Shoulders back, eyes to the horizon, I strode onto the stage, imperiously shouting, “Antonius!” during a performance as Julius Caesar in Shakespeare’s tragic play.
Each evening I took the stage as the domineering character of Caesar, I was reminded that my performance was a privilege, shadowed by a history of women who were overlooked, doubted and victimized because of their gender.
Fifty years ago, many women wouldn’t have had the opportunity to play the iconic role of Caesar, nor would they have imagined themselves as contenders for the most powerful leadership position in the United States.
Whether or not you support Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president, it’s difficult to deny that our country’s acceptance of a woman’s run for president is significant. A century ago, women weren’t even allowed to vote.
While these examples of women in power are products of a progressive society, we cannot forget the scars of the past and the work we need to do to achieve true gender equality.
Since its inception, live theater has reflected the perceptions of the society in which it was created, and “Julius Caesar” is no exception. Although “Julius Caesar” was written over 400 years ago, its themes of power, persuasion and betrayal resemble our chaotic political scene. Leading political figures slap on sideways smiles as they plot Caesar’s tragic demise. Some are driven by love of country and the needs of the people, others by an addiction to power and financial gain.
“Julius Caesar” is not a play about gender, but by casting Caesar as a woman, as Goshen College did this year, our perception of the character changes. We are forced to ask ourselves how we perceive a woman in power. Why does it feel odd to see a female Caesar on stage? Is it solely because the role is typically performed by men, or because we are unaccustomed to seeing a woman with copious amounts of power?
We must ask ourselves similar questions as we consider the possibility that Clinton may become the 45th president of the United States.
Although Clinton is no stranger to the political scene and has the government experience to rival any candidate, many doubt her ability to lead simply because of her gender. Women have to do more than men to prove themselves as leaders despite the fact that they are equally qualified, concluded a 2015 Pew Research study. To win the presidency, Clinton must embody all the positive qualities of a woman—charisma and compassion—while somehow avoiding the negative stereotype of an overly-emotional or weak woman.
When women see Clinton breaking new ground as the potential first female president of the United States, they begin to dream bigger, imagining a brighter future for themselves. But like Caesar, Clinton is not without her faults and cannot be expected to meet these extraordinarily high standards.
While some may choose to see Caesar as a tyrant, I believe Shakespeare meant for us to realize that Caesar is more complicated, more human. Caesar is assassinated for his wild ambition, but Shakespeare never answers the question of whether Caesar deserved such a death. Perhaps Brutus only exaggerates this ambition to rationalize Caesar’s murder. Perhaps Caesar is unfairly executed for failing to meet Brutus’ unattainable standards.
“As he was valiant, I honor him; but, as he was ambitious, I slew him” (3.2.26-27).
I don’t wish to dictate your interpretation of the play, but instead encourage you to consider the humanity of any great leader.By casting Caesar as a female, we are reminded that women in power, like men, are not without their faults. We cannot discredit Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate because of her gender. Nor can we ignore the importance of gender when talking about politics and women in power.
I hope that women in the audience will take inspiration from my performance and own their power. We should not have to meet the impossible standards set by men when we have strong, unique leadership qualities of our own.
We are just as capable of playing Julius Caesar as any man out there.