“Serious question, when does ‘art’ become political speech & does that change things?” asked Donald Trump Jr. in a tweet. He was commenting on Public Theater’s new production of “Julius Caesar,” one of the William Shakespeare’s historical drama plays.
When does “Julius Caesar” become political? It was political long before it was even written. It is, after all, about democracy, tyrants, revolt, and mob rule. In the words of Gregg Henry, it’s mostly about a leader who is “drunk with ego, drunk with power, drunk with ambition and the belief that he and he alone must rule the world.”
It doesn’t seem forced at all to cast it starring Gregg Henry as a faux-blonde bellicose Caesar with a fearful, Slavic Calpurnia and a senate of women and minorities to stab him to death. Forced? No. But controversial? Yes.
The Public Theater of New York City opened their spring production of “Julius Caesar” with a blatantly obvious Trump administration themed cast and staging on June 12, 2017. As could be expected, criticism erupted from the conservative right. Critics immediately demanded to know who was paying for the Shakespeare in the Park production (which is free to the public) and went after their sponsors.
In response, major corporate donors Delta Air Lines and Bank of America pulled their support.
“No matter what your political stance may be, the graphic staging of ‘Julius Caesar’ at this summer’s free Shakespeare in the Park does not reflect Delta Air Lines’ values,” said a Delta representative on the evening before the play was set to premiere. This marked the end of an 11-year relationship between the airline and the theater.
Oscar Eustis, director of the performance, was livid about the blind nature of the response.
Anyone familiar with the play will understand that it does not endorse assassination or undemocratic means of defending democracy. The entire play is about how badly that can go.