Julius Caesar in Sana’a [Archives:2004/729/Culture]

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April 15 2004

By Mohammed Saeed Al-Mekhlafi
Yemen Times Staff

A hundred years have gone by since the Yemeni theatre was established. On this occasion, many plays were performed in the cultural centre in Sana'a. Julius Caesar was performed in English by a batch of young students from Aden University to mark the happy occasion of Sana'a now being the cultural capital of the Arab world. Nowadays universities, throughout the world, pride themselves not only in the execution of academic work, but also in these entertaining and simultaneously supportive and instructive extracurricular activities. Those young students had been chosen by Professor Aziz Al-Muttalibi, who paid increased attention to teaching them how to pronounce Shakespearean language properly. After working hard on this play, the students could stand up to the problems they faced – time wasting, the negative reaction the college and others. The obstacles put in their path, were all in vain in front of their determination. On the other hand, the well-known director Jamal Mahfoudh and assistant Fuad have done their best to direct this play, which has modified the intellectual public mood.
The central act of this play is the stabbing of Julius Caesar. Led by the principled Brutus, and urged by the pragmatic Cassius, the conspirators perform a 'bloody' act which will have terrible consequence. But why does Shakespeare name a play of action after a character that plays only a small part (130 lines out of 2,500), a character in addition who dies in the middle of the dramatic action? The answer could be that although Caesar appears for a short period on the stage, shorter, in fact that any other of Shakespeare's major characters, in name he dominates the play. It occurs, echoes and re-echoes more than that of any of Shakespeare's major protagonists, 211 times in comparison with Brutus' 130 times. This point suggests that the body goes but that the name lives on. In a relevant sense, Caesar and Brutus both refer to themselves in the third person. Here the self and the name are twined. Cassius 'seduces' Brutus to his designs by referring to Caesar's name. “What should be in that 'Caesar'? Why should that name be sounded more than your.”
The names of 'Rome' and 'Romans' are also often heard in the play. They, in fact, occur seventy-two times. But it is the imaginative vision of Julius Caesar that impresses us. Shakespeare's lurid and startling imagery here carries its effects lightly. It reveals itself, for instance, in the animal suggestions and recurrences that pervade the dramatic scene. We have beasts, of all kinds, vividly illustrated: dogs, horses, lions, lionesses (a lioness, says calparnia, hath whelped in the street), eagles, ravens, crow, owls, kites, deer, etc. Over Caesar's body we see Antony lamenting “How like a deer, struck by many princes”.
These references are presented as ominous symbols of disorder. Likewise, dramatic action is illumined by the flash of metals. Daggers and swords abound and suggest spirited action. Thus, a quarrelsome Cassius, who repents his previous acts, tells angry Brutus to kill him with his own dagger. “There is my dagger. And here my naked breast, within, a heart Dearer than Plutus' mine, richer than gold, will give my heart”. This sympathetic human realism recounts not only ordinary things such as Caesar's parks, city walls, towers, etc. but also small things like napkins, tapers, hats and closets: “And will he steal out of his wholesome bed?” Portia protests against Brutus's vigil. References to personal appearances also enact this human realism. Thus 'countenances', 'brows', 'looks', smiles', 'eyes', ears', tongues', 'feet', fingers', 'beards', 'wounds', 'throats', 'breaths', 'breasts', etc are dramatically repeatedly referred to. Here are three illustrative examples from an endless catalogue, referring to 'brows', 'eyes', and 'smiles'. Thus the noble Brutus soliloquizes:
“O conspiracy. Sham'st thou to show they dangerous brow by might when evils are free?” Brutus, also, seeing, Caesar's ghost cries: “I think it is the weakness of my eyes. That shapes this monstrous apparition.” And this shows us how Caesar describes how a grim Cassius seldom smiles and smiles in such a sort.
Shakespeare emphasises that which nourishes the body, i.e the life forces of eating, drinking and sleeping. Thus the apprehension of the human body is coupled with that which refreshes it. However, the forces of life are enunciated as being vitiated by their opposites. Accordingly, illness is shown to pervade the play. Portia cries in Act II, “O, I grow faint.” She also asks Brutus ironically if he is ill. Caesar's 'fever', makes him 'shake'. He is 'deaf' in his left ear (a dramatic addition of Shakespeare). His gesture to mark Antony is quite suggestive. “Come on my right hand, for this ear is deaf”. Rome itself is 'sick' and calls for 'redress'.
Yet all throughout the play, there is the suggestion that the body if weak, the spirit is not. Julius Caesar may be rightly called the play of emotions. We have passages where tears are freely shed and where weeping punctuates the texture of the poetic text. There is, thus, much weeping in Mark Antony's speech. He himself is seen, through the crowd's eyes, weeping and has to stop his speech. “Poor, soul, his eyes are red as fire with weeping”. He also entices the citizens to weep. “If you have tears, prepare to shed them now the swaying plebians also weap. O, now you weep, and I perceive, you feel the dint of pity: these are gracious drops his end, his eyes are tearful. As Caesar loved me, I weep for him. There is tears for his love.” A kind of sympathetic sorrow regulates 'love' in these highly emotional passages. 'Blood', a life force, overwhelms the whole play. It, in fact , drenches it. In this play, Shakespeare equates it with 'honour' or 'love'. Brutus, thus, refers to 'blood' to soothe his worried wife. “You are my true and honourable wife. As dear to me as are the ruddy drops that visit my sad heart”. Blood imagery that imposes itself on us does not frighten us has as it does in gruesome Macbeth where the horrible effects are carried heavily. The recurrent references to 'heart' also associate themselves with 'honour'. Brutus had rather 'coin' his heart than accept bribery. The references to 'heart' thicken with the murder of Caesar, the 'heart' of the world as Antony declares.
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