Caesar and Cleopatra

So, Saturday night we went to see Caesar and Cleopatra at “Playmakers”:

I was looking forward to it quite a bit. I read the play when I was perhaps 14, and although, honestly, I couldn’t remember huge chunks of it–as in almost any of it–a couple of things stuck with me for the last two decades.

One was Britannus, Caesar’s Briton slave, obviously intended as a stand-in for a modern (which I believe would be Victorian) Briton, being affronted by the strangeness of other cultures. He is a useful and amusing foil for Caesar, though, as in this exchange:

bq.. THEODOTUS. Caesar: you are a stranger here, and not conversant with our laws. The kings and queens of Egypt may not marry except with their own royal blood. Ptolemy and Cleopatra are born king and consort just as they are born brother and sister.

BRITANNUS (shocked). Caesar: this is not proper.

THEODOTUS (outraged). How!

CAESAR (recovering his self-possession). Pardon him. Theodotus: he is a barbarian, and thinks that the customs of his tribe and island are the laws of nature.

I do believe that Heinlein more or less rips off that very line.

And then of course there’s the famous Cleopatra-in-the-rug scene.

Still, the bit I was looking forward to most, and, unfortunately, a bit that the producers almost entirely elided, was the “address of Ra to the audience”:

Quite simply, it is the author haranguing the audience. It is also, as with most things regarding human nature, all too pertinent today. He derides them for their passivity and conformity and ineffectualness, as well as the institutionalized deceit between men and women, much of it in an amusingly opaque way.

I mean, how many other such addresses would include the line:

bq. Hearken to me then, oh ye: compulsorily educated ones.

The producers’ clever little rewrite to admonish people to turn off their cell phones had neither the humor nor the wit of the original. I’m quite disappointed that all of the Project Gutenberg copies of the play do not include this address at all.

I won’t even go into the blatant historical inaccuracies–though I will note that the explanatory text in the little playbook points out that while Shaw was apparently a rabid decrier of alterations to Shakespeare, he had no problem with hacking up history to fit his desired outcome.

I think the story–which is really an exposition on statecraft, although delivered without the didacticism you might expect–is ripe for the picking in Hollywood.

The rewrite would be easy: A young heiress, suddenly thrust into a position of leadership in the corporation her father ran, becomes involved with an older businessman who helped her father fight off a hostile takeover years before. He teaches her how to wield power effectively, helping her fight off her brother’s attempts to take power for himself, but in the end she succumbs to her basically amoral nature as she utterly destroys one of her brothers advisors…

Where the hell is central casting?

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Michael Alan Dorman

Yogi, brigand, programmer, thief, musician, Republican, cook. I leave it to you figure out which ones are accurate.