Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar on the Georgian Stage

        Contemporary Georgian theatre director Robert Sturua is recognised in the world as one of the unrivalled interpreters of Shakespeare’s plays. It will suffice to cite but a few of his Shakespearean productions to prove this: Richard III (1978), King Lear (1987), Hamlet (with Alan Rickman, London, 1992), Macbeth (1995), Hamlet (with Konstantin Raikin, Moscow, 1998), Coriolanus (Athens, 1999), Shylock (Moscow, 2000), Twelfth Night, or What You Will (2001), Hamlet (with Zaza Papuashvili, Tbilisi, 2001), The Tempest (Moscow, 2010) and others. When talking about Sturua’s work and about his Shakespearean productions in particular, we must consider the decades-long history of production. Sturua staged Shakespeare during the Soviet times (Richard III, King Lear), during the post-Soviet period (Macbeth, Twelfth Night, several versions of Hamlet on several theatre stages of the world) and in the reality of the present day. Julius Caesar (fragments in one act) was created precisely during the period when Sturua seems to sum up the themes and problems he broached in the Soviet and post-Soviet interpretations of his Shakespearean productions, his own attitude towards the Soviet and post-Soviet reality. In Julius Caesar, he surpasses the conceptualisation of just the Georgian reality and reflects on the concurrent global political and social reality as well. Through Shakespeare’s art, he presents the world simultaneously on the macro and micro stage.
        Julius Caesar, whose premiere was held on the Grand Stage of Rustaveli Theatre on 1 June 2015, is the last production of “Sturua’s Shakespearean world”. In Julius Caesar, Sturua does not apply new artistic methods, but uses its own traditional theatre language. As for Shakespeare’s play, here too, he remains loyal to his own manner of translating, adapting or interpreting the text, he halves the play and ends it minutes after the scene of Caesar’s murder. Sturua’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is based on the artistic and conceptual understanding of postmodern aesthetics, and, as a result of analysing metaphors and symbols, he shows the themes and problems which represent the main idea of Shakespeare’s play and of the performance. Shakespeare’s metaphor “All the world’s a stage” used in the production expresses not only the contemporary reality but also the biblical, fictitious and theatrical reality depicted by means of intertextuality and the artistic technique of metatheatre. Considering this, I would like to discuss several issues:
1.    Political power and postmodernism;
2.    The Sturuan perception of Shakespeare in Julius Caesar;
3.    Postmodernist understanding of Christ.
Political power and postmodernism
        When we talk about Sturua’s work and, especially, his interpretations of Shakespeare, we must make a note of the director’s political and non-conformist theatre language. Like in all of Shakespeare’s tragedies, in Julius Caesar, too, politics and power are among the main themes. Sturua presents the problems depicted in Julius Caesar in the modern-day context and, similar to the interpretation of other plays by Shakespeare, offering a multifaceted understanding of power that prevails in the contemporaneity. He does all of this using postmodernist artistic language.
        As we know, for the first time Julius Caesar was staged on 21 September 1599 [Hartley, 2016: 50]. Since then, a multitude of various interpretations and adaptations of the play were staged in England and all over the world. Julius Caesar was staged during the period of the formation of the republican rule (the period of Oliver Cromwell), however, under George III – a strong monarch – the play was not staged very often due to its anti-royalist sentiments. According to Andrew James Hartley, Julius Caesar was staged using contemporary outfits for the first time as late as in 1937 by director Orson Welles in the Mercury Theatre in New York [Hartley, 2016: 55, 59]. In Robert Sturua’s interpretation, Julius Caesar is taking place in the 1930s, during the gangster period in Chicago or New York as, in the director’s opinion, politics and politicians act according to the mafia way of thinking and its structures. The temper and the clothing of the characters, music as well as the six columns on the right side of the stage point to this. This decoration reminds us of the skyscrapers of Manhattan or Chicago inspired by– to borrow Umberto Eco’s words [Eco, 1998: 62] – the neo-medieval architecture housing large financial corporation. When lit, the decoration that looks like skyscrapers also resembles the points of glass and/or knives. The main protagonist of the performance is not Caesar but the senators who remind us of the heads of the financial organisations who, in the postmodern period and today too, control the political events in the world and govern financial institutions, live in various metropolitan cities in the United States and elsewhere in the world (Donald Trump, who was a presidential candidate at the time, is now the US President; a billionaire businessman and the party he founded rule Georgia; a billionaire businessman president governed Ukraine and so on). The political allusions in the play are also conjured by an iron curtain hanging in the back of the stage; aside from metatheatrics, it also resembles the so-called Iron Curtain of the Soviet period. As we know, the aforementioned Western political republican order existed on one side of the Iron Curtain, which not only created the Georgian democratic republican state but which changed the political reality of almost the whole world; on the other side of the Iron Curtain, there was a Caesarean autocratic or dictatorial rule of the Soviet and post-Soviet period. This is why both Caesar and the senators in the production enter the stage precisely from the other side of the iron curtain.
