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The ghost of Caesar appears to warn Brutus of his fate


Julius Caesar is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in 1599. It portrays the conspiracy against the Roman dictator of the same name, his assassination and its aftermath. It is one of several Roman plays that he wrote, based on true events from Roman history, which also include Coriolanus and Antony and Cleopatra.

Although the title of the play is Julius Caesar, Caesar is not the central character in its action; he appears in only three scenes, and is killed at the beginning of the third act. The protagonist of the play is Marcus Brutus, and the central psychological drama is his struggle between the conflicting demands of honour, patriotism, and friendship.

The play reflected the general anxiety of Englandmarker over succession of leadership. At the time of its creation and first performance, Queen Elizabeth, a strong ruler, was elderly and had refused to name a successor, leading to worries that a civil war similar to that of Rome might break out after her death.

Characters



  • Cinna: A poet, who is not related to the conspiracy
  • Lucilius, Titinius, Messala, Cato the Younger, Volumnius, Strato: Friends to Brutus and Cassius
  • Varro, Clitus, Claudius: Soldiers in the armies of Brutus and Cassius
  • Labe, Flavius: Officers in the army of Brutus
  • Lucius, Dardanius: Servants to Brutus
  • Pindarus: Servant to Cassius
  • A second poet, the unnamed Marcus Favonius
  • A messenger
  • A cobbler
  • Other soldiers, senators, plebeians and attendants.


Synopsis

Marcus Brutus is Caesar's close friend and a Roman praetor (Minister). Brutus allows himself to be cajoled into joining a group of conspiring senators because of a growing suspicion—implanted by Caius Cassius—that Caesar intends to turn republican Rome into a monarchy under his own rule.

Traditional readings of the play maintain that Cassius and the other conspirators are motivated largely by envy and ambition, whereas Brutus is motivated by the demands of honor and patriotism; other commentators, such as Isaac Asimov, suggest that the text shows Brutus is no less moved by envy and flattery. One of the central strengths of the play is that it resists categorizing its characters as either simple heroes or villains.The early scenes deal mainly with Brutus' arguments with Cassius and his struggle with his own conscience. The growing tide of public support soon turns Brutus against Caesar (this public support was actually faked; Cassius wrote letters to Brutus in different handwritings over the next month in order to get Brutus to join the conspiracy). A soothsayer warns Caesar to "beware the Ides of March", which he ignores, culminating in his assassination at the Capitolmarker by the conspirators that day.

The climactic assassination of Caesar


Caesar's assassination is one of the most famous scenes of the play, about halfway through (the other is Marc Antony's oration "Friends, Romans, countrymen".) After ignoring the soothsayer as well as his wife's own premonitions, Caesar comes to the Senate. The conspirators create a superficial motive for the assassination by means of a petition brought by Metellus Cimber, pleading on behalf of his banished brother. As Caesar, predictably, rejects the petition, Casca grazes Caesar in the back of his neck, and the others follow in stabbing him; Brutus is last. At this point, Caesar utters the famous line "Et tu, Brute?" ("And you, Brutus?", i.e. "You too, Brutus?"). Shakespeare has him add, "Then fall, Caesar," suggesting that Caesar did not want to survive such treachery. The conspirators make clear that they committed this act for Rome, not for their own purposes and do not attempt to flee the scene. After Caesar's death, Brutus delivers an oration defending his actions, and for the moment, the crowd is on his side. However, Mark Antony, with a subtle and eloquent speech over Caesar's corpse—the much-quoted Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears...—deftly turns public opinion against the assassins by manipulating the emotions of the common people, in contrast to the rational tone of Brutus's speech. Antony rouses the mob to drive the conspirators from Romemarker. Amid the violence, the innocent poet, Cinna, is confused with the conspirator Lucius Cinna and is murdered by the mob.

The beginning of Act Four is marked by the quarrel scene, where Brutus attacks Cassius for soiling the noble act of regicide by accepting bribes ("Did not great Julius bleed for justice' sake? / What villain touch'd his body, that did stab, / And not for justice?", IV.iii,19–21). The two are reconciled; they prepare for war with Mark Antony and Caesar's adopted son, Octavian (Shakespeare's spelling: Octavius). That night, Caesar's ghost appears to Brutus with a warning of defeat ("thou shalt see me at Philippi", IV.iii,283). At the battle, Cassius and Brutus knowing they will probably both die, smile their last smiles to each other and hold hands. During the battle, Cassius commits suicide after seeing the death of his best friend, Titinius. After Titinius, who wasn't really killed, sees Cassius' corpse, he commits suicide. However, Brutus wins the battle. Brutus, with a heavy heart, battles again the next day. He loses and commits suicide. The play ends with a tribute to Brutus by Antony, who proclaims that Brutus has remained "the noblest Roman of them all" (V.v,68) because he was the only conspirator who acted for the good of Rome. There is then a small hint at the friction between Mark Antony and Octavius which will characterise another of Shakespeare's Roman plays, Antony and Cleopatra.

