Two companies have withdrawn their sponsorships of The Public Theater’s production of “Julius Caesar” because the lead character looks like President Donald Trump. | Joan Marcus/The Public Theater via AP

Reaction to ‘Julius Caesar’ truly a tragedy

SHARE Reaction to ‘Julius Caesar’ truly a tragedy
SHARE Reaction to ‘Julius Caesar’ truly a tragedy

“Thus the whirligig of time brings in his revenges.”

That’s Shakespeare, not me, I should mention, lest I be accused of plagiarism.

I’m not even sure what a “whirligig” is — a spinning contraption, I imagine. (Bingo. “A toy that spins around,” the dictionary tells us, “a top or a pinwheel.”)

As to what the sentence means, being literature, it’s open to interpretation. I’d guess it’s a fancy way of saying, “You get what you pay for.”


Do we ever. The initial pushback against Donald Trump — the mass protests, the investigations — are encouraging to Democrats eager to soften the throbbing sting of our country electing this guy.

But being liberals, we are allowed — nay, required — to question our own assumptions. The idea that Trump’s election awoke this slumbering liberal behemoth that somehow couldn’t get out of bed Nov. 8 has to be, to some degree, a self-flattering narrative,a comforting illusion.

There’s a lot of that going around. There is pushback, sure. But the country is also becoming more Trumpian every day. It has to.

For instance, The Public Theater production of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” in New York’s Central Park just lost two sponsors, Delta Air Lines and Bank of America. They pulled out because the Roman dictator is depicted as a rather Trump-like individual, complete with overly long red necktie.

That sort of updating of the Bard is nothing new. “Julius Caesar” is a rumination on power and corruption, and bringing it into current politics is a standard dramatic technique. It’s been done from 1937, when Orson Wells served up a Mussolini-like Caesar, to 2012, when Barack Obama got his turn, without any noticeable outcry, not to mention productions jabbing Stalin and other tyrants.

Nor is this technique limited to “Julius Caesar.” In 1985 when Chicago’s own Robert Falls directed “Hamlet,” he made Gertrude a Nancy Reagan vision in red, watching her doomed hubby on the green room monitor with a fixed, adoring smile.

Like Caesar, Claudius gets killed in the end — and this was 1985, remember, when Ronald Reagan was president. A president who had been shot only a few years earlier.

We must have been made of stronger stuff in the 1980s. I don’t remember Republican panties getting into a knot, the way they fell over themselves, aghast at the fate of Caesar/Trump. Falls’ production was not seen as some kind of malign suggestion regarding the real president. It was a play.

Lest I mis-remember — a lot of that going around, too — I thought I should check with the source. Is the reception of “Julius Caesar” a sign we’ve become timid?

“Absolutely,” Falls replied, noting, the “whole situation is ludicrous” and evoking another Shakespeare play.

“The other thing I found amazing was yesterday’s farce of ‘King Lear,’ in which Trump’s Cabinet members had to sit around pledging love and allegiance. Truly appalling.”

It was quite the spectacle.

“We thank you for the opportunity and blessing to serve your agenda,” groveled White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.

“The exact opening of ‘King Lear,'” said Falls,where the failing old monarch demands his daughters sing his praises.

“Which of you shall we say doth love us most?” Lear asks. The two grasping daughters fawn on command, while honorable Cordelia remains mute. “I cannot heave my heart into my mouth,” she says.

Actually, what we see here are hearts, not going into mouths, but into brains. People think with their emotions. They believe whatever feels right, and reject what doesn’t, offering up whatever hallucination they can concoct on the spot. Which is why Sandy Hook conspiracy theorist Alex Jones is being spotlighted on NBC this Sunday.

And why those focusing on the person of Donald Trump are missing the point. It isn’t that an ineffectual liar and serial fantasist is leading the country. It’s that American citizens voted for him and are supporting him still, no matter what he says or does. We began with Shakespeare, so let’s end with him, a song from the truth-telling fool in “King Lear.”

Then they for sudden joy did weep, And I for sorrow sung, That such a king should play bo-peep, And go the fools among.

The tragedy of Lear is that he is a noble king who went mad. To update the play to 2017, we’d need both a king and his subjects losing their wits together.

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