Belfast Telegraph

Routine back-stabbing and abuse make today's politics resemble Shakespeare's Julius Caesar

By Lindy McDowell

In New York, the city's Public Theater has just finished a run of the great Shakespeare tragedy Julius Caesar, set in the modern day with one of the foremost military and political leaders in human history depicted as a bloke with a bouffant hairdo and long red tie.

Who tweets in his bath.

Julius Trump? Caesar should sue...

But actually it is Trump supporters who feel most aggrieved at the comparison.

Before the play finished its run a few days ago, there was added drama onstage on a couple of occasions when people stormed the set to scream abuse.

From an audience point of view you could see how this could be confusing since there were no togas to differentiate ancient Roman back-stabbers from present-day protesters.

"It was unsettling," one theatre-goer admitted. "The extras were scattered all around and the scenes where they're jumping up, you're not really sure if they're actors or protesters. It added an element of adrenaline."

The protesters were particularly incensed about the assassination scene in the production, which was, reportedly, gorily enthusiastic.

This, in fairness, would be in keeping with historical accuracy. On that unfortunate Ides of March when Julius foolishly ignored advice to stay away from the Forum, he was surrounded by up to five dozen men who stabbed him repeatedly.

But the protesters' argument is that in America, with its troubling history of attacks on previous presidents and other politicians (the latest being the recent shooting of a Republican congressman Steve Scalise), this scene could be regarded as incitement to violence, particularly against Trump.

The theatre responded by pointing out that the play is about something more complex than the central assassination. As the play's director puts it: "This play... warns about what happens when you try to preserve democracy by non-democratic means, and again, spoiler alert: it doesn't end up too good."

In our era of 140 character brevity, however, you can see why the protracted denouement of Elizabethan drama could be seen as a bit of an irrelevance.

All Trump supporters see is a blunt depiction of their man being horribly killed. And in the volatile US of A, they may indeed have a valid message about the sensitivity and indeed wisdom of this.

One unexpected result of the controversy has been a bit of a backlash in America. Against William Shakespeare.

Other theatre groups which merely have the word 'Shakespeare' in their title have also been inundated with abuse and even threats to kill.

What's in a name, indeed?

Against some of the great horrors we've witnessed in recent days, the controversy and fall-out over this play may seem relatively minor stuff.

But it is also reflective of a disturbing level of all-round viciousness that now infects politics - and political debate - as virulently as in the reign of Caesar and his one-time buddy Brutus.

In the current febrile atmosphere in the UK there is a pressing need, you would think, for leaders of all shades to show some degree of statesmanship. To rise above petty point scoring, to prioritise the needs of victims and to try, in these dangerous times, to promote unity.

To just calm things down a bit.

This isn't the same as conceding ground to your opponent. Or passing up on the opportunity to challenge and denounce them.

But we could do without attention-seeking airhead celebs harping on and whipping up division. And even worse, democratically elected public representatives now talking about seizing people's property and bringing their legions on to the street.

Right now the country needs Days of Rage like Caesar needed that lunchtime appointment at the Forum.

This will not end well.

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