Playing Julius Caesar

March 15, 2015

Rep Company member Scott Wright shares his research into the real-life history of Julius Caesar.



Winning the role of a historical character is always a bit exciting for me.  As an amateur historian, I enjoy doing a little research into who that person really was, and often too, about the other characters and people in that person's life.

The story of the murder of Gaius Julius Caesar (which happened Mar. 15, 44 BCE) seems almost universally known as the experience of reading or seeing Shakespeare's play has been a part of most 10th-grade students' English curriculum for decades.

What is historically known about Julius Caesar is largely thanks to his own autobiographical writings (mostly his sometimes exaggerated accounts of his major political accomplishments,) and to the Roman historians of post-Republican Rome (the Empire - the period ushered in by Julius Caesar's grand-nephew and adopted heir, Gaius Julius Caesar Octavius - or simply Octavius, who would become know to history as Caesar Augustus.)

As our play opens it's mid-February and Caesar is "enjoying" the festivities of the Lupercalia.  He has led an active and successful military and political life.  He has been re-elected Consul again, been named Pater Patriae (father of the country) and Dictator in Perpetuum - by the will of the people and the senators of Rome.  He has instituted social and political reforms - sometimes acting with a fine disregard for Tribunal powers, and has made numerous enemies amongst the rich patrician elite.  He has even changed the calendar!  (Historical note:  the Julius Caesar's calendar with 365.25 days - one leap day every four years - was virtually identical to our present-day calendar.  After his death, the Romans messed it up by not including the leap day so it had to be adjusted again fifteen centuries later...)  Caesar has been for almost a decade, the most powerful man in the Republic.  He has become the undisputed master of the Roman state largely by force of personality and strength of will.  His was a keen mind and very little it seems could keep him from accomplishing his goals. 

Shakespeare seems to compress the time period of events in his story - especially early on - the month between Lupercalia & the ides of March seems in the play to be just two consecutive days.  The conspirators hatch their plan in the dark of the night and the very next day they do the deed.    Shakespeare's Caesar appears to be both tyrannical and insecure - conceited and apt to give in to his wife's fears.  He might even be genuinely surprised and shocked at being brutally murdered just when things are going so great for him.

Here's some other historical tid-bits that Shakespeare doesn't really let us in on :

Calpurnia is Caesar's third wife (his first having died and he divorced his second.)  They have been married about ten years when Caesar is killed.

Caesar was captured by pirates, who demanded twenty talents of silver as ransom.  Caesar scoffed, insisting that they ask fifty.  Once the ransom was paid and Caesar released, he assembled a fleet and pursued and captured the pirates, then had them all crucified. 

Shakespeare seems to hint that there has been at least a suggestion of naming Caesar a god - but he would not actually be officially deified until two years after his death...

Caesar seems to have had a number of children:
Julia - by his first wife.  Born when Caesar was around 18 or 19.
Caesarion - with Cleopatra VII from when he was in Egypt fighting in Cleopatra's civil war against her brother.   Born 47 BCE, Caesarion would be killed at age 17 by Octavius.
Marcus Junius Brutus - The historian Plutarch apparently notes that Caesar believed Brutus to have been his illegitimate son by Servilia Caepionis - from a time in their youth when they were lovers.

 

 

 

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