I noted that yesterday was the day in 1613 that Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre burned to the ground. It wasn’t arson. The thatched roof caught on fire after a theatrical cannon misfired during a production of Henry VIII. No one died, but the home of Shakespeare’s company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, was gone.

That’s history, but what felt more contemporary to me in that story is that after it was rebuilt in 1614, it was closed down in 1642. The Puritans closed all the theaters in London that year. I thought about that and the recent controversy over a production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in New York’s Central Park. Caesar was portrayed as a Donald Trump character and, of course he is assassinated by his own senators.

Thankfully, though there were protests, no one burned down the theater. But the media was afire with the topic. Some people pointed out that this updating of Caesar in portrayal without changing the play’s text is not new. Orson Welles did a famous production with Caesar as Hitler. A few years ago a production had a clearly Barack Obama lead and last year a Hillary Clinton female Caesar walked the stage in a white pantsuit and was assassinated. Those two productions didn’t get much media attention.

The Puritans were a Protestant religious faction and another kind of reformed, plain church, strict religious view. At the end of the Elizabethan era, this conservatism went beyond religion to many social activities within England. The Puritans hated theater.

That they were able to close all the theaters should be more shocking to us than it probably seems to most people today. Imagine if the government, pressured by a religion, was able to shut down the theaters for plays (and films?) today. Is it possible?

There is too much anger and ugliness in American politics today, but we still say we value freedom of speech and expression.

Sometimes it feels like our globe is on fire with wars, terrorism and tragedies manmade.

The Globe Theater was pulled down two years after it was closed. It was rebuilt much like its earlier incarnation (with concessions for current safety) more than 350 years later. It operates today and we are still seeing updated productions of Shakespeare’s plays that resonate with issues of the day. That is how it should be.

The Assassination of Julius Caesar

Vincenzo Camuccini (1771–1844) The Assassination of Julius Caesar

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