The Muse: How Shakespeare Inspired My Love of Rome (and Vice Versa)

First of all, sorry for missing the “watch this version of the play” addition for this weekend. I was… indisposed. Coriolanus really only has one easily available version, and that is the 2011 version with Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, and Vanessa Redgrave. If you can track it down, Tom Hiddleston’s version of Coriolanus is remarkable, but that’s going to involve… internet detecting. Go forth.

Anyway. On to this week and… *fanfare*… JULIUS CAESAR.

Julius Caesar is not really my favorite play. For that, I have to admit I’m something of a Hamlet fangirl, with Much Ado About Nothing as my favorite comedy and Henry V as my favorite of the histories. But, Julius Caesar occupies a very, very special place in my heart and always–always–will.

It’s the play that got me into Shakespeare. It is also the play that got me into Roman History. And, in a way, they fed into one another. A latent love for both led me to this play, which set off a life-long love bordering on obsession. If not for my very real love of having primary sources at my fingertips, I would certainly have devoted my life to the oh-so-problematic men and women who have captured my heart. Men named Scipio and Agrippa, women named Agrippina and Fulvia, Vestal Virgins and Centurions and… *sigh*

I love Rome.

But back before the passionate love of both the Bard and SPQR, I was just a little girl who loved stories. I can’t even begin to remember the first time I heard Shakespeare quoted or a Roman mentioned. Maybe it was myth–my mother loves Greek myths and, conveniently, so did the Romans–or maybe it was seeing ruins when I was two on a family visit to Turkey (my imagination has always tended to adore old things). I couldn’t tell you. But both Rome and Shakespeare were living in my head from a very young age, latent obsessions just waiting for… something to set them to growing.

Enter: Friends, Romans, Countrymen…

Yeah. That single speech. But, you know, what a speech. What a skillful manipulation, a Masterclass in politics and rhetoric and, of course, writing. Mark Antony is… glorious in that moment. And when I read it, I fell in love. With Antony (which persists to this day, despite a greater understanding of the historical figure). With Rome in general. And with the man who wrote the speech to begin with: William Shakespeare.

I don’t think I fully understood what I was reading at the time. I can’t even fully remember if I read the whole speech at once or if it was a vague series of clips that somehow coalesced into a weird… blob of adoration. But I know it was the speech. I know because I was fifteen before I read the whole play all at once (weird, I know, but it happens). Friends, Romans, Countrymen… Lend me your ears…

It’s so marvelous. Sublime, even.

That speech turned a general awareness and admiration of Shakespeare into a real love (which made me so very popular at school…). I picked up the sonnets. I learned the famous speeches. I (tried unsuccessfully) to enjoy movie versions of the plays (I was still young, and I think maybe Branagh wasn’t the easiest start). Wishbone was still much more my speed, if you want to know about how old I was when this was going on. And I started reading the Dear America books, as well as the royal princess spin-offs (the Cleopatra one left me a bit twitterpated, I tell you), which spawned not into a huge love of historical fiction (I do dabble, though) but of history. And that love, that historical crush, on Mark Antony–spawned by the speech, remember–turned into a voracious love of all things Rome.

I even took Latin in high school instead of something really useful, like Spanish. I live in South Florida, and I do not speak Spanish. Because I took Latin. Which I also do not speak.

I guess I don’t really have anything to say that this whole thing leads to. Just that this one speech in this one play led to such an important part of my life. An important part of me. And next month, when A and I go to Stratford, I will finally–finally–get to see it live. With a lady as Antony, too, so no weird transference of historical crush to actor is in danger of happening. Trust me, it’s happened before. I, like everyone else I know, watched Rome when it came out.

Anyway. This is it for me today. I’ll be back on Friday to pair the play.

C

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