Date and text

Julius Caesar was known to be first published in the First Folio in 1623, but a performance was mentioned by Thomas Platter the Younger in his diary in September 1599. The play is not mentioned in the list of Shakespeare's plays published by Francis Meres in 1598. Based on these two points, as well as a number of contemporary allusions, and the belief that the play is similar to Hamlet in vocabulary, and to Henry V andAs You Like It in metre, scholars have suggested 1599 as a probable date.

The text of Julius Caesar in the First Folio is the only authoritative text for the play. The Folio text is notable for its quality and consistency; scholars judge it to have been set into type from a theatrical prompt-book. The source used by Shakespeare was Sir Thomas North's translation of Plutarch's Life of Brutus and Life of Caesar.

The play contains many anachronistic elements from the Elizabethan period. The characters mention objects such as hats and doublets (large, heavy jackets) – neither of which existed in ancient Rome. Caesar is mentioned to be wearing an Elizabethan doublet instead of a Roman toga. At one point a clock is heard to strike and Brutus notes it with "Count the clock".

Deviations from Plutarch

  • Shakespeare makes Caesar's triumph take place on the year of Lupercalia instead of six months earlier
  • For greater dramatic effect he has made the Capitolmarker the venue of Caesar's death and not Curia Pompeiana (Theatre of Pompey).
  • Caesar's murder, the funeral, Antony's oration, the reading of the will and Octavius' arrival all take place on the same day in the play. However, historically, the assassination took place on March 15 (The ides of March), the will was published three days later on March 18, the funeral took place on March 20 and Octavius arrived only in May.
  • Shakespeare makes the Triumvirs meet in Rome instead of near Boloniamarker, so as to avoid a third locale.
  • He has combined the two Battles of Phillipi although there was a twenty day interval between them.
  • Shakespeare gives Caesar's last words as "Et tu, Brute? Then fall, Caesar!" ("Even you, Brutus? Then fall, Caesar."). Plutarch says he said nothing, pulling his toga over his head when he saw Brutus among the conspirators.. However, Suetonius reports his last words, spoken in Greek, as "καί σύ τέκνον" (transliterated as "Kai su, teknon?"; "Even you too, child?" in English)..


Shakespeare deviated from these historical facts in order to curtail time and compress the facts so that the play could be staged more easily. The tragic force is condensed into a few scenes for heightened effect.

Analysis and criticism

Interpretations

Protagonist debate

Critics of Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar differ greatly on their views of Caesar and Brutus. Many have debated whether Caesar or Brutus is the protagonist of the play, because of the title character's death in 3.1. But Caesar compares himself to the Northern Star, and perhaps it would be foolish not to consider him as the axial character of the play, around whom the entire story turns. Intertwined in this debate is a smattering of philosophical and psychological ideologies on republicanism and monarchism. One author, Robert C. Reynolds, devotes attention to the names or epithets given to both Brutus and Caesar in his essay “Ironic Epithet in Julius Caesar”. This author points out that Casca praises Brutus at face value, but then inadvertently compares him to a disreputable joke of a man by calling him an alchemist, “Oh, he sits high in all the people’s hearts,/And that which would appear offense in us/ His countenance, like richest alchemy,/ Will change to virtue and to worthiness” (I.iii.158-60). Reynolds also talks about Caesar and his “Colossus” epithet, which he points out has its obvious connotations of power and manliness, but also lesser known connotations of an outward glorious front and inward chaos . In that essay, the conclusion as to who is the hero or protagonist is ambiguous because of the conceit-like poetic quality of the epithets for Caesar and Brutus.

