Two protesters interrupted the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park performance of Julius Caesar on Friday night, with one of them crashing the stage to yell, “Stop the normalization of political violence against the right! This is unacceptable!"
The production, which features a Donald Trump-esque figure in its title role, has been a target of right-wing outrage since before its official opening on June 12. Because the 400-year-old play sees Julius Caesar assassinated by members of the Roman Senate — and thus, in this production, it’s the Trump-esque figure who meets an untimely demise — the Public Theater’s staging has drawn condemnation from news outlets such as Breitbart and Fox News and lost the support of two corporate sponsors as a result.
The incident on Friday night was filmed by one of the two protesters, Jack Posobiec, who posted video footage on Twitter:
BREAKING: Julius Ceasar Gets SHUTDOWN pic.twitter.com/ITgfMR0tHE— Jack Posobiec (@JackPosobiec) June 17, 2017
The woman in the video has been identified as Laura Loomer, who, according to the New York Times, is a self-described “right-wing investigative journalist and activist.” As Loomer approaches the stage, Posobiec yells and gestures toward his fellow theatergoers, calling them Nazis, likening them to Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, and seemingly blaming the production for Wednesday’s mass shooting in Alexandria, Virginia, by screaming, “The blood of Steve Scalise is on your hands!”
The Times reports that Loomer was ultimately charged with criminal trespass and disorderly conduct and released — in part because she would not step away from Central Park’s Delacorte Theater, where Julius Caesar is being performed, upon being escorted out. “Because of liberal violence like this, a congressman this week was shot in Virginia,” she reportedly declared.
I'm out of jail, but I'm not apologetic. Thanks to everyone who is supporting me & condemning political violence. https://t.co/QkZkxu1yCj— Laura Loomer (@LauraLoomer) June 17, 2017
Such claims have been a theme among many on the right in the aftermath of the shooting, which left House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) critically wounded. As Vox’s Jeff Guo writes:
Many Republicans condemned Democrats and the “liberal media” for promoting a combative tone against the GOP. They pointed to raucous town halls, protests in the streets, and, of course, that controversial photo of Kathy Griffin holding a bloodied, beheaded figure of Trump. "The rhetoric has been outrageous: The finger-pointing, the tone, the angst and the anger directed at Donald Trump,” complained Chris Collins, a Republican representative from New York.
And since the shooting happened in the same week that the uproar over Julius Caesar hit a fever pitch, some — including both Friday’s protesters, apparently, as well as the president’s son Donald Trump Jr. — have been quick to draw a direct connection between the shooting and the play:
Events like today are EXACTLY why we took issue with NY elites glorifying the assassination of our President— Harlan Z. Hill (@Harlan) June 14, 2017
But as many Shakespeare fans and scholars have been pointing out since the outrage over the Public Theater’s Trump-tinged production first began to draw criticism, Julius Caesar is an inherently political play with warnings for everyone — and one that specifically implores those who commit political violence, even in service of their country, to consider the futility of their actions. It also lends itself to different interpretations for different political contexts.
As Alissa Wilkinson writes for Vox:
Julius Caesar is a political play, one that plumbs the uneasy relationship between power and populism, as well as the conflicts that arise between personal relationships and loyalty to country. It even explores the pitfalls of various forms of government, from democracy’s potential for mob rule manipulated by showy speakers to the potential for personal power seeking in a republic to the dangers of iron-fisted, people-crushing authoritarian rule.
And thus, with regard to the Public Theater’s production of Julius Caesar in particular, Wilkinson explains that those who’ve argued that it incites violence are completely missing the point:
You can only read Julius Caesar as a simple revenge fantasy if you don’t actually read the play. And casting a Trump-like character as Julius Caesar does a lot more for him than merely let an audience watch him get assassinated onstage. Just as Julius Caesar is a play with many warnings, a specifically Trump-oriented Julius Caesar contains many warnings and implications — and bafflingly, right-wing media hasn’t bothered to point them out.
Opponents of the Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar, if they were familiar with the text, could have seized on the chance this production handed them. For one, it puts Trump in the position of the beloved leader of the people, casting him as a legendary hero. And it warns about the futility of violence against him (something that has new resonance in the wake of controversy over Kathy Griffin’s “beheading” of the president). A canny right-wing response to the production could have praised it for embedding conservative and even Trump-supporting ideas inside the more obvious, arguably even ham-fisted depiction of the president. (National Review came closest to this approach, calling it “boring.”)
But Friday’s protesters clearly viewed the Public Theater’s production of Julius Caesar as a call for violence against the right.
As for what happened post-protest during Friday night’s performance, the Public Theater’s artistic director, Oskar Eustis, gave a statement to the Daily Beast in which he characterized the incident as a both minor and meaningful:
Two protesters disrupted our show tonight; we stopped the show for less than a minute and our stage manager handled it beautifully. The staff removed the protesters peacefully, and the show resumed with the line ‘Liberty! Freedom!’ The audience rose to their feet to thank the actors, and we joyfully continued. Free speech for all, but let's not stop the show.