The Mistakes of Rome: A Warning to the American Republic

America is only a republic “if we can keep it” through democratic means.

“We have a Government. A Republic, if you can keep it,” said Benjamin Franklin, described as the most accomplished American of his age and the most influential in inventing the type of society America would become, after the conclusion of  the 1787 convention for a new government.

With attacks against the first amendment continuing to rise in an era where the facts are becoming more and more easily distorted, a particular play from last summer comes to mind that was once surrounded in controversy.

Shakespeare in the park’s ‘Julius Caesar’ was a median to carry a message of warning from the history of Rome about the consequences of preserving democracy by undemocratic means.

The significance of the play’s message reflects our modern era, but miss-interpretations of it provoked a debate among both the media and the American people.

The Julius Caesar of the play steps further and further away from the norms of the Roman Republic, with strong support among the Roman people, and increases his power to a point that a handful of Senators decide to, and successfully, assassinate him. However, little did they know that their attempt to save their democracy is what brought such ideals to a horrific end until it was far too late.

Directed by Oskar Eustis and cast by actors and personalities such as Elizabeth Marvel and Corey Stoll from Netflix series ‘House of Cards’, the play teaches its audience how a republic evolved into empire with the rise and fall of Rome’s greatest leaders.

Whether or not the democratic principles of the great Roman Republic would have survived Julius Caesar is unknown, but his assassination only served to quicken its end to bring about a totalitarian regime. Brutus and his fellow senators strongly attempted to make the assassination appear “boldly, but not wrathfully, not murderous, but purification” to save the values of democracy.

However, making their case to the people of Rome by washing in the blood of Caesar and chanting ‘Tyranny is Dead’ was met only with great anger and the demand for the blood of the conspiring senators.

Given the tumultuous time we live in today politically in the Age of Donald Trump, the message of this play was clouded in the minds of many as the actor who played as Julius Caesar had a strong resemblance to the President with a black suit, red tie, and blond hair. Ignoring the message for political reasons or simply not realizing the point of the show, many people viewed the theatrical drama as a liberal social gathering to incite violence against the President of the United States.

Therefore (and not intended), the play surmounts its reflection of history and further exposes the political fragmentation that the 2016 presidential election created. However, according to those who went to see the play, Julius Caesar was dressed to be perceived as the President to give people a view of history with a modern touch.

“Drama is related to the greater vision…and you never know what you would learn anywhere,” 32-year-old Melissa said, a TV producer for the culinary competition show Chopped.

The show is an example of “free speech” to give a perspective on how modern events could be re-shaped to reflect past mistakes, Melissa added

Another couple who comes to see Shakespeare in the Park every year simply enjoys works by Shakespeare because of what one can learn.

“Works by Shakespeare are vastly different from other theatrical works. The tremendous use of language…content and venue…it is a required taste,” says 30-year-old Wassim Armanios currently in marketing.

“Works from Shakespeare are intellectual works in which the general themes are universal…and its being presented today in a median that is livelier.”

Armanios read Shakespeare in both high school and college and was accompanied by 33-year-old Marissa Job who is also in marketing.

The liveliness of theater as opposed to film and screen is no more powerfully described than by 62-year-old Real Estate Broker Craig Thompson:

“Even if you’re not happy with what you saw, theater provides learning lessons in real-time, and thus, theater brings forth a function of art,” which is to display perspective and give deeper meaning to the subject at hand.

As of now, Shakespeare in the Park’s Julius Caesar, whose purpose is to reflect the mistakes of the past, is only a nuance to our modern reality. President Trump is no Julius Caesar. He does not enjoy the great love of all his people like Julius Caesar once did, and the American people have not lost faith in the democratic principles that keeps their country together.

However, there are signs.

Brutus and his fellow senators, who thought by assassinating Julius Caesar would save democracy, had actually lost faith in their own values themselves to the point that they felt the need to solve a pressing issue by undemocratic means.

On June 14th, 2017, four days before Julius Caesar would conclude, a lone gunman who was, according to the New York Times, “distraught over President Trump’s election,” shot at members of the Republican congressional baseball team in Alexandria, Virginia and nearly killed Steve Scalise, the majority Whip of the House of Representatives: A latest and prime example of the possibility that such dangers, as described in the play, could occur when people lose faith in their democracy.

As I walked outside the Delacorte Theater after the play concluded, I, as well as the other attendees, were met with Trump protesters chanting “God Bless Donald Trump” while under the watchful eye of the NYPD patrollers.

As I looked on, I immediately saw a similarity between the protesters and the Romans that rioted in anger at the knowledge of Julius Caesar’s assassination. I couldn’t help but wonder if such events in the play could actually be repeated given our modern climate under the right conditions.

 

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