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…wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.

Shakespeare in the Park is doing Julius Caesar this summer, not Hamlet, but the reference is an apt one nonetheless.

Somebody’s conscience (or self-love, or something) has definitely been caught by this year’s modern-dress, Trump-inflected production of Julius Caesar, and they’ve unleashed the flying monkeys roused far-right protesters to disrupt the performance.

Shakespeare himself would have no doubt at all about what’s going on here.  The twin questions of what makes a good ruler, and what can or should be done when the realm is suffering under a bad or unjust ruler, run like a streak of red through all his plays, from early ones like Richard III to later ones like Hamlet and The Tempest.  He never comes up with any definitive answers – he was a playwright, not a political philosopher – but he certainly gives the matter a thorough inspection from all sides.

Make no mistake, what he was doing was Serious Business.  The Elizabethan censors didn’t worry about bawdry†; they worried about sedition.  Fretting too obviously about, for example, whether or not it could ever be a good and necessary thing to overthrow a reigning monarch could definitely be regarded as seditious if there wasn’t a convincing enough veil of “this all happened a long time ago, or in foreign parts, or both” thrown over things.

Art mattered.  Shakespeare knew it.  The lords and the groundlings at the Globe Theatre knew it.  The Elizabethan censors knew it.

Furthermore, art still matters.  The people who put on Shakespeare in the Park know it.  The audience knows it.  And the alt-right protesters and those who egg them on sure as hell know it, or this production wouldn’t worry them so.


The general rule for reading Shakespeare, as articulated by Elizabeth Bear: “If it looks like a dick joke, it’s a dick joke. If it doesn’t look like a dick joke – it’s probably a dick joke.”