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Our scholastic institutions canonize Shakespeare as an apogee of western theatre; if one does not appreciate Shakespeare’s genius, it is a failing in the individual and never a fault in the work or the manner of its presentation. Shakespeare was wildly popular in his time, yet there are many today who have no taste for the Bard. This essay interrogates that discrepancy and posits that perhaps the failure to appreciate Shakespeare today lies not in the individual, but in the ways contemporary audiences encounter his plays. This paper uses Julius Caesar as an example of a play which was embraced by Elizabethan audiences but is rarely staged affectively in the twenty-first century. Using Bert O. States’ theory of theatre phenomenology and the “sensory basis of scenic illusion” I posit that Julius Caesar can be staged affectively today by using the characteristics of Early Modern theatre.[i] My argument analyzes Elizabethan politics, the phenomenological experience of attending an Early Modern playhouse, the scenic and performance practices of Early Modern theatre, and finally unsuccessful contemporary productions, to present a compelling argument for restoring Early Modern practices when mounting Julius Caesar. I write this argument in the hope that theatre makers will gain a better understanding of how reawakening old conventions can bring Julius Caesar, and indeed all of Shakespeare, to life.
[i] States, Bert O. Great Reckonings in Little Rooms: On the Phenomenology of Theater (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), 50