Commentary Magazine

All the World Is Their Stage

Delta and Bank of America have pulled out of sponsoring the New York Public Theaters’s production of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” in Central Park because the Oskar Eustis-directed play features a Donald Trump–like Julius Caesar who gets knifed in the end. Good. Corporations are not obligated to bankroll the homicidal fantasies of the “Resistance.” Some may not realize, however, that this summer’s Shakespeare in the Park is a kind of B-side to last summer’s disastrous “The Taming of the Shrew,” which set that play inside a vulgar beauty contest put on by none other than then-candidate Donald Trump. That Public Theater production, staged five months before Election Day, was a smug political celebration of Hillary Clinton’s all-but-certain election. Trump went on to beat Hillary and so the new Trump-themed “Julius Caesar” is petty revenge.

Director Phyllida Lloyd’s angry disfigurement of “The Taming of the Shrew” featured an all-female cast, the aforementioned Trump beauty-pageant setting, and an off-script faux-misogynist rant by an actor who broke character and delivered the applause line “Now we got this woman gonna be president all of a sudden!” It never occurred to Lloyd that maybe that woman wasn’t gonna be president after all.

That’s the kind of blind hubris that one might fairly describe as Shakespearean. Both Public Theater productions come straight out of the liberal bubble, where everyone assumes that the shared ideals of a few will inevitably be foisted on the world at large. The inhabitants of the bubble, therefore, also assume that weaponizing Shakespeare in service of political fads is just what one does with the work of the greatest writer in the English language. Shakespeare, in their view, could stand a little correcting at the hands of 21st-century identitarian progressives. As Lloyd told Variety, “An apparent war of the sexes underlines a massive amount of Western drama starting with the Greeks, and I think we’ve had to take our own line with this, and not get to influenced by previous productions.” And progressives assume that acting out the killing of Donald Trump will resonate with right-minded people of culture everywhere. It won’t.

So there are two offenses here. Portraying the assassination of the American president as a righteous blow for justice is an offense to decency. Doing violence to the words of Shakespeare is an offense to our cultural heritage. Between Kathy Griffin’s decapitation disaster and the Public Theater’s current troubles, any current plans for works of art depicting President Trump’s murder will probably be put on indefinite hold. It’s doubtful, however, that progressives will stop taking out their frustrations on Shakespeare, as they don’t understand that his grasp of human folly is what makes him great all on his own. And that’s precisely why they’re doomed to follow the tragic path he demystified long ago.

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