        An interesting analysis of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and the US democratic republican rule is given in the book Shakespeare After 9/11 (2011) which directly resonates with the political “philosophy” of Sturua’s production in its meaning. As suggested by its title, the book discusses the world order after the 9/11 tragedy and in general in the context of Shakespeare’s work. In one of its chapters, Scott Maisano compares the rhetoric of the Administration of President George Bush and its opponents to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. The author pays particular attention to a recollection mentioned in the book by Paul O’Neill, Treasury Secretary in the Bush Administration, according to which Bush was planning to stage a provocation in Iraq long before 9/11, in response to which Mark Foley, representative of the Bush Cabinet, said to journalists that he had not heard of such backstabbing since Julius Caesar and compared Paul O’Neill to Brutus: “Et tu Mr. O’Neill [Brooks… 2011:163]. The critic continues the discussion and cites Death of a Dictator, a play which was staged by Orson Welles in 1938, when Pinochet was in power, and which was an adapted version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and notes that only the form of rule had changed between that time and America of the Bush era: in his opinion, the threat today should be expected not from dictators but from the republicanism. To support this viewpoint, the author refers to Bush’s second inaugural speech which states that America is planning to bring freedom to the darkest corners of the world since the goal of the US foreign policy is to put an end to tyranny in all nations and cultures and to support democratic institutions. After that the author notes that the meaning of such export of American democracy is an attempt to create an empire without an emperor [Brooks… 2011: 164]. To back this opinion, the author cites information disseminated by Der Spiegel during the 2004 presidential election in Iraq which said that US soldiers were armed with loudspeakers instead of submachine guns, urging Iraqis to vote. In the author’s opinion, the main unifier of the US Democrats and Republicans is their love for democracy and elections always and everywhere in which everyone must be involved. This is why, in his view, no other play by Shakespeare resonates with the threats to democracy, rule by a crowd and demagogy (populism in today’s West – D. M.) as Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar [Brooks… 2011: 164]. To support this view, he cites a phrase uttered by Brutus: “I do fear the people/ choose Caesar for their king (1, 2), which he answers with a rhetorical question: “What exactly is Brutus afraid of: autocracy or democracy? If Brutus, like Montaigne’s friend La Boetie, believes that there is little difference between the two?” [Brooks… 2011: 168]. In this context, there is an interesting observation made by French anthropologist and philosopher René Girard about one of the conspirators, honest republican Ligarius who can be said to be blindly following Brutus:
Ligarius: Set on your foot,
And with a heart new fir’d I follow you
To do I know not what, but it sufficeth
That Brutus leads me on.
Brutus: Follow me then [II, i] [Girard, 1991:191].

