Shakespeare and the Assassins

Friday A/V Club: JFK and LBJ do MacBeth.


Grassy Knoll Press

Last weekend's Big Fake Outrage involved a Shakespeare-in-the-Park production of Julius Caesar that features a Caesar based on Donald Trump. Caesar, as every schoolboy knows, is murdered in Act 3, so the show was denounced as "assassination porn" (note: the play is famously anti-assassination) that proves just how uniquely crazy Trump has made people (note: modernized productions of Julius Caesar are a cliché, and just a few years ago a high-profile performance featured a Caesar based on Barack Obama). Under different circumstances the hubbub might have faded by now, but on Wednesday some jerk tried to kill a bunch of congressmen and then some people started suggesting he was somehow influenced by the play (note: that's nuts). So we're still hearing about it.

But enough about Julius Caesar. Want to know what a tasteless assassination-themed appropriation of Shakespeare really sounds like? Check out MacBird!, Barbara Garson's MacBeth parody in which Lyndon Johnson plots the death of John F. Kennedy. Below you can hear a performance directed by Phil Austin, of Firesign Theatre fame, that aired on one of the Pacifica radio stations in 1967. If you'd rather read the script, it's here; but honestly, it's more fun when you can hear the actors' faux-Kennedy accents:

The original performance of the play starred Stacy Keach in the LBJ role. Sadly, I don't have a recording of that one.

Bonus links: Matthew Lasar has more on MacBird! here. Garson has a cameo in my review of a rather different piece of literature here. For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here. For another Friday A/V Club with a Firesign Theatre connection, go here.

NEXT: Does Rhetoric Influence Violence? The Fifth Column Debates

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I say that everyone needs to just shut up and chill the fuck out for the rest of the summer. Who’s with me?

    1. I’m going to try to hang out with the 10+ babes in the Taboolah adverts. They look like they could discuss Shakespeare over a banana rum smoothy.

  2. One slight difference that you failed to mentioned. People cheered the assassination of Trump. Pretending that the current violence and rhetoric coming from the Left at this time is the same as from the Right is mind numbingly blind.

    1. Most of these lying fake libertarian scumbags at Reason were absolutely thrilled about that shooting the other day. On the inside, they’re disappointed that the guy didn’t hit more of his targets, which is the case for 90% of the so-called “mainstream” media.

      Of course none of them are ever going to say that openly. They’ll only say it in hushed tones to each other where no Deplorables can actually see or hear them.

      1. You realize that you’re delusional, right?

        1. He’s never going to admit that openly.

          1. Least of all to himself. Mike M is the real victim here.

            1. It’s not his fault that his mom ate all those lead paint chips while he was in utero.

        2. Actually I do indeed know some folks here in Dallas of the leftist persuasion that do lament that the shooter wasn’t a better shot. They say it sort-of-but-not-really in jest, but they still say it. Not that I really give a shit about it since they can say any idiot thing they want.

          It is interesting though that when Obama was elected everyone was terrified that he wouldn’t live through his first term because of some racist KKK crazies. Personally, I think Trump probably has better chances of being on the receiving end of a progressive nutball than Obama ever had of being a martyr.

          1. There were people, during the LBJ and Nixon administrations, who would go around saying, “Where’s Lee Harvey Oswald now that we need him?”

      2. Jerryskids|6.14.17 @ 3:47PM|#

        On days like today, it’s worth engaging in a little self-inventory to see how you reacted when the political violence was aimed at the opposing team.

        I can honestly say I did two seconds of self-inventorying and realized that I may very well be a hypocrite when it comes to political violence aimed at the opposing team – if this had been a Congressman shooting at members of the public I probably would have been outraged rather than simply shrugging it off as payback for years of shit-weaselry. So sue me, I’m not that concerned about a member of my team playing a little rough with the opposition.

        I thought I was fairly open about the idea that a member of the public shooting at Congressmen isn’t going to get as whole-hearted a condemnation out of me as would a Congressman shooting at members of the public.

        1. As a kid, long before I had the political ideas I do now, I thought political assassination was OK as long as you didn’t get caught. Poison would be best for that if I’d thought it thru, which I don’t remember doing. And if there was a chance of getting caught, or maybe even if there was no chance, make it look like an accident, so nobody’d even know there’d been an assassination. What’s the point of making it obvious you’re killing somebody on purpose? You do that only when you’re sure of winning, to intimidate anyone from fighting back.

        2. I have no problem with shooting Congresscritters. But let’s first have H Beam Piper’s Court of Political Justice in place to determine if the shooting was deserved, and if not, determine the “extent that what the politician got was in excess to what he deserved.”

      3. If he’d killed a bunch of Republicans, that would just earn sympathy for Republicans. Why would anyone want that?

  3. Check out MacBird!
    Too soon.

  4. People cheered the assassination of Trump.

    No, pundits and self-proclaimed celebrities made headlines by saying stupid things.

    I bet there were just as many pundits and self-proclaimed celebrities cheering anti-LBJ slime as in this case. (You didn’t provide links, I won’t either.)

    MacBird! was 60 years ago, and nonsense like this has too short a shelf half life to matter. Jesse pointed out a parody based on Obama; how many people remembered that? I’m certain I would have laughed when it happened, but I’m also certain I would have forgotten about it days later, as I had about this Trump parody until Jesse wrote about it. Trying to compare outrage now vs 60 years ago for something this trivial and forgettable is a lost cause.

  5. “Barbara Garson’s MacBeth parody in which Lyndon Johnson plots the death of John F. Kennedy.”

    Um, I don’t think that’s a parody. Tin foil hats, anyone?

