Shakespeare’s tragedy Julius Caesar, in which political and military rivalries spiral out of control, is one of his most gripping plays and features some of his greatest characters. Stamford Shakespeare Company is hoping that “the Ides” don’t predict doom, but a huge success for their production this summer, as company theatre manager David Fensom reports...
The Ides of March is a day on the Roman calendar that corresponds to the 15th March. In 44 BC, it became notorious as the date of the assassination of Julius Caesar, Dictator of Rome. Caesar was stabbed to death at a meeting of the Senate (as many as 60 conspirators, led by Brutus and Cassius, were involved). William Shakespeare’s epic play, being performed by the Stamford Shakespeare Company this summer, dramatises the lead up and aftermath to this momentous event in history.
The Romans did not number each day of the month as we do, instead, they used three fixed points, based around the phases of the moon. Each month began at the new moon and that day, the 1st of the month, was called the Kalends (Kalendae). The 5th or 7th, depending on the length of the month, was called the Nones (Nonae). The Ides (Idus) were determined by the full moon and occurred midway through the month, on the 13th for most months, but on the 15th for March, May, July, and October.
Traditionally, the Roman year started on the 1st of March, meaning the Ides of March (15th) was the first full moon of the year. It was a major celebration and the festival of ‘Anna Perenna’, the goddess of the cycle of the year, whose special gift was to reward people with long life. How ironic that Caesar’s assassins chose that date to end the life of the dictator they believed was blighting Rome and their political careers.
On the 15th of February 44 BC a haruspex called Spurinna (in Ancient Rome, a ‘haruspex’ was a person whose role was to foretell the future by inspecting the warm entrails of sacrificial animals) examined the innards of a bull that Julius Caesar had sacrificed earlier that day. The bull had no heart, which was a terrible sign, a sure portent of death. Spurinna warned Caesar that harm would come to him “no later than the Ides of March”. Caesar dismissed the concerns. A month later, on the 15th of March, with no danger having befallen him, Caesar encountered Spurinna and remarked that nothing had come of his prophesies, but Spurinna muttered that the day was not yet over. Later that day, Julius Caesar entered the Senate’s meeting room, and ascended his golden throne. A group of Senators approached the dais, daggers were produced and, in a frenzied attack, the most powerful man in Rome was stabbed 23 times.
The meeting between Caesar and Spurinna is dramatised in Shakespeare‘s play, Julius Caesar, although Shakespeare does away with Spurinna and instead invents a soothsayer in a crowd, who shouts the famous prophetic warning to Caesar, “Beware the Ides of March!”. It is, perhaps, one of Shakespeare’s most famous lines and, as a direct result, “the Ides” has come to mean a date of doom.
In contrast, the Stamford Shakespeare Company is prophesying success for its production of Julius Caesar, which has not been performed at Tolethorpe Hall for 27 years. The Company is pulling out all the stops to make this a truly spectacular show. Rehearsals began in January and are going extremely well. There’s a huge cast of 28 talented actors playing an incredible 63 characters. The Wardrobe Department certainly has its work ‘cut out’ in making all the costumes so Tolethorpe Hall is a hive of activity. Outside, the set builders are hard at work bringing a flavour of Rome to the open air stage. It promises to be an epic production this summer!
The booking line is open for this summer’s season of plays:
William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night & Julius Caesar
Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit
Box office: 01780 756133
For more information and to book online: www.stamfordshakespeare.co.uk