Julius Caesar


Broadcast on:
September 11, 1938
Based on:
"Julius Caesar" by William Shakespeare (1599?)
Julius Caesar

"Had I as many eyes as thou hast wounds, weeping as fast..."

It seems Welles was determined to produce at least one Shakespeare play as part of the season, and his choice is an intriguing one. Not for Welles the heroics of the history plays, the spectacle of the more grandiose tragedies or the gleefulness of the comedies. Rather the bleak aftermath of a political assassination is portrayed as a kind of moral misadventure. In the end Welles decides to go for moral rather than dramatic complexity, his Brutus is as much a victim of his own sense of virtue than his murderous act. George Coulouris makes a fearsomely righteous opponent.

Performed, Welles assures us, "without benefit of toga," this production was nonetheless a sort of revival of the Mercury Theatre's acclaimed Broadway production of Julius Caesar, setting the production in a fascist state highly reminiscent of Germany or Italy. Reducing Caesar to under an hour is no easy task, and the narrated summaries of events are perhaps a little odd, but Welles pulls an extremely taut political thriller from what remains. This recording is taken from a rehearsal, the original being thought lost. It is unlikely that, twenty minutes in, Welles cried 'Silence in the studio!' during the actual broadcast.


The Play

Summarising one of the world's best known plays is an unnecessary task, so I won't attempt it. Better to leave one of many sublime extracts from the play itself, and a Wikipedia link.

There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat;
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.”

Julius Caesar, Act IV, Scene III.

Full Cast

Orson Welles (Brutus), H. V. Kaltenborn (Commentator), Martin Gabel (Cassius), George Coulouris (Antony), Joseph Holland (Caesar)

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Mercury Theatre

All eighteen surviving broadcasts from the Mercury Theatre on the Air, free to listen to and download.

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Les Miserables

Welles's interpretation of Hugo's epic tale, which inspired CBS to commission the Mercury Theatre.

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Original scripts, other Welles recordings, further reading and lots more besides.

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"We're born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we're not alone."

Orson Welles