As straight a line as you’ll see in these parts
Ides of March, round the corner this afternoon, just found out about it today, a Roman historical society recreation of Caesar’s murder 2060 years ago, too good an opportunity. I take my Shakespeare class to the 5 o’clock show of the annual mock assassination above what was Teatro Pompei at Largo Argentina. A student asked whether this would be Shakespeare’s version of Julius Caesar and I said no, for then we would all have to go to The Forum, queue forever since faculty can’t breeze through with students any more, pay €15 to get in and once we are in there are no signposts for the Senate House or anywhere so nobody would know where to go and we might just get upset. Instead, we are going to the actual location of Caesar’s assassination which is much more accessible and known throughout the city as a top quality cat sanctuary where hundreds of them do fuck all all day among the ruins.
Crossing Ponte Garibaldi we have a quick chat about Brutus and Shakespeare’s development of inner psychology, about the advent in his work of a character’s deliberation on and evaluation of a future trauma. Brutus is a prototype of Hamlet, Shakespeare’s next to die before his time. That and the fact that if you are going to knock off Julius Caesar, king of the unfree pre-Christian world, you’d better have a plan for what to do after (which seems to appeal to a couple of marketing majors taking their lit requirement).
We arrive into a crowd staring at a bunch of old boys dressed up as senators, they’ve done this for years, all the gear thanks to a local theatre, smatterings of skin-toned powder, quick check of the sandals, quick cigarette before the show begins in which they’ll re-enact that fatal morning for the god of absolutely fucking everything in 44BC. Lead by praetors and mean-looking centurions with Shakira tattoos and watches, the holy togad sweep in and out of a theatrical square 30’ by 30’ on the west side of the ruins, bang in front of the tablecloth, bed sheet and curtain emporium.
Placing my own Roman nose beyond the frame, too much competition
They put on a 30-minute show with a narrator for Suetonius and Plutarch’s narratives, and Shakespeare-as-performed for: Caesar’s murder; Brutus first up in front of the crowd (I have no problem referring to this as a truly epic fail); and Mark Anthony kicking Brutus’ absent ass all over town. None of which I could manage to photograph without blindly raising my phone-cum-camera above my head which I am not prepared to do in the service of culture.
Notwithstanding the several papier-mache columns held still by chunky men dressed as gladiators, many phones-cum-cameras were however raised high above our heads to record something to show the folks after dinner. There were TV cameras there too so we could just, like, watch the real thing and catch up later on Youtube, but let’s not stray into the viewing habits of generation whatever we are.
Determined that this should not be a male-dominated event, lots of Roman ladies dressed as Calpurnias and Portias – tresses and dresses, expensive neckwear, the full bella figura, the real powers behind the throne – join in the general post-stabbing clamour. While their attendance remains historically undocumented they do bring a certain sense of horror and revolt at the brutal murder of their husband and leader in a manner seemingly unavailable to their male counterparts the ageing-rocker-in-toga senators.
Not now, Cato!
Between scenes I have a chat with Catone – Cato – about what he is doing there having died two years prior, in 46BC. He replies that Cato’s presence bolsters the integrity of the event given the immense respect held for him by the Roman senators of the period. He’d been asked 3 years ago by his friend Giuseppe who owed him a favour and who is Brutus and therefore has some sway. And yes, he knows he is technically dead.
The assassination of Caesar comes as a big disappointment, four rows back as I am, on tiptoe, hoping for a least a fountain of spouty gore; surely they’ll bust out the blood bags if they’ve gone to all this effort. Nihil. Niente. Et tu, Brute passes stainlessly but then the plastic daggers they thrust around are a joke and are available in the younger person’s section of Tiger for €3.00 each.
In terms of quality, from evil yet tremulous senators gathering early doors to Mark Anthony on the podium, the old fellas put on a good show with lots of big gestures, furtive glances and all-round anticipation of one another’s lines. In terms of Shakespeare’s enduring reach in his 400th death centenary and given that he scripted half of what we saw, the students were introduced to Shakespeare appropriated into local taste, rather like MacDonald’s selling wanton burgers in China.
I explain that there is very little street theatre in Rome beyond people dressed as the Statue of Liberty who don’t move much. Here, instead, is a random outdoor audience of 500 or so forming a square perimeter five or 6 rows deep with plenty of standard Roman bustle, TV cameras and people looking knowledgeable, cigarette smoke bombs everywhere, folk shoving through to get a better view or at least to not have to stand behind me which is fair enough.
It is, all in, peculiarly local even 2060 years on and happens, for my class, entirely out of the blue. I was thinking of hitting them with 1.1 of Hamlet which takes place on a freezing night in the Danish pitch black with soldiers who are edgy to say the least. Instead, we get warm afternoon sunshine, gold Roman light, and a bunch of bons vivants, friends for years, some come with their wives to Caesar’s death-place dressed as soldierly extras with cracking lion-head gear and polished chest plates, bossing the piazza but at least not charging €50 for photographs, while others slip on the sashes and sandals for their yearly Ides, March 15, petitions in hand, smiles on their treacherous faces, Tiger daggers tucked away inside well-folded robes.
And finally there is the light on the Tiber as we return to campus.