SAN DIEGO, March 15, 2012 –If you only recognize one passage from any of William Shakespeare’s plays, it’s probably this one.
Caesar: Ha! who calls?
Casca: Bid every noise be still: peace yet again!
Caesar: Who is it in the press that calls on me? I hear a tongue, shriller than all the music, cry ‘Caesar!’ Speak; Caesar is turn’d to hear.
Soothsayer: Beware the ides of March.
Caesar: What man is that?
Brutus: A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March.
Caesar: Set him before me; let me see his face.
Cassius: Fellow, come from the throng; look upon Caesar.
Caesar: What say’st thou to me now? speak once again.
Soothsayer: Beware the ides of March.
Caesar: He is a dreamer; let us leave him: pass.
As we now know 20 centuries later, Caesar should have paid more attention to the soothsayer from the press. He predicted Caesar’s murder by stabbing. Since that time, the act has been immortalized in art, perhaps most famously by Shakespeare in his play Julius Caesar.
Today we know the Ides of March is somehow a day when bad things happen, but what are “Ides” and why do they make this day such a downer?
It turns out “Ides” isn’t a significant or threatening word at all. “Ides” is just another way of saying the 15th day of the month, or the middle point of the month. The Roman calendar was arranged around three named days, and other days were calculated from them. “Kalends” mean the first day of the month; “Nones” meant the 5th day of the month except in March, May, July, and October when it shifted to the 7th to accommodate the extra days of the year. “Ides” meant the 13th day of the month except when it shifted to the 15th day in March, May, July and October just like “Nones.”
The Latin roots of the word “ides” mean “to divide,” and the date split the month, which to the Romans was timed at the full moon.
When Shakespeare wrote Julius Caesar over 400 years ago and it was first performed around 1600, English audiences would have taken note of the use of the word “ides.” According to Georgianna Ziegler, head of reference at Washington, D.C.’s Folger Shakespeare Library, in an interview with National Geographic, “This whole business of the Ides of March and timekeeping in the play would have had a strong impact on audiences,” she said.
“They were really struck by the differences between their Julian calendar [a revision of the Roman calendar created by Caesar] and the Gregorian calendar kept in Catholic countries on the continent.”
Because the two calendars featured years of slightly different lengths, they had diverged significantly and were several days apart, causing confusion.
Four centuries later, we know the phrase “ides of March” means a day when dire predictions are likely to come true.
Don’t ignore the soothsayer. It has gone largely unremarked upon that the soothsayer came from the ranks of the news media. Shakespeare has Caesar calling out to find out who in the “press” shouted out the warning to him, “beware the ides of March.” Most of the language Shakespeare used means exactly the same thing today it did in 1600. If a word sounds familiar you can feel pretty sure it’s still being used the same way today.
The printing press had been invented 150 years before in the mid-1400s, and had revolutionized communication. The technology made the development of the first modern mass media possible with the ability to print and distribute information in the form of flyer-type news leaflets. The power of the press would have been very much understood and on the minds of Shakespeare’s audiences as it is for us today.
So perhaps what Shakespeare was really telling us is that when the news media delivers bad news, you should pay more attention. Does this make William Shakespeare the first media critic to defend the Fourth Estate?
What hasn’t changed in 400 years is human nature, the tendency for human beings to embrace complete denial in the face of bad news, and to blame the media for it.
Lindsay Lohan, are you listening?
Newt Gingrich, are you listening?
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. Read more Media Migraine in the Communities at The Washington Times. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.
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Copyright © 2012 by Falcon Valley Group
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