LIANE HANSEN, host:
You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.
Today is the Ides of March. In the Shakespeare play, "Julius Caesar," the Roman emperor is warned to beware the day. The prophecy comes true when Caesar is assassinated. But we don't hear a lot about the ides of any other month. To find out why, we've called Georgianna Ziegler. She's the head of reference at Folger Shakespeare Library here in Washington. Thanks for your time, Georgianna.
Ms. GEORGIANNA ZIEGLER (Head of Reference, Folger Shakespeare Library): Oh, you're welcome.
HANSEN: Will you explain, first of all, what the ides means?
Ms. ZIEGLER: The ides refer to the 15th of the month and it really is the middle of the month. And apparently, I didn't know this either until I looked it up recently, that other months also had a sort of ides, but nobody refers to them the way they do the Ides of March. And I think it's because it was so much associated with Julius Caesar and with his assassination.
HANSEN: I mean, we know people are pretty cautious on Friday the 13th.
Ms. ZIEGLER: Right.
HANSEN: Were there superstitions about the 15th of the month?
Ms. ZIEGLER: Well, I don't know that there was something superstitious about that day, except for the association that it had in March with this particular assassination.
HANSEN: What can you tell us about Shakespeare, then? I mean, about, you know, his phrase becoming this one that we use all the time.
Ms. ZIEGLER: Well, first of all, "Julius Caesar" has been a very popular play over the years and particularly in America. I suspect that early people in America got interested in it because of, you know, overthrowing a tyrannical ruler, which was the case with George III. In Shakespeare's time in 1599, which is when this play was first performed, we think, it was particularly interesting and relevant.
There were some movements afoot to maybe try to change and get some new blood on the throne. But all of this sort of discomfort was in the air around the time that "Julius Caesar" was performed. And the play is very much based on the translation of Plutarch's "Lives of Noble Grecians and Romans," and Shakespeare took it right out of the story of Brutus in there and also the story of Julius Caesar. And the quote about bewaring the Ides of March, that pretty much comes from Plutarch.
HANSEN: John Wilkes Booth is said to have referred to Lincoln's assassination day as the ides.
Ms. ZIEGLER: Well, he could have, because, of course, he was quite interested in the play. And the three Booth brothers had actually performed in a production of "Julius Caesar" to raise money for a statue of Shakespeare in New York City. Of course, that's before he shot Lincoln. It was a sort of a triple Booth bill.
(Soundbite of laughter)
HANSEN: Georgianna Ziegler is the head of reference at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Thanks a lot.
Ms. ZIEGLER: You're welcome.
HANSEN: This is NPR News.