The Ides of March

by Bob Schwartz

Julius Caesar - Mercury Theater
Today is the Ides of March, which is the 15th of March in the Roman calendar. (The Ides are a monthly mid-point, between the Nones early in the month and the Kalends on the first day.)

It is the day of Julius Caesar’s assassination in 44 BCE, made forever famous by Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, where the Soothsayer warns him (twice) to “beware the ides of March”. It did turn out to be a bad day.

Above is a scene from the Mercury Theater’s legendary 1937 presentation of the play in modern dress and sensibility, set by director Orson Welles in Fascist Italy. The theater company was organized by Welles and John Houseman, and this was their first play. In the photo above, Marc Antony (George Coulouris) kneels over the lifeless body of Julius Caesar (Joseph Holland).

Welles was only 22 at the time, but already a rising star. The Mercury Theater, intended as an independent answer to the restrictions placed on Welles by the Federal Theater Project, was really the launch pad for his fame and infamy as a world class artistic iconoclast.

For an entertaining look at this Mercury Theater production and company, at Orson Welles, and at the promises and disappointments of being young, in love, and working for an impossibly wonderful/horrible genius, see Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles (2008).

The movie is underrated and did very poorly at the box office (as did most Welles films). It is a fully-realized and charming fictionalization of a real cultural milestone, with  recreated scenes from the Julius Caesar production and great ensemble acting. The star turn, appropriately, is from Christian McKay as Welles. There have been other attempts to play this part, which is a double challenge, since the Welles persona is so huge and Welles himself did such a good job of playing Orson Welles. McKay is near perfect, for the part and the story; maybe not “Daniel Day Lewis is Abraham Lincoln” (which he was), but still impressive from such a young actor. McKay is currently listed in five movies in production, which he deserves to be.

Christian McKay - Me and Osrson Welles

There is no special Roman designation for the 16th of March, so enjoy the ides while you can.