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roman tragedies

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Coriolanus is a descendent of an old patrician family who has repeatedly proved his worth as a general in the expansionist wars of the Roman Republic. When he is proposed as consul, it would seem that nothing stands in the way of a successful political career. But Coriolanus is less skilled at the political game: he does not hide his contempt for the common people and refuses to recognize their recently appointed representatives, the tribunes. The conflict gets out of hand and Coriolanus is banished. Filled with hate, he concludes a pact with Rome’s arch enemy and turns against his mother country. The enormous popularity and growing political power of Julius Caesar are a source of worry for his political allies. They fear that Caesar would have little trouble transforming the republic into a dictatorship. Brutus’ friend Cassius feeds these fears and they arrive at a radical decision: only the death of Julius Caesar can save the Roman Republic. After Caesar’s death Brutus is able to calm the indignant masses and to convince them of the necessity of this political murder. But he has also given Antony, Caesar’s friend, the right to speak. The latter reverses the mood of the people and the con-spirators are forced to flee the city. A civil war breaks out. Antony has lost sight of his mother country Rome and his political ambitions in the arms of the Egyptian queen Cleopatra. However, the death of his wife forces him to return to Rome and politics. In order to strengthen his links with the other powerful man in Rome, Octavius Caesar, he marries the latter’s sister. But hardly has the marriage been concluded when Antony takes flight and hurries back to his Egyptian lover. Octavius Caesar takes advantage of Antony’s absence from Rome to gain ever more power. Ultimately he sets off to Egypt with an army to finish his opponent once and for all.

ivo van hove
´Roman Tragedies is a polyphonic theatre production in which all opinions, standpoints and opinions exist side by side. A piece that does not aim to make an ultimate statement about who has right on his side or which direction we should take. Shakespeare does not take sides either. With the Roman tragedies he wrote three plays which revolve around politics and its mechanisms. Without prejudices or partisan standpoints he shows how people who believe in political ideas or systems debate with each other. He shows how they succeed or fail in their political aims. He shows that politics is made by people. What is politics? I have found the answer to this question, in all its simplicity and also clarity, given by Hannah Arendt when she states: “Politics is the decisive possibility for each person to par-take of the world in speech and action and to make a new beginning”, and she also writes, “Someone who wishes to speak only the truth stands outside the political arena; politics means espousing a par-ticular issue.” This is in total contrast to the idea of an absolute truth. The truth is totally apolitical. Politics focuses on the achievable world. Truth and reasons of state are separate worlds. Politics exists thanks to consensus, while the truth is inviolate. Politics can exist only in the conviction that people can change. But politics can only do this if at the same time it accepts its limitations. The truth cannot be changed by people. And since by definition there is a field of tension between politics and the truth, politicians try to incorporate safety measures by means of constitutions, declarations of human rights, power sharing. Politics gains its legitimacy by representing the opinion of the largest possible group of people. An opinion is not an axiom – consultation is required in order to arrive at a shared standpoint. People are always able to start over again, they are not constantly burdened by fate. Free action means action in public, and that is by definition the field of politics.’

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