UCI New Swan Shakespeare Center’s popular Shakespeare Trial is returning to the University of California, Irvine for its third year on the evening of Tuesday, March 9. The trial will be held via Zoom for the first time.

A community favorite, the Shakespeare Trial puts a new Shakespeare character on trial each year for alleged crimes and injustices committed within one of the Bard’s plays. From determining Hamlet’s guilt in the murder of his stepfather/uncle King Claudius to giving Shylock (from “The Merchant of Venice”) a retrial, these trials reinvent beloved plays for a modern audience.

This year, the Shakespeare Trial is putting Brutus (from “Julius Caesar”) on trial for treason and murder.

“Brutus remains one of Shakespeare’s most enigmatic and controversial heroes,” Julia Lupton, professor of English and co-director of the center, explains. “Julius Caesar had been his friend and mentor, a father figure of sorts. When Caesar aims for dictatorial power in Rome, Brutus decides to defend the Roman republic by participating in the assassination. Shakespeare scholars and Roman historians still debate whether Brutus acted honorably or not. And the issues of the play remain relevant today. When is political violence appropriate or necessary? How far should citizens go to defend the constitutional order? When an elected leader begins to act illegally, how should his transgressions and ambitions be addressed?”

UCI alumna Bernadette Meyler (Ph.D. English), the Carl and Sheila Spaeth Professor of Law at Stanford University, will mount the defense, while Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of UC Berkeley Law, will prosecute. Through a lively virtual performance, these two lawyers will debate Brutus’ guilt in the assassination of Julius Caesar. The Honorable Andrew Guilford will preside over the trial. The decision, though, is ultimately made by the audience, who will vote at the end of the performance.

Lupton and Eli Simon, Chancellor’s Professor of drama and co-director of the center, will host this interactive event. While it revolves around issues from the play “Julius Caesar,” no previous knowledge is necessary to enjoy the trial. Actors from New Swan Shakespeare Festival will perform critical scenes and Lupton and Simon’s expertise on Shakespeare will help fill in the rest.

“This will prove to be a most exciting evening,” Simon shares. “You will get to see key speeches from the play performed live by two of our finest New Swan actors. And then two brilliant lawyers will argue the case. Finally, members of the audience will vote on whether or not Brutus is guilty of murder and treason. Since it’s a Zoom event, folks from all over the country will be joining us. We’ve found that people revel in the theatrical and intellectual rigor of the event.”

This event is free and open to the public. Registration is required.

Register for the event here.