Myron Taylor, in his essay “Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and the Irony of History”, compares the logic and philosophies of Caesar and Brutus. Caesar is deemed an intuitive philosopher who is always right when he goes with his gut, for instance when he says he fears Cassius as a threat to him before he is killed, his intuition is correct. Brutus is portrayed as a man similar to Caesar, but whose passions lead him to the wrong reasoning, which he realizes in the end when he says in V.v.50–51, “Caesar, now be still:/ I kill’d not thee with half so good a will” . This interpretation is flawed by the fact relies on a very odd reading of "good a will" to mean "incorrect judgments" rather than the more intuitive "good intentions."

Joseph W. Houppert acknowledges that some critics have tried to cast Caesar as the protagonist, but that ultimately Brutus is the driving force in the play and is therefore the tragic hero. Brutus attempts to put the republic over his personal relationship with Caesar and kills him. Brutus makes the political mistakes that bring down the republic that his ancestors created. He acts on his passions, does not gather enough evidence to make reasonable decisions and is manipulated by Cassius and the other conspirators .

Performance history

The play was likely one of Shakespeare's first to be performed at the Globe Theatremarker. Thomas Platter the Younger, a Swissmarker traveller, saw a tragedy about Julius Caesar at a Banksidemarker theatre on September 21, 1599 and this was most likely Shakespeare's play, as there is no obvious alternative candidate. (While the story of Julius Caesar was dramatized repeatedly in the Elizabethan/Jacobean period, none of the other plays known are as good a match with Platter's description as Shakespeare's play.)

After the theatres re-opened at the start of the Restoration era, the play was revived by Thomas Killigrew's King's Company in 1672. Charles Hart initially played Brutus, as did Thomas Betterton in later productions. Julius Caesar was one of the very few Shakespearean plays that was not adapted during the Restoration period or the eighteenth century.

Notable performances

Stage performances

  • 1864: Junius, Jr., Edwin and John Wilkes Booth (American President Lincoln's assassin) made their only appearance onstage together in a benefit performance of Julius Caesar on November 25, 1864, at the Winter Garden Theatre in New York City. Junius, Jr. played Cassius, Edwin played Brutus and John Wilkes played Marc Antony. This landmark production raised funds to erect a statue of Shakespeare in Central Park, which remains to this day.
  • [May, 1916] An one-night performance in the natural bowl of Beachwood Canyon, Hollywood drew an audience of 40,000 and starred Tyrone Power, Sr. and Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. The student bodies of Hollywood and Fairfax High Schools played opposing armies, and the elaborate battle scenes were performed on a huge stage as well as the surrounding hillsides. The play commemorated the tercentenary of Shakespeare's death and is still talked about today. A photograph of the elaborate stage and viewing stands can be seen on the Library of Congress website.
  • 1926: Another elaborate performance of the play was staged as a benefit for the Actors' Fund of America at the Hollywood Bowlmarker. Caesar arrived for the Lupercal in a chariot drawn by four white horses. The stage was the size of a city block and dominated by a central tower eighty feet in height. The event was mainly aimed at creating work for unemployed actors. Three hundred gladiators appeared in an arena scene not featured in Shakespeare's play; a similar number of girls danced as Caesar's captives; a total of three thousand soldiers took part in the battle sequences.
  • 1937: Orson Welles' famous production at the Mercury Theatre drew fervoured comment as the director dressed his protagonists in uniforms reminiscent of those common at the time in Fascist Italymarker and Nazi Germanymarker, as well as drawing a specific analogy between Caesar and Benito Mussolini. Opinions vary on the artistic value of the resulting production: some see Welles' mercilessly pared-down script (the running time was around 100 minutes without an interval, several characters were eliminated, dialogue was moved around and borrowed from other plays, and the final two acts were reduced to a single scene) as a radical and innovative way of cutting away peripheral elements of Shakespeare's tale; others thought Welles' version was a mangled and lobotomized version of Shakespeare's tragedy which lacked the psychological depth of the original. Most agreed that the production owed more to Welles than it did to Shakespeare. However, Time Magazine gave the production a rave review , and Welles's innovations have been echoed in many subsequent modern productions, which have seen parallels between Caesar's fall and the downfalls of various governments in the twentieth century. The production was most noted for its portrayal of the slaughter of Cinna (Norman Lloyd). It is the longest-running Broadwaymarker production of this play at 157 performances. Welles's Julius Caesar opened at the Comedy Theater in the fall of 1937, and then was transferred to the National Theater on West 41st Street, later renamed the Neiderlander Theater. This famous production also toured the country in 1938.
  • 1950: John Gielgud played Cassius at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatremarker under the direction of Michael Langham and Anthony Quayle. The production was considered one of the highlights of a remarkable Stratfordmarker season, and led to Gielgud (who had done little film work to that time) playing Cassius in Joseph L. Mankiewicz's 1953 film version.
  • 1977: John Gielgud made his final appearance in a Shakespearean role on stage as Julius Caesar in John Schlesinger's production at the Royal National Theatremarker. The cast also included Ian Charleson as Octavius.
  • 1994: Arvind Gaur directed this play in Indiamarker with Jaimini Kumar as Brutus and Deepak Ochani as Caesar (24 shows); later on he revived it with Manu Rishi as Caesar and Vishnu Prasad as Brutus for the Shakespeare Drama Festival, Assammarker in 1998. Arvind Kumar translated Julius Caesar into Hindi. This production was also performed at the Prithvi international theatre festival, at the India Habitat Centremarker, New Delhimarker.
  • 2005: Denzel Washington played Brutus in the first Broadwaymarker production of the play in over fifty years. The production received universally terrible reviews, but was a sell-out because of Washington's popularity at the box office.
  • 2009 A Royal Shakespeare Company production in Shakespeare's home town directed by Lucy Bailey and starring Greg Hicks.


