I have a friend who asks me about any Shakespearean-influenced film that comes out. Sadly, I think he knows more about them than I do because I don’t manage to watch movies these days. On New Year’s Eve, we were talking about the upcoming Coriolanus directed by and starring Ralph Fiennes. I do know odd bits of trivia like the fact that this will be the first cinematic Coriolanus ever. It’s a pretty obscure play. It’s fairly long, and when people do the Roman plays they tend toward the historically familiar Julius Caesar or Antony and Cleopatra or the gruesome Titus Andronicus. I have long been intrigued by Coriolanus because it is a plot device in Madeleine L’Engle’s under-appreciated young adult novel, The Young Unicorns (a thoughtful review of Unicorns), but even so I have found it kind of a long play to get through.
This conversation made me think about how the Roman plays seem to be in the cultural consciousness right now. Along with Coriolanus, we had George Clooney’s The Ides of March, which may not be as Caesar-influenced as the title suggests, but is still referencing it and is about political intrigue and betrayal. There is also The Hunger Games which Suzanne Collins claims has some basis in the Theseus myth, but I believe is also highly influenced by Julius Caesar. Additionally, the name of the country in HG is Panem, from Panem et Circenses, or Bread and Circuses, the Roman notion that government approval could come through immediate gratification of the people–full bellies and shallow entertainment.
Why is this a theme right now? Will we see more? Or have I just managed to link three basically unlinked items and called it a trend?
Are we there? The decadent society? The dissolution? The out-of-touch government just reaching for power? The people willing to be satisfied with full bellies and shallow entertainment? The L’Engle book hails from the 1968, 44 years ago, and I think she thought we were already there–though she always posited hope. Is it a coincidence that people are looking to these themes, this Rome that Shakespeare captures over and over from different perspectives? Can we hear the themes? The messages? Will we respond? Is Occupy Wallstreet, etc., doing just that? What can we do? How can we respond? Is it time?
In 2 Chronicles God says to Solomon that people will inevitably fall away, but that:
if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (II Chronicles 7:14)