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Author: Clint Talbott

Classicist tutors Julius Caesar actors on the potent rhetoric of Rome

Colorado Shakespeare Festival director sought help to facilitate ‘one of the most amazing forms of communications in theatre’

Tyler Lansford is transforming the death of Julius Caesar into new life for Roman rhetoric. Audiences attending this summer’s Colorado Shakespeare Festival will see, hear and feel the resurrection.

Lansford, who teaches Latin and Greek literature in the University of Colorado Boulder Department of Classics, is coaching Julius Caesar actors on rhetoric.

Lansford and the Shakespeare festival have teamed up on the belief that helping actors more fully understand classic rhetoric might help them better convey the full meaning of the play and of its subject. So Lansford shows actors what rhetoric is—and is not.

And rhetoric is not a dirty word.

Classic rhetorical devices enrich masterpieces from the Iliad to the Gettysburg Address. Nonetheless, Lansford notes, “rhetoric has declined from a cornerstone of liberal education to a dismissive epithet for misleading or bombastic speech.”

Rhetoric is a rich and rewarding art, categorized like a science. But few playgoers have the background to catch, on the fly, “any but the most obvious instances of antithesis, anaphora or conduplicatio,” Lansford states.

Don’t be fazed by the Greek terminology. Anaphora, for instance, is the repetition of a word at the beginning of successive phrases, clauses or sentences. Brutus’ speech at Caesar’s funeral features this device:

“As Caesar loved me, I weep for him.
As he was fortunate, I rejoice at it.
As he was valiant, I honor him.
But, as he was ambitious, I slew him.”

That is just one of many rhetorical devices the play employs. And the primacy of rhetoric is why Anthony Powell, director of the CSF’s 2017 production of Julius Caesar, sought Lansford’s help.

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