Julius Caesar!

I interrupt my regularly scheduled research-related post to write about my friend Laura’s practice-as-research project: a gender-bending production of Julius Caesar. Since my blog takes its name from that very play, I couldn’t really get away with not posting about it; besides that, I’ve been given the opportunity to play the man himself–or should I say herself? That’s right, folks: in this version Caesar is female, as is Antony. And Calphurnia is being played by a man. The rest of the major roles are gendered as written which means that, most significantly for Laura’s research, all of the conspirators are male.

Laura has set up this gender scenario partly  in order to raise some questions about women in power and partly to experiment with ways of cross-casting classical texts without falling into the traps of parody and stereotype (hopefully I got that right, Laura?). There are all kinds of interesting questions to be asked about a group of men who conspire to take down a female leader because of her “ambition” and even more about the way in which they get rid of her. There are all kinds of sexual implications in a group of men stabbing a female Caesar to death, but what happens if she is poisoned or beaten or killed in some other way? Additionally, what does a female Antony add to that equation?

I know I’ve been a bit down on Shakespeare lately, but I have to admit that it feels really good to be working on a play again. Despite what I’d like to say about his inappropriately canonical status, the man wrote a good script, and Caesar is one of my favourites. So for the next five weeks or so, I’ll be peppering my research posts with Caesar posts. Hopefully there will be some really interesting gender debates that arise out of the work!

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3 Comments

  1. Interesting! It reinforces the relative isolation of Caesar and Antony from everyone else with a major part in the play, though I’m sure it’ll change the feel of that brutal scene with Antony, Octavius, and Lepidus quite dramatically. My one issue is that I’m not sure I like the idea of a male Calphurnia (-us?). She’s so closely linked to the domestic sphere, and so deliberately disconnected from the public world, that putting a man into that role will add a complication that’s really not in the play at all (though it might be an interesting wrinkle nonetheless — perhaps watch _Borgen_, the Danish TV show about a female prime minister, which features a severely castrated-acting husband who hates being house-bound…).

    • Right? It should be a fascinating experiment. I should probably have mentioned that, partly due to departmental restrictions on vaguely extra-curricular productions, the script is cut down to 90 minutes; there aren’t many internal cuts, but we’re ending it after 3.1. I would LOVE to see how a female Antony would affect the latter part of the play, but alas. Laura also mentioned that she wasn’t sure whether she would cast Octavius as male or female if she had the entire play to direct.
      I’ll have to ask her why Cal is male. I do know that she’s playing with questions of biological sex versus performed gender, and the actor playing Calphurnia is also playing Cinna, who Laura sees as performatively feminine, so maybe it’s something to do with that?

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