Julius Caesar is not my favorite Shakespeare play. I would love to see Othello redone as a modern story, with modern set design and really great actors. But that’s not happening. What’s happening is that the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park is doing Julius Caesar, and they’ve modernized it so that “Caesar” is a Donald Trump-like figure. And we all know what happens in the play, right? I mean… does anyone need a spoiler? Julius Caesar was stabbed and murdered by senators on the Ides of March. So now there’s an uproar about how “New York liberals” are “advocating” the “assassination” of the “president.” And Shakespeare in the Park’s sponsors are dropping out.
Delta Air Lines (DAL) and Bank of America (BAC) pulled their support following criticism on social media. The play has come under fire from Fox News and one of Trump’s sons.
“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,” the airline said in a tweeted statement. “Their artistic and creative direction crossed the line on the standards of good taste. We have notified them of our decision to end our sponsorship as the official airline of The Public Theater effective immediately.”
Bank of America, which noted in its statement that it has had an “11-year partnership with The Public Theater and Shakespeare in the Park,” announced that it was pulling funding from the production.
“The Public Theater chose to present ‘Julius Caesar’ in a way that was intended to provoke and offend,” the company said in a statement on Twitter on Sunday. “Had this intention been made known to us, we would have decided not to sponsor it. We are withdrawing our funding for this production.”
Before Sunday, the Public Theater was sponsored by more than a dozen organizations, including the Time Warner Foundation, a nonprofit group supported by CNN’s parent company, Time Warner. The play, which has been in previews at New York’s Delacorte Theater in Central Park and officially opens on Monday, is a contemporary take on the Shakespearean masterpiece. It features a Julius Caesar who has blonde hair and dresses in a suit and long tie rather than a toga. The Shakespeare in the Park production, which is produced by New York’s Public Theater, includes American imagery, iconography and has Caesar’s wife, Calpurnia, speak in a Slavic accent very much like first lady Melania Trump.
Fox News’ “Fox and Friends” referred to the production on Sunday as “a disgusting New York City play depicting the president brutally assassinated.” Donald Trump Jr., the President’s son, tweeted about the controversy on Sunday, saying, “I wonder how much of this ‘art’ is funded by taxpayers? Serious question, when does ‘art’ become political speech & does that change things?” And last week, right-wing news site Brietbart posted an article with the headline, “‘Trump’ Stabbed to Death in Central Park Performance of ‘Julius Caesar.’”
Jesse Green, the New York Times’ co-chief theater critic, wrote in his review that “even a cursory reading of the play, the kind that many American teenagers give it in high school” does not advocate assassination. In fact, he writes that the killing is an “unmitigated disaster for Rome, no matter how patriotic the intentions.” However, Green says that the production may leave some theatergoers, including those “who loathe Mr. Trump,” to wonder if it has “gone too far.”
Next up, Fox News will blast my old high school for their staging of Romeo and Juliet because it glamorizes teen suicide. Don’t let Don Trump Jr. see Hamlet either – he might get some ideas about Gertrude/Ivana/Melania and Hope Hicks/Ophelia. I mean, on one side, I can actually see the point of the Fox News people: the Public Theater knew exactly what they were doing with this staging and modernization, and they were actively looking for controversy. On the other side, for the love of God, everybody reads Julius Caesar in high school. Julius Caesar was assassinated! You can’t edit that sh-t out of the play. “Friends, Russians, fake news outlets…”
— ABC News (@ABC) June 12, 2017
Photos courtesy of WENN.