Ask Philippa: Backstabbing – Beware the Ides of March

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The set of Cal Shakes' 2003 production of JULIUS CAESAR directed by Jon Moscone; photo by Jay Yamada

Ask Philippa: Backstabbing – Beware the Ides of March

by Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly 

The Ides of March is a phrase derived from the Latin idus, an allusion to the full moon that marks the halfway point of the month – the 15th day of March, July and October, as well as the 13th day of other months in the Roman calendar year. The Latin term, marti, “March,” is derived from the Latin Mars, the Roman god of war.  

How did a day that was once celebrated by the Romans as a religious day of observance (and one that also designated the settling of debts) become so heavily cloaked in superstition?  

Julius Caesar follows the historical stabbing of Julius Caesar on 15 March in 44 BC. In Shakespeare’s play, after ignoring the warnings of a soothsayer who utters the phrase, “Beware the Ides of March,” Caesar is stabbed 23 times in the back. 

Thus, the same character who brought us the month of July (derived from “Julius”) involuntarily inaugurated the phrase ‘backstabbing’.   

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