        In Rustaveli Theatre in 2015, I attended the process of staging Julius Caesar. As a result, I made the documentary Robert Sturua’s Julius Caesar (Fragments from the Stage Rehearsals). At the end of the film, Robert Sturua develops approximately the following opinion at the rehearsal with the actors: “This democratic system of his is gradually falling apart, an empire is established in Rome because of this murder for good, there were consuls and the Senate in Rome after that but they wielded no power. They destroyed it because they interfered with the fundamentals of democracy as alleged saviours of this ruined system and it turned out that they destroyed it entirely, this is why he (Brutus) realises it earlier…“ [Maziashvili, 2015: 32:37]. It can be said that, for Sturua, nothing has changed in terms of the world order; only the form has changed. Individual rule, tyranny, fascist, communist or monarchist type of power has been replaced by the republican rule. Sturua views the republican system of political power with irony: while in the past, during the Soviet era, there was one ruler, a tyrant, Caesar this side of the Iron Curtain ruling half of the world, today this power is deconstructed, fragmented and distributed among politicians like Brutus-Casca-Cassius who took power away from the bloody tyrant using bloody methods and divided it amongst themselves. All of this is expressed with irony in the music of the play. George Gershwin’s well-known song ‘S Wonderful is played to denote Caesar’s power which is deconstructed with the thirst for power on the part of Brutus, Casca, Cassius and other conspiring characters, using irony. While Tony Bennett performs Gershwin’s music when Caesar appears, other versions of the same theme – those by Oscar Peterson, Gilberto and other performers of ‘S Wonderful – are played for Brutus, Casca and Cassius (it is noteworthy that Bennett is American, Peterson – African Canadian while João Gilberto – Brazilian, which expresses a multinational nature of democracy and republicanism and is directly related to Bush’s words cited earlier. This reminds me of Jean Baudrillard’s book America, according to which American life resembles an American highway connecting everyone with each other and determining traffic rules. If you do not follow the established rules, you have a sign that reads MUST EXIT [Baudrillard, 1989: 52]. It turns out that for a person who lives in accordance with this political system resembling such a highway (at any social level), not only the movement but also his or her location and, possibly, the future, are predetermined. This is probably why Baudrillard compares the traffic rules and signs of highways to the rules and signs of the world order. Correspondingly, Must Exit may also have the following meaning: if a person and/or state are not part of an economic, political, philosophical or ideological “highway”, their connections and movement are limited and they are automatically placed outside this highway – in reality, life itself [Baudrillard 1989, 52]. VOTE OR DIE, as it is mentioned in the context of Caesar in the book Shakespeare After 9/11 [Brooks… 2011: 164]. Shakespeare’s Hamlet is facing approximately the same dilemma as Brutus in Julius Caesar. They must not entangle in the political games of Elsinore or Rome or steer clear of them. This is why the intellectual or artistic nature of both characters is very similar.
The Sturuan perception of Shakespeare in Julius Caesar
        The comparison of the philosophical and tragic nature of Brutus and Hamlet in the early 20th century is linked to Professor A. C. Bradley. This was followed by the discussion of Hamlet, Caesar and Brutus in the context of the so-called Oedipus complex of the Freudian theory, according to which in Brutus’ words “not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more”, the city was perceived as a mother. In turn, this view was criticised by famous literary critic Harold Bloom [Hartley 2016: 25, 26, 44]. Sturua did not miss any of this either. It is very symbolic that Sturua’s Brutus is played by the same actor who played Claudius in Sturua’s own Hamlet production, and Shakespeare’s Hamlet has a fear of becoming Claudius. It can be said that, by reviewing his own work and, especially, the Shakespearean world he had created, Sturua understands the inalterability of humans and/or characters at the level of ideas and/or their changes, and the director, as I mentioned earlier, is offering us these metamorphoses using the artistic forms of intertextuality, metatheatre or parody that are typical for postmodernist literature and art. This is particularly noticeable in the similarities between the characters of Brutus and Hamlet which, of course, are present in Shakespeare’s work too, although Sturua shows these similarities through his own interpretations of Shakespeare’s plays.