    1. Are you kidding? Everyone KNOWS LBJ had him killed then snuffed out the evidence.

      1. Oswald tried to kill Conally, accidentally hit Kennedy. Then Hickey, preparing to return fire at Oswald, accidentally hit Kennedy. The only one snuffing out evidence was Ruby.

        1. Conally killed Kennedy. Ruby was shooting from the grassy knoll at the behest of Hydra, but he thought he was working for Shield.

  6. Yes, well, when I see five weirdos dressed in togas stabbing a guy in the middle of the park in full view of a hundred people, I shoot the bastards. That’s my policy.

    1. +1 finger poke to the eye.

      Also, a public service tip: “nice beaver” is always an appropriate compliment.

      1. Sexual assault with a concrete dildo?

        1. With or without exposed aggregate?

  7. It’s funny–people keep talking about this–

    and just a few years ago a high-profile performance featured a Caesar based on Barack Obama).

    when it only shows that they never actually read the article–

    His Caesar (the suavely confident Bjorn DuPaty) is a tall, charismatic African-American politician; he doesn’t look or sound much like Obama

    The writer notes that people will take him for an Obama stand-in…….but he’s not.

    Unlike the Trumpalike used as Caesar in the Shakespeare in the Park version.

    But why is it nuts to suggest that the high level of acceptance of the general–and incredibly bloodthirty–tone of violence on the left might have had a hand in motivating yet another leftist to make that rhetoric a reality? I mean, the left cheers every time one of their own draws the blood of a ‘fascist’, why should this be different?

    1. The writer notes that people will take him for an Obama stand-in…….but he’s not.

      No, the writer notes that he doesn’t really look or sound like Obama but clearly serves as an Obama stand-in anyway. Similarly, no one comes out and says “HE’S TRUMP!” in the current performance, but in various ways the production makes the parallels clear.

      1. No, the writer notes that he doesn’t really look or sound like Obama but clearly serves as an Obama stand-in anyway

        ^ This.

        The way to work the TEAM angle is to point out that in the Trump-as-Caesar production you’re supposed to sympathize with the assassins, whereas in the Obama-as-Caesar production you’re supposed to see the assassins as the evil ones.

        I have no idea whether that’s the case (not really clear from the review), but if you’re looking for a partisan angle to work, that’s a better one than “that black guy playing the sitting president wasn’t intended to evoke Obama in any way!”

      2. Noah Millman, at the American Conservative saw the “Obama/Not Obama” version of Caesar, and had this to say about parallels:

        “Director Rob Melrose has set his Caesar at our precise historical moment, in Obama’s Washington, D.C. The capital is rocked by “Occupy Rome” protests. His Caesar (the suavely confident Bjorn DuPaty) is a tall, charismatic African-American politician; he doesn’t look or sound much like Obama (he more closely recalls Michael Jordan), but the audience is unquestionably going to read him as an Obama stand-in nonetheless, particularly when his opponents bear a marked resemblance to Eric Cantor (Sid Solomon’s snappy terrier Cassius) and Mitch McConnell (Kevin Orton’s cynical old pol Casca). Even Mark Antony is recognizable as a standard Democratic politician type, Clinton/Gore division.”

        Millman’s full take here: http://www.theamericanconserva…..-of-march/

        I am a big fan of Shakespeare’s JC. There’s a very good/very bad version with Jason Robards, the worst Brutus I ever saw, and pistol-packin’ papa Charlton Heston, giving the performance of his life as Mark Antony.

        Oh, and nice column, Jesse. Don’t crush that dwarf, hand me the pliers.

  8. “Lost” was in part a remake of “Hamlet”.

  9. We’re libertarians, not anarchists. Get rid of the first amendment. The worst president in history, past or future, was defamed, and we simply can’t have that.

    1. No matter how many times you repeat otherwise, you are not a libertarian. You are a statist and a slaver. Kind of exactly the opposite of a libertarian.

      1. He’s trying to be sarcastic. Because he thinks there are people here arguing that this play shouldn’t have been allowed.

        Why he thinks that is anyone’s guess, but that’s just how he is.

        1. I understand that. But he very often refers to himself as a libertarian. He seems to actually believe that part.

          1. It was unclear and not very good trolling. I think he’s just going through the motions until the impending weekend.

          2. But he very often refers to himself as a libertarian. He seems to actually believe that part.

            That’s a new thing for him – a new tack, so to speak.

            Since Trump’s election he’s been all about how he’s more libertarian than anyone here because he’s willing to criticize Trump and no one else here is (to his satisfaction, anyway).

            Thus, he means it ironically – statist that he is, he’s more libertarian than us.

            But I’ve long noticed that Tony stopped really arguing against anything specific some years ago, and now just calls people names.

            I think deep down he would be libertarian, except that for him politics is fundamentally bound up in identity, and he would never allow himself to identify with people he considers icky conservatives.

            1. You do realize that I get off on how much attention you people pay me.

              1. Yes, I do – I suspect it’s your primary reason for coming here.

                You do realize you present a ripe specimen for satire and teachable moments?

                1. Actually I’m here because I enjoy debating people with different political beliefs and you’re the least racist and horrible rightwingers out there.

    2. Not one of your best.

      1. The only thing keeping my body from collapsing into a hungover, sleep-deprived pile of goo is the fact that it’s Friday.

        1. I remember when I had my first beer. Good times.

  10. I don’t know how I feel about this….

  11. The Jack Kennedy actor sounds too much like Walter Brennan for me. But this recording evokes nostalgia both for the Firesign Theatre and for Vaughn Meader’s “The First Family.”

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.