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EVE OF IDES: A Play Of Caesar And Brutus – Now Available!
David Blixt -- Shakespeare Expert, Author of Historical Fiction, David Blixt -- Shakespeare Expert, Author of Historical Fiction,
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Chicago, IL
Monday, March 4, 2024


Those who know my work will recognize my constant blending of Shakespeare and history. It entertains me to reconcile gaps in history with the characters and plots of Shakespeare’s plays. I often use these to explore various quirks of history, as well as the growth of philosophy in tension with religion and government. To that end, twelve years ago I penned a play that was as much a reaction to the state of American politics as it was an exploration of a dark crevice of history / Shakespeare.

It has always bothered me that in Shakespeare’s play JULIUS CAESAR, Brutus and Caesar never have a conversation of any meaning. It’s the most important relationship in the play, and yet it’s glossed over. Having read Colleen McCullough’s marvelous MASTERS OF ROME series in my teens and twenties, as well as Plutarch, Suetonius, and Will Durant’s CAESAR AND CHRIST, I figured out what Shakespeare assumed his audience already understood, and was floored. In Shakespeare’s time, everyone was aware that Caesar had been sleeping with Brutus’ mother. They knew about the death of Cato, Portia’s father. They knew about the assassination of Caesar, and the wars that followed. They even knew the history of Brutus’ ancestry, with his forebear overthrowing the last king of Rome and starting the Republic. These were popular stories, and for anyone literate, required reading.

Often in the play it feels as though Shakespeare is sitting with a copy of PLUTARCH’S LIVES, transcribing events and references verbatim. This makes the play, as a piece of theatre, incredibly messy. Characters appear from nowhere, vanish just as suddenly. There are 47 named characters in the play, including Portia’s brother, Young Cato, who appears twice toward the end (my friend Duane over at Shakespeare Geek does a great assessment of the character here). However, if you know the history of Cato’s father and his relationship with Brutus’ wife, Young Cato’s death lands with so much more weight. That is true for much of the play, where Shakespeare tosses off references that everyone is expected to understand.

Why, then, did Shakespeare write a play in which his audience knew all the names and events involved? To change their minds about those events. He demonstrates the fickle nature of the mob, the dangers of public violence, and the peril of too much power in any one person’s hands.

He also redefined Brutus for all time.

Prior to Shakespeare, Brutus was commonly depicted as a villain, as seen in DANTE’S INFERNO, where he suffers eternal torment in the depths of Hell, alongside Cassius and Judas Iscariot. However, Shakespeare’s play transforms Brutus into a good man who commits a great evil for a noble cause. This shift in perception is monumental and, as I will demonstrate, has had a profound impact on the course of history.

I started writing EVE OF IDES to explore that character, pitting him against a Caesar more in line with history. Shakespeare’s Caesar is arrogant and sickly – both surely true! But he was also the man who had begun and won a civil war, defeated the Gauls, won Egypt, tricked pirates, and slept with the wives of all his political enemies. There was a reason he was both feared and revered. In Shakespeare, Caesar has one moment of doubt, at home with his wife. Otherwise, he is a vessel for other men’s envy or respect. The fact that Brutus and Caesar never have a discussion is, to me, the gaping hole in the play. Shakespeare wasn’t interested in exploring that, but it was all I could think about.

Another small gap I wanted to fill was Brutus’ line, “The ghost of Caesar has visited me two several times by night.” We only see the ghost once. There is a promised visitation at Philippi that Shakespeare does not explicitly give us.

I started out with the intention of filling those gaps. It turned into something more.

At the time I wrote EVE OF IDES, the Tea Party movement was taking over the US Congress, and the Senate was foreshadowing today’s utter dysfunction in its wild opposition to President Obama. Outraged at their tactics, I fretted about the repetition of history—not assassination, but rather some future leader’s frustration leading to circumventing the laws to enact change. We cannot fix laws by breaking them. Time and subsequent events have only amplified my fears.

Of course, the history of Julius Caesar, Brutus, and Rome is uniquely tied to our own. Our entire system of government is based on the Roman Republic, with their Senior and Junior Consuls, their Senate, their Plebeian Assembly, and their standing courts. The site of Capitol Hill in Washington DC was chosen because the original Maryland town was called “Rome” in honor of the nearby seven hills.

Shakespeare’s redefinition of Brutus has also affected our history. John Wilkes Booth’s father was named Junius Brutus Booth. Five months before he assassinated President Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth played Mark Antony in New York, sharing the stage with his brothers Edwin (Brutus) and Junius Jr (Cassius). Clearly the combination of his father’s name and his own experience with the play had incredible influence upon Booth. When Booth shot Lincoln and leapt/fell to the stage, Booth shouted “Sic semper tyrannis!” echoing the cries of the “Liberators” who murdered Caesar. At the Lincoln Memorial, Lincoln himself is seated in the pose of a Roman Consul.

There are always attempts, of course, to use Shakespeare’s play to comment on current events. The famous 2017 Public Theatre production portraying Caesar as Donald Trump was, to me, off base. Caesar was a great soldier, litigator, legislator, philanthropist, poet, and politician. Trump is, at best, the last of those. Subsequent events have shown Trump to be more Cassius, using low cunning and tricks to bully others to subvert the law for his own gain.

But Trump was nowhere in sight when I began writing EVE OF IDES. The question in my mind was, “When did we stop being the people we say we are?” Exploring this concept, the play became a fierce debate between patriots about the importance of laws. Caesar broke Rome’s laws to battle what he perceived as injustice. Brutus then broke Rome’s laws to stop Caesar. Their actions resulted not in a restored republic but in Rome’s law being fractured beyond repair.

The first reading was given at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey in 2012, directed by my friend Rick Sordelet, and starring the marvelous Ed Gero as Caesar. The next reading was at the Michigan Shakespeare Festival, directed by Janice L Blixt, with our good friend and frequent collaborator Robert Kauzlaric as Brutus. Since then, I’ve always wanted to bring Rob and Ed together. During the pandemic, we decided to record this, with Rob taking on the monumental task of piecing together the performances into a single, magnificent whole. Featuring stellar performances by Edward Gero as Caesar, Robert Kauzlaric as Brutus, with additional performances by Ian Geers, John Lepard, Sam Hubbard, Janice L Blixt, and myself, EVE OF IDES is a two-hour ride through a political maelstrom, with hopes and dreams felled by ambition and reality.

It’s available today across all platforms, just in time for the Ides. There’s a preview on my Patreon page, and you can purchase or preorder it here.

Ave, atque vale!

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