1.    The graveyard scene in Sturua’s Hamlet begins with the headstone inscription which falls from above piercing the stage. In Julius Caesar, Brutus’ final decision to join the conspirators is followed by a knife falling from the sky, which, in case of the characters of Hamlet and Brutus, seem to signify the idea of fate and death. Interestingly, in one show the inscription digs into the graveyard while in the other – into Rome, because Sturua directs the passion of Brutus’ struggle for power towards the allusion of Hamlet’s graveyard scene.
2.    In Sturua’s Julius Caesar, Calpurnia jumps on Caesar’s back which, again, reminds us of Hamlet the director staged in Tbilisi when the Ghost of Hamlet’s Father climbs Hamlet’s back when they meet. This episode appears to continue the allusions of the falling headstone inscription and the knife mentioned earlier, reminding us once again that, like with Hamlet, Caesar’s murder is inevitable. It is also noteworthy that, in Sturua’s opinion, like Calpurnia (who has a dream about Caesar’s death), fate is a woman.
3.    At the beginning of the show, in the episode of the dialogue between Brutus and Cassius, Brutus, like Hamlet, sees the ghost of the killed soothsayer, although unlike him, Cassius cannot see it.
4.    In Sturua’s productions, we can see the parodic similarity between Brutus and Hamlet in the scene of Brutus entering with a sword and Brutus throwing the sword into the backstage when the soothsayer-narrator parodically dies one more time, which, in both cases, resembles the episode of Polonius’ murder in Sturua’s Hamlet.
5.    In the play, Sturua’s reception of his own Shakespearean productions can be seen in the character of Casca, too. The character of Casca is a reflection of Richard III while his monologue is very similar to Richard’s first monologue as well as Polonius in Hamlet staged in 2001, who is a parody of Richard. In Julius Caesar, Richard and Polonius are united in Casca. Added to this are Polonius’ words from the play: “I did enact Julius Caesar: I was killed i’ the Capitol; Brutus killed me” [III, 2].
        In the production, we also see the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, or parodies of Otello killing Desdemona, played out by Caesar and Calpurnia. This is none other than rereading-rethinking and intertextuality of Shakespeare’s work and, at the same time, Sturua’s Shakespearean productions by Sturua himself. Sturua offers us not only the contemporary interpretation of Shakespeare’s work but also postmodernist rethinking of his own Shakespearean productions.
        In addition to all of the above, the stage design of Julius Caesar is a sort of a citation, a copy of the stage design of King Lear that Sturua staged in 1987, and not an accidental one. As we know, in the production of King Lear, the stage design was a mirror image of the stalls in Rustaveli Theatre, an artistic expression of Shakespeare’s metaphor “All the world’s a stage”, while the decoration for the final scene of the show, like Lear’s power, fell down, creating an allusion to the imminent end of the Soviet empire. If, according to King Lear stage design, part of the Rustaveli Theatre stalls moved to the stage and the events unfolding on the stage were presented to us as a reflection of reality and vice versa, in Julius Caesar, the ornaments of the theatre stalls fade into the back of the stage, breaking up, fragmenting and moving towards a trash bin at the end of the left-hand decoration. The front of the theatre stalls decoration is shaped like the letter “f” which, of course, indicates the Facebook logo. Sturua was actively using Facebook which he called a trash bin (it is noteworthy that Sturua’s activity on Facebook resulted in the 680-page book Two Years of Freedom. Tragicomedy in One Part which is interesting also from the viewpoint of the artistic and documentary perception of the contemporary Georgian political reality). Thus, theatre and political and social reality unfolding on the theatre stage was replaced by the social network as a mirror of the world, and the contemporary audience (Georgian audience) threw theatre art “into a trash bin” or the reality of the contemporary world has become a virtual reality. Such interpretation of the play’s stage design brings us to another layer which we could call an autobiographic layer of the director: Caesar – Sturua, Rome – Rustaveli Theatre, Brutus – Sturua’s selected actors and so on. It is also noteworthy that in The Tempest that Sturua staged in Moscow’s Et Cetera Theatre in 2010, like the actor who played Prospero, the actor who played Caesar staged in Rustaveli Theatre is physically very similar to Sturua.
