I, Cinna (the poet) and Julius Caesar: the RSC productions

Posted on May 3, 2013 
Filed under Discussions, Language, Shakespeare

On Friday May 3 I joined Jessica Sharp, Amy McKibben (teacher-leaders from the OSU/RSC PD Program) and their middle and high school students at the Southern Theatre for a performance of Tim Crouch’s I, Cinna (the Poet).  It was performed on the set of the compelling RSC’s production of Julius Caesar (directed by the new RSC artistic director Greg Doran) which I’d seen two days previously.  Placing the events of the play in a modern-day African setting had evoked in me knowledge and memories of contemporary dictatorships and civil wars in post-colonial Africa.

You can watch a video recording of I, Cinna (the poet) on the RSC website but as always, being in the theatre was so much more engaging and compelling.  We were framed as if we were in the imagination of Cinna, the poet, (masterfully portrayed by Jude Owusu who also played the character in Julius Caesar).  As the events of Shakespeare’s play unfolded off-stage (as if in contemporary setting like London) we became implicated as Cinna led us each in writing down words that gradually create a poem.  What would you die for?  What would you kill for?  We gradually wrote one of Shakespeare’s lines  – It must be by his death – as we realized we were seeing Cinna predicting and then accepting his death.  Cinna raises questions for us about the value of poetry: Mark Antony changed the course of the play (and of history) by his words.  We are left wondering about the effect of Cinna’s words and of ours when he asks us to write to explain his death.  Like the several hundred young people, over 5 minutes I wrote:

Butchered like a chicken

By heartless men

Following the rightness of the mob

Following the wrongness of the inauspicious day

Who let slip the dogs of war?

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