From Jail to Prison – An Essay on Caesar Must Die

Note: The following was an essay written for a college course that has since been placed here for archiving.

The adaption of Julius Caesar into Caesar Must Die brings with it a wide variety of artist choices, from the casting of real-life criminals for the majority of the roles to the use of black-and-white film in all scenes except for the scenes showing the play being acted out. Yet the most stand out moment, one that summarizes the movie’s own thesis on Shakespeare’s play and what it says about ignorance and retrospective, is the final line delivered by Cosimo Rega, who plays Cassius, “Since I got to know art, this cell has become a prison.” (Caesar Must Die)

This statement in many ways reflects an idea that develops in the later stages of the play. When the two are combined, I put it this way: Since I killed Caesar, I realized Rome had always been broken.

Cover of Caesar Must Die, courtesy of Rai Cinema, La Talee, and Stemal Entertainment

The final words of the film are a nail in the coffin for a comparison of prison and Rome that begins early in the film with the introduction of the cast, made entirely of real-life criminals. The man who plays Julius Caesar is in for seventeen years for drug trafficking. Brutus has 14 years for multiple associations with a major crime family. Cassius has a life sentence for murder, among other things.

As Cosimo realizes the nature of his imprisonment through art, so does his character and fellow conspirators realize the nature of their own nation as they combat tyranny. They were all prisoners in the political prison of Rome long before Caesar’s heirs chased them down. 

This ‘before and after’ can be shown in the way the conspirators decide to spare Antony, “Our course will seem too bloody… for Antony is but a limb of Caesar.” (II.i.162-165), compared to Cassius’s call to his hunters, “Come Antony and young Octavius… for Cassius is aweary of the world: hated by one he loves, braved by his brother, checked like a bondman” (IV.iii.92-96). The play’s conspirators go from feeling they can contain the rot in Rome to one man, to realizing they have been exiled by a Rome completely controlled by that rot.

This realization is mirrored again in a scene near the half way mark of the film, when the actor who plays Caesar calls out the man playing Lucius in the middle of his persuading of Caesar to go to the senate despite bad omens. The manipulative nature of the scene has revealed the man’s true nature to ‘Caesar’, who proceeds to get into a fight with him.The actors themselves realize the world around them scene by scene as they are immersed into the world of the play.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The choices directors Paolo and Vittorio Taviani make in their closing scene reveal a lens one can use to view both Shakespeare’s work and the reality of Roman history. The Tavaini brothers seem to agree with the idea many modern historians champion; the Republic fell long before Caesar’s body went cold. As Cassius and Brutus realize their doom in the hands of an already damned Republic, Cosimo Rega realizes, through art, that his life has been truly wasted.

He chose to be part of this play to escape the realities of his life sentence, but in the end only learned to understand his permanent jailing in a more permanent way because of said play. The irony of this mixture of reflection and ignorance is one that exists in Julius Caesaritself, to the detriment of all involved.

Works Cited

Caesar Must Die. Paolo Taviani, Vittorio Taviani. Distributor, 2012. https://                                     www.amazon.com/Caesar-Must-Die-Antonio-Frasca/dp/B00HAN05WS/                                   ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1519501961&sr=8-1&keywords=caesar+must+die.

“Julius Caesar.” The Norton Shakespeare, by William Shakespeare et al., Third ed., W.W. Norton & Company, 2016, pp. 1685–1749.

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