Postmodernist understanding of Christ
        According to Sturua’s interpretation, Julius Caesar is not seen merely as a character of Plutarch, Shakespeare or Sturua’s production or, as we noted above, the alter ego of the director himself: we can also discern in him an artistic perception of Christ. Several episodes of the show allow to make such an interpretation.
1.    At the beginning of the production, there is a scene of Caesar’s feet being washed which, of course, does not feature in the play. After his feet are washed, Caesar offers Cassius wine from his own chalice, and all of this unfolds against the background of Giya Kancheli’s music. It should be noted that the rehearsal of the scene of washing feet took place during the Holy Week, on Maundy Thursday. As we know, on this day, Christ washed his disciples’ feet and then, after turning wine and bread into blood and flesh (the sacrament of the Eucharist), gave the communion to his disciples, including Judas who betrayed him. Drawing a parallel between the character of Caesar and Christ on Sturua’s part is a kind of a postmodernist irony of the passions of all the rulers who equalled themselves to Christ-God while being in power. It is well known that first Napoleon in the 19th century and then Benito Mussolini in the 20th considered themselves political models of Caesar, speaking of him as follows: “the greatest of all men who ever lived, whose murder was disaster for mankind” [Hartley, 2016: 177]. In the 20th century, Stalin and Hitler were added to this list of names who represent a general face of tyrant for Sturua. It is noteworthy that there are many mythological passages in Shakespeare’s play too. First and foremost, this concerns the ironic inclusion by Shakespeare of the myths of Ovid’s Metamorphoses into Plutarch’s serious biographic text. This is, for example, the episode of Casca seeing a lion and fire raining down from the sky, or Antony’s comparison of Caesar’s murder to Actaeon’s; also, poet Cinna’s murder which is compared to the murder of Orpheus, god of poetry, in Ovid’s poem and others, although, as James Hartley writes, Shakespeare himself first mythologises Caesar and then demystifies him [Hartley 2016: 110, 111]. With this dual effect, Shakespeare offers us an inclusion of the pagan and Christian mythology in the play, too. In several episodes of the play, we encounter sacralisation of Caesar and his blood, namely, for example, in Calpurnia’s dream or Decius’ comment or Antony’s monologue when Caesar’s body is laid in front of the statue of Pompey [Hartley 2016: 115]. In the play, the interpretation of Rome is also dualist: on the one hand, it is the classic Rome and, on the other, it is the centre of the Christian world. This is why identifying Caesar – the head of the Roman Empire – with Christ as the new god of Rome is Shakespeare’s own intention, especially considering the fact that Caesar is equated with god in the final book of Ovid’s Metamorphoses [Hartley 2016: 116]. Such anamorphic episodes can be found in other plays by Shakespeare (Antony and Cleopatra), many such examples are discussed in the book Shakespeare’s Roman Plays (2015) [Innes 2015, 123,124]. This is why, the introduction of Christian passages into the production by Sturua is natural, since this is Shakespeare’s own interpretation and is not foreign to his theatre.
