Helping Kids With Homework Pt. II: The Setting of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

Saw another question on Quora the other day that clearly was from a young kid trying to finish their homework by getting some well-meaning nerds to write it for them–y’all know how hard it is to even open an actual book, much less write down what it says! I figured I’d help the kid avoid all that hassle. So I really went to town, laying out all the details of one of my favorite pieces of American literature.

What is the setting of the play “The Tragedy of Julius Caesar” by William Shakespeare?

QuoraQuestionsIt’s set in and around the Sherman Oaks Mall food court during the time of Shakespeare, in 1983. Most of the monologues happen at the Orange Julius near the salad bar.

Fun Fact: The lead character’s name, “Cassius,” is a play on words suggesting that he is carrying a lot of money around. His doorman’s name, “Brutus,” is of course the Latinized version of the famous cologne by Fabergé.

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Did you know that Caesar’s famous parting line “Et tu, Brute?” was originally written in the script as “Apple II …e?” But on the first day of shooting, Shakespeare worried that this brand name might not age well and fought producer Aaron Spelling to find a personal computer that would still be cool in the new millennium. Sadly, Lionel Richie already owned the trademark to “Commodores,” and the lawyers warned against going with “IBM” due to Spelling’s involvement with the constipation rights movement.

The grips and foleys were just about to come to blows when suddenly Shakespeare noticed Spelling’s young daughter, Tori, sitting on the ground with a box of Scrabble, using the tiles to spell out what she had worn to school that day: “TUTU BERET.” In desperation, Shakespeare rearranged the tiles until they spelled out three garbled nonsense syllables, a perfect last phrase for a dying emperor who’s gurgling up his own blood.

[Spoiler alert! Caesar does eventually recover, only to learn that he’s an Australian cop from the future, and his wife was a fire.]

Fun Fact: “Et tu, Brute?” was a perfect fit for the script’s iambic pentameter, which was crucial for making sure they could choreograph the rap contest that was the setup for Julius Caesar II: Christmas in the Outback.

waterslooood

Shakespeare had better luck with the freestyle BMX bike scenes, though Aaron Spelling initially refused to let him film them in the wave pool of Tarzana’s “The Russians Are Coming!” Water-tainment Park. Spelling complained that all the bobbing heads going up and down, up and down, up and down, up and down, up and down, up and down, up and down, up and down, up and down, up and down, [oops I drowned], up and down, up and down, up and down would undermine the seriousness of Marc Antony’s soliloquy about the price of freedom in a world where Gorbachev will never rest until he grinds down American liberty under the jackheel of Soviet air superiority, especially when following directly after Caesar’s victory over the Dacians in Ultimate Frisbee.

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Frustrated, and without access to Bolivian cocaine, Shakespeare sought comfort in the arms of fellow director Penny Marshall, who had by now completely forgiven him for his shitty attitude at the Clio Awards five months prior. Using her years of experience at lying to children, Marshall again harnessed the cuteness and next-level acting skills of nine year old Tori Spelling, who she bribed with Reece’s Pieces into accosting her father at a marketing meeting with Kroger’s Dainties. There in the boardroom, Tori scolded her father for not believing in Shakespeare, ending her speech with a catchphrase she’d been working on: “Not very RAD, dad!”

Charmed by how easily his daughter’s loyalties had been manipulated, and also very low on cocaine, Spelling caved, and so gave Shakespeare the go-ahead to film perhaps the most delicate masterpiece of comic relief in any Shakespearean tragedy, especially those starring a young Alfonso Ribeiro. Still a fan favorite, this rhyming couplet has become known as the “famous breakdancing wave pool pun.”:

“Hath my Republic virtue yet to save?

Behold! I ride this wave whilst doing the wave!”

Tragically, after all that love and laughter, puns and tears, no version of Julius Caesar was ever shipped to CBS affiliates. At the last minute, Shakespeare had a stark realization: this made-for-TV movie was just too violent, too late-teens/early 20s, and would never gain traction with the younger 12–16 demographic he’d promised investors. In a panic, Shakespeare spent an entire ouzo-filled night whittling the 212 page script down to its barest essentials, finally converting it into a single Benetton billboard ad, which boosted sweater sales in several midwest urban markets.

The last original copy of the script for “Julius Caesar,” as well as Shakespeare’s large framed copy of the Benetton ad, were eventually lost to the ages, last seen at auction after his second wife’s divorce settlement.

D. M. Collins

D. M. Collins is a journalist and writer based in Los Angeles.

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