A scene from the Public Theater’s staging of Julius Caesar. Photo: Sara Krulwich / The New York Times.

New York’s Public Theater Issues Statement Defending Its Staging of Julius Caesar

Bank of America and Delta Air Lines pulled their corporate sponsorship from New York’s Public Theater on June 11 after its staging of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, which offers up a rather Trump-like depiction of the Roman despot. A number of conservative media outlets, as well as the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., complained about the play in light of its famous and rather bloody scene where Caesar is murdered by his senators, report Liam Stack and Sopan Deb and Michael Paulson of the New York Times. “I wonder how much of this ‘art’ is funded by taxpayers? Serious question, when does ‘art’ become political speech & does that change things?” tweeted Trump Jr. The play has been in previews since May 23. It opened Monday at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park as part of the Public’s Shakespeare in the Park festival.

“No matter what your political stance may be, the graphic staging of Julius Caesar at this summer’s free Shakespeare in the Park does not reflect Delta Air Lines’ values,” said the airline in a statement. “Their artistic and creative direction crossed the line on the standards of good taste.” Bank of America announced that it will not fund the play but will continue supporting the theater, as it has for the past eleven years. Susan Atran, a representative for the bank, said, “The Public Theater chose to present Julius Caesar in a way that was intended to provoke and offend. Had this intention been made known to us, we would have decided not to sponsor it.” American Express also released a statement, saying that its sponsorship of the theater doesn’t provide funding for Shakespeare in the Park and that it does not “condone the interpretation of the Julius Caesar play.”

On the evening of June 12, however, the Public Theater issued a brief statement defending its take on the play:

“The Public Theater stands completely behind our production of Julius Caesar. We understand and respect the right of our sponsors and supporters to allocate their funding in line with their own values. We recognize that our interpretation of the play has provoked heated discussion; audiences, sponsors, and supporters have expressed varying viewpoints and opinions.

Such discussion is exactly the goal of our civically-engaged theater; this discourse is the basis of a healthy democracy. Our production of Julius Caesar in no way advocates violence towards anyone. Shakespeare's play, and our production, make the opposite point: those who attempt to defend democracy by undemocratic means pay a terrible price and destroy the very thing they are fighting to save. For over 400 years, Shakespeare’s play has told this story and we are proud to be telling it again in Central Park.”

The theater’s statement was e-mailed with the subjet line “#WeAreOnePublic.”