsky described art as a hammer with which one could reshape society. Often those who attempt to wield that hammer seem to hit themselves on the thumb.
“All Gaul is divided into three parts,” Caesar (the real one) tells us at the opening of his narrative of the Gallic Wars. As with the Aquitani and the Celts of premodern Europe, we find ourselves living on a continent cleaved into mutually unintelligible tribes. It doesn’t matter much, in the end, in which ways this or that Shakespeare company chooses to torture the classics. The whole point of art, Oscar Wilde reminds us, is that it’s ultimately useless. But the instinctual run to the battlements in defense of one’s team is toxic to democracy, and to liberty when it is in defense of power—it is precisely the fear of that sort of demagoguery that drives our fictional Brutus to regicide. Posobiec can babble on about Joseph Goebbels if he likes, but of course Goebbels was not a theater director making a sophomoric political allegory, he was a government official who protected the power of the regime by effectively disseminating his message through the channels of media. Goebbels had Leni Riefenstahl, Steve Bannon gets Jack Posobiec. This town needs a better class of authoritarian hack.