This morning Professor Armitage summoned us for an extra half class session. Normally we will have no class on Fridays, but the professor wished to cram in some discussion of Julius Caesar (and hand out our tickets) before seeing the play. Afterwards I and one of my flatmates, Kari, began a journey across time and space:
O.K., not much of a literal journey. However, the rare books gallery (containing a Gutenberg Bible, the Magna Carta, and manuscripts of everything from Beowulf to Persuasion) was wonderful. After an hour or so in the British Library, we walked five minutes down the road to King’s Cross Station, in search of a particular platform. Once we had located Platform 9 3/4, we queued up for half an hour to take a couple of pictures with a trolley stuck partly in a wall. If ever you are lucky enough to find yourself in London, move “pictures at Platform 9 3/4” fairly far down on your list, unless you’re planning to frame the picture and hang it on your wall. Still, it was a fun way to spend part of the afternoon.
On the return trip, we stopped at two of the secondhand bookshops we’d passed. The latter of these, Skoob Books, was a lovely place; I bought a paperback Complete Works of William Shakespeare (thus far I’d been using my Kindle edition) and a much older Vergili Opera. As we were leaving, the manager mentioned that the store supplied all the books used as props in the current run of Doctor Who. I’ll be watching the books more closely in the next episode.
This evening we crossed the Thames again for Julius Caesar in the renovated Globe Theatre. I’m headed to Bath tomorrow morning and thus can’t review it properly now; suffice it to say that the play was amazing. Our group had groundling tickets and arrived early enough to get close to the stage. I’d sometimes wondered at how close the Montford Park Players get to their audience, but the stage at the Globe (which juts into the yard) was a new experience. There’s nothing quite like being elbowed by the Soothsayer so that he can warn Caesar, who then stops his procession two feet from you. Characters entered or exited the stage as frequently by the stairs leading into the audience as by the doors in the back of the stage.
The acting was excellent–I understood better than ever before why Brutus (at least in some ways) really is an honorable man. In some ways, he’s the man that Caesar would like to be perceived as. Caesar makes grand declarations about himself in the third person (“Caesar is not moved by fear”, or “Danger and I are brothers, I the elder and more terrible”–that one cracks me up), yet Cassius, Casca, & co. still ridicule and oppose him. Brutus, on the other hand, is so honorable that Marc Antony, his enemy, treats his body with respect; so honorable that Cassius, who originally plans to manipulate him, grows to care for him as deeply as a brother; so honorable that it takes him ten minutes to find a subordinate willing to follow orders and hold a sword for him to run on; so honorable that he can sway anyone but the mob.
That mob was done particularly well; the actors playing unnamed Romans usually mingled in the yard, cheering for Caesar or heckling Antony at the beginning of his speech to them. They displayed the exact same vehemence whether their cheers were for or against Caesar, Brutus, Antony, etc.
One slightly confusing aspect of the casting was that the same actors would play multiple roles. Normally this isn’t too hard to understand; however, in this play, almost all the characters are Roman senators, with similar names and dress. It takes a minute to realize that some familiar-looking person whose name you’ve forgotten is no longer Casca or Metellus Cimber (or was it Caius Ligarius?), but has instead changed roles. The one instance in which this worked well was at the end: Brutus finally convinces one of his men (whose back is to the audience) to assist him in seppuku, so the man turns around–and is played by same actor as Julius Caesar. Even though Caesar dies midway through the action, his shadow reaches over the entire play.
*I kind of cheated a little bit with this title (although I guess I make up the rules). I wasn’t familiar with this particular Harry and the Potters song until today, but I found it looking for the lyrics of those I did know–somehow it seemed relevant.