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Recently the Royal Shakespeare Company did a performance of this play that was set in post-colonial Africa, with an entire African cast. Even though the setting and context was completely different, it was staggering how well the play fitted in to the action to describe how power corrupts and how the temptations of power can be too much for even the most apparently virtuous of individuals. This clearly suggests the continuing relevance of this play as it contains themes that are universal, and are never going to fade or diminish as long as there are humans on this planet. Unfortunately, recent history is full of examples of leaders who have been given too much power and turned into Ceasar's themselves, and this is something that Brutus comments on in Act II scene 1 when he is trying to talk himself into killing Ceasar for the "right" reasons:
Crown him: that!
And then I grant we put a sting in him
That at his will he may do danger with.
Th'abuse of greatness is when it disjoins
Remorse from power.
This is something that can easily be identified in any number of 21st century political leaders, and one clear example would be President Putin of Russia, whose grip on power is total in his country. Another example might be Berlusconi of Italy, although he has fallen from grace now. It is very difficult to pinpoint any exaples of Marc Anthonys or Brutus figures today as the public are not privy to their emotions and feelings in the way that the audience is aware of their motivations in the play, but in reality any politician probably has elements of their character within them. Shakespeare presents us with a view of political power that insidiously corrupts even the most scrupulous of individuals, and this is something that 21st century political life supports.
What an interesting question! I thought it was interesting to read that the Royal Shakespeare Company set its performance of Julius Caesar in Africa, as I think that is one of the easiest places in the world to see the absolute corruption of power in action. Take for example Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe; Mugabe came into office after the successful fight for Zimbabwean independence in 1980. At the time, he symbolized great hope for the Zimbabwean people. It was an exciting time as the first black national government was established after years of white colonial rule. Like Caesar after his defeat of Pompey, he was riding high on the victory of war.
However, it wasn't long before President Mugabe and his party, ZANU, took advantage of their newfound power to create a dictatorship. Much like how Caesar almost took the title of king in the play, Mugabe instated himself with a new title, "Head of State," in 1987. In all the years of his rule, it's been increasingly impossible to overthrow him. Only in 2008 was he finally defeated in an election, and even then he refused to relinquish his position. He pushed his opposition into a power-sharing deal, meaning he still holds sway over a crumbling country today.
The difference between these two figures is that Caesar's character isn't typically viewed as outright corrupt like Mugabe's is:
Caesar has been interpreted in a number of ways: as superstitious and weak, as ambitious and arrogant, as a commanding leader concerned with the well-being of Rome. (Julius Caesar Character Analysis, eNotes)
Perhaps this is because Caesar's possibly vaulting ambition was cut short before it really became evident. Mugabe's corruption for the sake of power, on the other hand, is all too apparent.
Similarly, Mugabe hasn't been cut down by conspirators in the way Caesar was. The men he currently shares power with--Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara--attempted for years to seize power from the Head of State, but only through the legal course of action, not through plotted assassination. They could only loosely be alluded to as Brutus and Cassius-like figures, and only for the fact that they, like the rest of the world, recognized Mugabe's tyrannical desires.
Finally, in his death Caesar became a heroic figure for Rome. His will bequeathed most of his fortune to the city, and the reasons for assassinating the ruler were proven to be faulted thanks to Marc Antony's funeral speech. Conversely, were Mugabe to ever be assassinated or removed from power, he would not be remembered as the patriarch of Zimbabwe, only as the man who brought financial ruin and famine to the former "breadbasket of Africa." Perhaps those already loyal to him would come to his defense, but not the majority of his oppressed constituents.
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