Screen performances

See also Shakespeare on screen




Adaptations and cultural references

The Canadianmarker comedy duo Wayne and Shuster parodied Julius Caesar in their 1958 sketch Rinse the Blood off My Toga. Flavius Maximus, Private Roman I, is hired by Brutus to investigate the death of Caesar. The police procedural combines Shakespeare, Dragnet, and vaudeville jokes and was first broadcast on the Ed Sullivan Show.

In 1973 the BBC made a television play Heil Caesar, written by John Griffith Bowen. This was an adaptation of the play put into a modern setting in an unnamed country, with references to recent events in a few countries. It was intended as an introduction to Shakespeare's play for schoolchildren, but it proved good enough to be shown on adult television, and a stage version was later produced.

In 1984 the Riverside Shakespeare Company of New York City produced a modern dress Julius Caesar set in contemporary Washington, called simply CAESAR!, starring Harold Scott as Brutus, Herman Petras as Caesar, Marya Lowry as Portia, Robert Walsh as Antony, and Michael Cook as Cassius, directed by W. Stuart McDowell at The Shakespeare Center.

In 2006, Chris Taylor from the Australian comedy team The Chaser wrote a comedy musical called Dead Caesar which was shown at the Sydney Theatre Company in Sydney.

The line "The Evil That Men Do", from the speech done by Mark Anthony following Caesar's death ("The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones.") has had many references in media, such as an Iron Maiden song, a 1984 film, and a Buffy the Vampire Slayer novel.

The 2009 movie Me and Orson Welles, based on a book of the same name by Robert Kaplow, is a fictional story centered around Orson Welles' famous 1937 production of Julius Caesar at the Mercury Theatre. British actor Christian McKay is cast as Welles, and costars with Zac Efron and Claire Danes.

See also



References

Footnotes

Secondary sources

  • Boyce, Charles. 1990. Encyclopaedia of Shakespeare, New York, Roundtable Press.
  • Chambers, Edmund Kerchever. 1923. The Elizabethan Stage. 4 volumes, Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0198115113.
  • Halliday, F. E. 1964. A Shakespeare Companion 1564–1964. Shakespeare Library ser. Baltimore, Penguin, 1969. ISBN 0140530118.
  • Houppert, Joseph W. “Fatal Logic in ‘Julius Caesar’ ”. South Atlantic Bulletin. Vol. 39, No.4. Nov. 1974. 3–9.
  • Kahn, Coppelia. "Passions of some difference": Friendship and Emulation in Julius Caesear. Julius Caesar: New Critical Essays. Horst Zander, ed. New York: Routledge, 2005. 271–283.
  • Parker, Barbara L. "The Whore of Babylon and Shakespeares's Julius Caesar." Studies in English Literature (Rice); Spring95, Vol. 35 Issue 2, p251, 19p.
  • Reynolds, Robert C. “Ironic Epithet in Julius Caesar”. Shakespeare Quarterly. Vol. 24. No.3. 1973. 329–333.
  • Taylor, Myron. "Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and the Irony of History". Shakespeare Quarterly. Vol. 24, No. 3. 1973. 301–308.
Wells, Stanley and Michael Dobson, eds. 2001. The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare Oxford University Press


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