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Pretending to be Offended by Trump as Julius Caesar

Plus the great #ShakespeareInTheTrump Hashtag

Way back in 2008, Michael Kinsley wrote that the main currency in American politics is faking umbrage: acting terribly offended by something political opponents said or did. We just witnessed a fantastic example of this with the “controversy” over Shakespeare in the Park’s production of Julius Caesar.

It features a Trump-like Caesar, and (SPOILER ALERT) he gets assassinated. This, according to the umbrage-takers, condones violence against the right. Yes, the people who mock others as “snowflakes” and blame political correctness for America’s ills are clutching their pearls over a play.

They say the production is among those responsible for the shooting of Congressman Steve Scalise and others at the Republicans’ baseball practice in Virginia. Delta pulled its sponsorship, an activist ran on stage during the play, and Shakespeare actors around the country report receiving death threats.

Of the many, many examples of umbrage-taking in American politics, this is one of the most ridiculous.

First, making Caesar look like the president is not exactly a new idea. There have been professional productions with Caesars resembling Lincoln, Reagan, Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama (and probably others). Want modern audiences to relate to your Renaissance play about an ancient emperor? A presidential stand-in is the go-to move.

Here’s a photo from a 2012 production with an Obama lookalike. In this version, Caesar also got assassinated. (Sorry, spoiler).

If you’re wondering if the people outraged today believed that production condoned political violence, the answer is no. Delta even sponsored it.

Besides, the play is a cautionary tale. The aftermath of the assassination is disastrous for the conspirators and their country. It does the opposite of condoning political violence.

I guess this misinterpretation shouldn’t be too surprising. “Snowflake” comes from Fight Club, and the point of that book/movie is how much Tyler Durden sucks; how harming oneself and others and trying to tear the whole system down is a weak and pathetic response to modern alienation, rather than heroic or cool.

It’s hard to believe most of the people driving the umbrage over Julius Caesar really think it condones political violence or motivates left-wing terrorists. (Except maybe the woman who interrupted the play. A few years ago she was protesting Hamilton. Getting mad at the theater is kind of her thing). But they know the political value of pretending to be offended.

That’s especially true for the anti-anti-Trump contingent: the Republicans who voted for Anyone But Hillary, who know Trump’s doing a bad job, but are so steeped in partisanship, so used to treating politics like sports rather than a process to determine the best direction for the country, that they’ll take what they can get. Anything to return to their comfort zone of attacking the left, rather than having to try and defend Trump on the merits.

But there’s a silver lining. Someone on Twitter threw out a challenge to Trumpify Shakespeare and the people responded.

Of course, there was some of umbrage-taking mixed in:

But theater nerds, Shakespeare fans, English majors, and people who remember high school all stepped up. The results were glorious.

There were:

  • a bunch of don’t-need-to-edit references (“Lord, what fools these mortals be,” Comedy of Errors, “hell is empty and all the devils are here”)
  • a lot of All’s Well that Ends Well in _________ (impeachment, jail time) and A Midsummer’s Night ________ (scream, scheme, nightmare, dream about my daughter, etc.)
  • plus many variations on Hamlet’s famous question:

Here are my contributions:

Here are some of my favorites by others:

Way to go, internet.

And to the angry Trump supporters: say what you will about us, but lay off the Shakespeare actors. Their life’s hard enough as it is.

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Nicholas Grossman

Nicholas Grossman

Senior Editor at Arc Digital. Poli Sci prof (IR) at U. Illinois. Author of “Drones and Terrorism.” Politics, national security, and occasional nerdery.