In Accents Yet Unknown: Reenacting Caesar’s Death in a Roman Prison


Maria Valentini


In 2012 the Italian directors Paolo and Vittorio Taviani produced the film Cesare deve morire (Caesar Must Die), a docu-drama based on the performance of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar by prisoners held in the maximum security section of the Roman gaol “Rebibbia”. The film won the 62nd Berlin Film Festival and 5 Davide di Donatello awards among other prizes, and records the actual yearly project by an Italian director to involve convicts (guilty of crimes that go from drug trafficking to murder) in theatre activities. Most of the film consists of the rehearsals taking place in cells or in the limited open spaces of the gaol, in a sort of reminiscent neo-realistic black and white, in which the personal experiences of the prisoners (though never explicitly stated) seem to find true expression in the acting, almost in a Pirandellian framework in which reality best expresses itself through fiction. Conflict, hate, betrayal which compose the prisoners’ inner life find an almost cathartic outlet through Shakespeare’s language which is spoken in the personal regional dialects of the single “actors”. The Forum scene occurs in an empty open space, the corpse of Caesar completely covered by a white sheet, and the mob is played by the other prisoners, strictly behind bars, cheering and shouting, resembling caged animals. The main emphasis of the Shakespearian adaptation is significantly on the deaths of Caesar, Brutus and Cassius and the representation of death on the prison-stage acquires particular significance especially for those serving life sentences.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.