Much has been made recently about Ted Cruz going Marc Antony – the Roman general, not the singer – on The Donald at the Republican National Convention in a speech in which he congratulated the Trumpster but declined to endorse him. This sent some political and literary experts alike scurrying to Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” in which Antony – a Caesar ally who is waylaid by the conspirators on the day of Caesar’s assassination – turns the tables on the assassins in his famous “Friends, Romans, Countrymen” eulogy.
“I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him,” he says, but praise him he does, however subtly, sealing the murderers’ fates.
The analogy here is to Cruz’s call to “vote your conscience,” thereby undermining Trump’s bid for party unity.
But the swarmy, nakedly ambitious, unlikable Cruz lacks the cunning and charisma – to say nothing of the sexual magnetism – of an Antony, one of the Bard’s glamour boys. We can’t imagine Cleopatra finding the world well lost for Cruz.
A better Shakespearean analogy for this bunch would be the overtly brutal “Coriolanus,” about another Roman general beloved by the public – until he isn’t, for Shakespeare understood as few of us do that the public has the attention span of a flea. It’s with you today, and someone else tomorrow. And even if you’re great (Franklin D. Roosevelt), it soon tires of you.
I covered Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2000, with Linus Roache as archrival Tullius Aufidius. (Fiennes, who also played Antony at London’s Barbican Theatre in 2005, would later film “Coriolanus” with Gerard Butler in the role of the nemesis.)
I thought Fiennes miscast as Coriolanus, a part that cries out for Russell Crowe in full “Gladiator” mode. (On the other hand, Fiennes, who played Richard II to Roache’s Bolingbroke in the same BAM engagement, made the poetry of that play soar.)
Coriolanus is not the kind of guy to go gently into that good night. In his most famous speech, he reacts to banishment from Rome – the city he once saved – none too well:
“Despising, For you, the city, thus I turn my back: There is a world elsewhere.”
At the convention, Cruz-ing for a Bruising Ted, who entered to cheers and left to boos, seemed Corolanus-ready to risk the mob’s wrath. There are – as I said in my post about John Kasich – two types of loyalty. One is unequivocal. (“My husband, right or wrong.”) The other is relative. (My husband is a wife-beater, and I’m outta here.”)
No fan of Teddy C, but his exhortation to invoke your conscience in all things makes sense.