2.    The second example is the director’s note during the rehearsals of the play. In Sturua’s opinion, killing Caesar in the Capitol was a ritual act, which is precisely why the senators wished to lure him out of the house and kill (slaughter) him in the “parliament”. The director asked the actors to play killing Caesar in such a manner as to create an association with a ritual of sacrifice among the audience [Maziashvili, 2015: 29:55]. This kind of ritual sacrifice is discussed in René Girard’s works about mimetic desire, mimetic triangle or a scapegoat. René Girard offers analysis of numerous plays by Shakespeare in the book A Theatre of Envy: William Shakespeare (1991), whose five chapters are dedicated to the analysis of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. In addition, Girard in his work Scandal and the Dance: Salome in the Gospel of Mark, discusses the episode of beheading John the Baptist from the Gospel of Mark. As we know, John the Baptist was against Herod marrying his brother’s [former] wife Herodias which made Herodias seek vengeance and have Salome kill John the Baptist [Mark 6:16] [Mathew 14:1]. René Girard compares this episode from the New Testament to brothers’ row, reflected in myths. This row could be caused by brothers being very close. They are fighting for the same crown, the same legacy and the same woman. Their row and kinship are associated with the repetition of their own wishes [Girard 2013, 51]. Gerard’s explanation of this episode from the Gospel is very similar to the storyline of Hamlet in which a brother kills a brother, appropriates his kingdom and his woman, while Hamlet, like John the Baptist, prohibits his mother from being with her husband’s brother, which makes him Claudius’ target and victim. We know that Claudius is not trying to kill Hamlet directly but is using intermediaries – first Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, then Laertes. Hamlet becomes entangled in a mimetic triangle which entails two brothers – Hamlet’s father and Claudius, Gertrude or the desire for the throne. An example of such mimetic triangle can be discerned in one of the scenes of Hamlet staged by Sturua in Moscow: in it, Claudius lights cigarettes for Hamlet and then for Laertes with a lighter and gives his own lighter to Hamlet as a reflection of his brother and potential Claudius. In Julius Caesar, however, as we mentioned earlier, Claudius plays the role of Brutus, who, after killing Caesar, is fearful of becoming a ruler similar to Caesar. All of this is very interesting in the socio-political context of Sturua’s Hamlet productions because Hamlet staged by Sturua in Georgia preceded the so-called Rose Revolution of 2003. Correspondingly, Sturua’s Hamlet is a young prince who rebels against the Danish king with a slogan of restoring justice (in Georgian reality – to the second president) and, as a successor to the first president, stages a revolution against his uncle, although, as we saw in the example of the Raikin version and the interpretation of Girard’s theory, Hamlet is an altered successor of the Father of Hamlet as well as of Claudius, which for Sturua appeared in the Georgian reality as the third Georgian president.
3.    At the end of the show, the narrator and Artemidorus talk about the Last Supper and the betrayal of Christ, which is followed by the narrator’s words: “The one you trust will be the one to betray you.”
        We can say that, by creating an artistic metaphoric allusion of Christ, Sturua generalises the problem that the nature of humans and the society in general has not changed since Antiquity, since the Bible, Shakespeare and until present; that it always turns one person into a scapegoat through a ritual sacrifice under the motto of saving the homeland, the church, the state or the theatre. As Girard would say, the scapegoat is the source of theatrics and ritual [Girard, 1991: 272]. This is why Sturua ends his show with the words of Brutus, Casca and Cassius: “How many ages hence / Shall this our lofty scene be acted over / In states unborn and accents yet unknown! How many times shall Caesar bleed in sport” and so on. And finally, Sturua’s ironic remark voiced by the narrator: “It’s wonderful, is it not?”


Mazishvili D.
Documentary by David Maziashvili, Robert Sturua’s Julius Caesar Fragments from the Stage Rehearsals, Rustaveli Theatre of Tbilisi, Georgia.
ჟირარი რ.
ცდუნება და ცეკვა: სალომე მარკოზის სახარებაში, ბიბლია პოსტმოდერნული პერსპექტივიდან, შემდგენელი და რედაქტორი თამარ ცოფურიშვილი, ილიას სახელმწიფო უნივერსიტეტის გამომცემლობა.
შექსპირი უ.
ტრაგედიები, საბჭოთა საქართველო, თბილისი.
Baudrillard J.
America, Verso.
Brooks D. (Edit)
Shakespeare after 9/11: how a social; trauma reshapes interpration Edwin Mellen Press.
Eco U.
Faith in Fakes Travels in Hyperreality, Vintage.
Girard R.
A Theatre of Envy: William Shakespeare Oxford University Press.
Hartley J. A. (Edit)
Julius Caesar A Critical Reader Bloomsbery.
Innes P.
Shakespeare’s Roman Plays, Palgrave.

Shakespeare W. Julius Caesar