Immortality is a perennial Top 3 finisher in the Literary Themes Pageant, just like Texas at Miss America. When it’s time to wrestle with the big ideas, all of your better-known Olden Days Writers pull out some form of eternity to make a point. The Greeks had immortals descend from on high to mess around in people’s everyday business. Eighteenth century English Romantics were all “We are all immortal because nature! NATUURRREEEE!!!!” And then there are vampires, defining immortality ever since Bram Stoker decided to go all undead on our asses. In the past few years, literary vampires have been rock stars, the scourge of colonial America, and hot messes battling it out for supernatural supremacy in Southern Louisiana. There are also the curious Twilight vampires, who go all in on eternity by….going back to high school. Over and over. WTF. I don’t care how pretty Robert Pattinson is, he cannot make that idea remotely appealing.
All that being said, my favorite kind of immortality is the unintentional kind, the kind Julius Caesar achieved when a salad dressing first made in Mexico by an Italian-American during Prohibition intersected with a play that used ancient Rome to illustrate the problematic politics of transitioning from one British monarch to the next. Don’t believe me? Think about a Caesar salad right now. What comes to mind? TOGAS. You can’t buy that kind of viral marketing and brand reinforcement. Shakespeare and Julius Caesar have the Midas touch.
Me: Congrats on that whole most-famous-ruler-of-Rome thing
Caesar: K thx but I wanna be more immortal
Me: You can’t be more immortal than immortal
Caesar: I’m only immortal in Latin
Caesar: I wanna be immortal in ENGLISH
Shakespeare: I’m on it
My I ♥ SHAKESPEARE list has a definite lean toward unnatural death. There is hella stabbing in all of the plays I really like. Why I prefer my Elizabethan entertainment pointy and bloody is ultimately for my court-appointed psychiatrist to determine, but since I’m not violating any of my restraining orders I’m not going to worry too much about my subconscious. I love Julius Caesar because it meets minimal stabbing requirements and because it includes the searing, jaggedly perfect “I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him” eulogy. In another unintentional twist, it’s also the Shakespeare production that I have seen the most often, including one staged on a set that looked like a building construction site where all the actors wore hard hats. Yellow hard hats. The whole show. Well, I am assuming they were actors. It’s certainly possible I stumbled upon a group of extremely politically savvy Shakespeare enthusiasts renovating a theater.
Caesar: Why do I have to wear the hard hat
Me: OSHA regulations for artistic integrity zones
Julius Caesar opens with Caesar fresh off a military victory and ruling over a happy and peaceful Rome. Because no good deed goes unpunished, and because it would be a terribly short play otherwise, Caesar’s motivations come under question by Brutus and Cassius, his two closest advisors, the Kelly and Michelle to his Beyonce. Not convinced that Caesar has Rome’s best interests at heart and suspicious that he wants to crown himself as King, Brutus and Cassius decide to stab their way out of their anxiety about the future and assassinate Caesar at what may go down as the worst committee meeting ever.
Caesar: I brought doughnuts!
Everyone else: Stab stab stab
Caesar: I thought you liked Krispy Kremes!
Everyone else: We told you we are low-carb, asshole
The delightfully capricious thing about immortality is that you can’t choose it. It has to choose you, and when it does it’s liable to be for something you couldn’t possibly anticipate. Julius Caesar was one of the greatest military strategists who ever lived, famous for his battlefield victories fought for the glory of Rome. Then Shakespeare comes along and tells his version of Caesar’s story, and Caesar becomes famous for being assassinated and for his last words that he never actually said, “Et tu, Brute?”. Three hundred years later, Chef Caesar Cardini improvises a salad on a busy night with a handful of ingredients he had on hand in his restaurant kitchen. It catches on in a big way because DELICIOUS and suddenly Julius Caesar is famous all over again because his likeness is the go-to illustration on almost every bottled version of Caesar dressing.
Caesar: Wait. What?!?
Me: I thought you knew
Caesar: Is this a joke? I hate salad
Me: Just eat the croutons. It’s what I do
Given the choice, what would Julius Caesar have preferred? Fame from what he actually did, fame from a fictionalized version of himself, or fame from aisle 3 at the grocery store? It’s his embarrassment of riches that he doesn’t have to pick. He gets it all. Over two thousand years later, we’re still talking about him. Shakespeare has done pretty well too, but he’s got work to do in the food department because I can’t remember the last time I ordered a Shakespeare salad.
Caesar: I’m not picking any of those
Me: Okay how do you want your fame
Caesar: I want to go to the New York High School For The Performing Arts
Me: …so you want to spend eternity at high school
Shakespeare: I’m changing my name to Cookie Dough Ice Cream
You probably want Caesar salad by now.