Rewriting the Bard: Julius Caesar

Cassius: Did Cicero say anything?

Casca: Ay, she spoke Greek.

Cassius: To what effect?

Casca: Nay, an I tell you that, I’ll ne’er look you i’th’face again. But those that understood her smiled at one another, and shook their heads. But for mine own part, it was Greek to me.

William Shakespeare: Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene 2

Greek to me.

After three months of working, I’ve finished the draft of the gender-reversed adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar that I’ll be directing throughout October and November. (We open in December! If you’re in Colorado Springs, you need to come see this!)

And let me tell you this about adapting the Bard-His-Own-Self…

It’s intimidating. For a couple reasons.

First, the reputation: I mean, here’s a guy who has dominated the world stage, hundreds of thousands of English lessons, and is quoted daily. You probably said something he wrote at some point today — maybe you realized you quoted him, maybe you didn’t, but I would bet any amount of money in your pocket that there was something.

Second, the language itself: Say what you will about Shakespeare. The boy could write. There’s rhythm and vocabulary and plot structure. It’s kinda like fluent Greek and then me: speaking elementary Greek. Reading the Dr. Seuss of Greek, not the — um — Shakespeare of Greek.

So what kind of cocky, arrogant, ignorant ignoramus jumps into one of Shakespeare’s best known, most performed plays, and then just…”adapts it?”

*Raises hand slowly*

The Draft.

That’s me. I did it.

And not only did I swap the genders around (more on that in a later post). The Bard probably wouldn’t recognize Act V much (more on that in a later post). He’d wonder why so many conspirators were alive (and then die later). He would probably be curious about the dancing…but, then, he’s a theatre guy, so he’d probably roll with the dancing. Maybe he’d be irritated at how I reconfigured the Soothsayer.

I admit. I was hesitant at first. Mostly, I said to myself, “Self, we’re just going to swap the genders, keep as much of the meter as we can while we do that, and then make some judicious cuts. That’s all, Self.”

As I dug deeper into the text though, I kept thinking: “Self, it’d be cooler if this happened, then there can be a visual representation of XYZ. And if we move this character here, it solidifies ABC.”

So I made the changes. Then myself was like: “SELF! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”

“WHAT WOULD SHAKESPEARE DO?!”

(Which is kind of dumb question to ask yourself, because we know what Shakespeare would do. He did it. I was in the midst of fucking it up as I asked myself that very question.)

Ironically enough, it was thinking about “What would Shakespeare do?” that gave me the creative freedom to cut and rearrange and reassemble.

Because Shakespeare fucking stole everything, rearranged it, reassembled, and cut and pasted. If Shakespeare were right beside me in the office chair, he would have done the same damn thing. Probably with more blood. He was an “upstart crow, beautified with our feathers.” (“Our” being other playwrights of the time period — meaning he stole their shit.)

Over the next couple weeks, I will explain my actions. In the meantime, I say that we all take a deep breath…and think about what else we can steal.

2 thoughts on “Rewriting the Bard: Julius Caesar

  1. Love this!
    Years ago I was in an adaptation of The Tempest. It was re set in the far north (since we were performing it in the Yukon, Prospero was changed to Prospera, and I was one of the smaller characters that had been changed from male to female. It went well and I was seriously impressed with the rewritten bits that the directors had done.
    Alison

  2. Sounds cool, Jenny! One thing theater has always had to do is adapt. So you’re doing that. I also like to think of you working with language, like a mechanic with a hotrod she built. I mean, sure, you could do the same thing everybody else does OR you could make it completely different. I like a lot of traditional stuff, but I really enjoy it when someone says, “Hey we’ve all been here before! Let’s try a new thing.” Then you go the final step of modifying the hell out of an existing work. So you challenge the literary police and possibly bring some new people to Shakespeare’s work in the process? Not to mention this being the perfect time to do a gender swap on a classic piece! Go Jenny!

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