Two weekends ago I went to see Julius Caesar in Central Park. I saw it before the protests, before the reviews. I had never done the Shakespeare in the Park Experience before, and it was one of the most civilized things I have ever done. I got up and rode public transit to a public park, kept beautiful by public employees, and waited in line with the general public of New York City, and then got free tickets to public show put on by a public theater, outdoors. And I got to see a play about how democracy dies—a warning to everyone.
Or is it? Shakespeare is the greatest writer the English language has ever produced, but as a person, he is a sphinx. We know he lived and died read many books and wrote plays, but it’s much harder to know what he truly believed, or if he believed in anything. Consider this: He was a businessman and wrote plays for money but he knew exactly how to connect with our hearts and minds. And in the white heat of the Reformation’s aftermath, Shakespeare’s religious and political views were…unclear. He may have come from a Catholic family. He may have been Protestant. He may have had no religion at all. In some cases, this was a life and death choice. He performed plays in front of kings and queens—but he may have been a republican. Also, at the time, a life or death choice.
It’s hard to know much about the person, but the plays help us know ourselves. So we will be reading some of them this summer for our Barbecue Book Club, beginning Thursday, July 6th and running until the second week of August, trying to come to them from a religious perspective. We’ll end with our own reading-performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
It’s going to be fun. Bring food and drink. The grill gets fired up around 6:30. Bring the kids, so they can catch fireflies in the garden.