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John Wilkes Booth (left), Edwin Booth and Junius Booth, Jr. in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in 1864. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

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The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, also known simply as Julius Caesar, is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in 1599.[1] It portrays the 44 BC conspiracy against the Roman dictator Julius Caesar, his assassination and the defeat of the conspirators at the Battle of Philippi. It is one of several Roman plays that Shakespeare 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 England 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.[2]

CharactersEdit

SynopsisEdit

Marcus Brutus is Caesar's close friend and a Roman praetor. 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 honour and patriotism. 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's 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,"[4] which he ignores, culminating in his assassination at the Capitol by the conspirators that day.

Caesar's assassination is one of the most famous scenes of the play, occurring in Act 3 (the other is Mark 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?"[5] ("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—beginning with the much-quoted "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears"[6]—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 Rome. 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?"[7] 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"[8]). 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 hearing of the capture of his best friend, Titinius. After Titinius, who wasn't really captured, sees Cassius's 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"[9] 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 textEdit

File:FirstFolioJulius.jpg

Julius Caesar was originally published in the First Folio of 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 and As You Like It in metre,[10] scholars have suggested 1599 as a probable date.[11]

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.[12] The source used by Shakespeare was Sir Thomas North's translation of Plutarch's Life of Brutus and Life of Caesar[13]

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 PlutarchEdit

  • Shakespeare makes Caesar's triumph take place on the day of Lupercalia (February 15) instead of six months earlier.
  • For greater dramatic effect he has made the Capitol the venue of Caesar's death rather than the Theatrum Pompeium (Theatre of Pompey).
  • Caesar's murder, the funeral, Antony's oration, the reading of the will and the arrival of Octavius 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 on March 18, the funeral was on March 20 and Octavius arrived only in May.
  • Shakespeare makes the Triumvirs meet in Rome instead of near Bolonia, so as to avoid an additional locale.
  • He has combined the two Battles of Philippi although there was a 20 day interval between them.
  • Shakespeare gives Caesar's last words as "Et tu, Brute? Then fall, Caesar!" ("And you, Brutus? Then fall, Caesar."). Plutarch says he said nothing, pulling his toga over his head when he saw Brutus among the conspirators.[14] However, Suetonius reports his last words, which he spoke in Greek, as "καί σύ τέκνον" ("Kai su, teknon?"; "Even you too, child?") directed at Brutus.[15] The Latin words Et tu, Brute?, however, were not devised by Shakespeare for this play, since they are attibuted to Caesar in earlier Elizabethan works and had become conventional by 1599.

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 criticismEdit

InterpretationsEdit

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Protagonist debateEdit

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 offence 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.[16] 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”.[17] This interpretation is flawed by the fact it relies on a very odd reading of "good a will" to mean "incorrect judgements" 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.[18]

Performance historyEdit

The play was likely one of Shakespeare's first to be performed at the Globe Theatre.[19] Thomas Platter the Younger, a Swiss traveller, saw a tragedy about Julius Caesar at a Bankside 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.)[20]

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.[21]

Notable performancesEdit

Booths Caesar

John Wilkes Booth (left), Edwin Booth and Junius Brutus Booth, Jr. in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in 1864.

  • 1864: Junius, Jr., Edwin and John Wilkes Booth (later the assassin of U.S. president Abraham Lincoln) 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] A 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(Citation needed). 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 Bowl. 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 Italy and Nazi Germany, 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's 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's version was a mangled and lobotomized version of Shakespeare's tragedy which lacked the psychological depth of the original. (Citation needed) Most agreed that the production owed more to Welles than it did to Shakespeare.(Citation needed) However, Time Magazine gave the production a rave review,[22] 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). (Citation needed) It is the longest-running Broadway 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 Nederlander Theater. This famous production also toured the country in 1938.
  • 1950: John Gielgud played Cassius at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre under the direction of Michael Langham and Anthony Quayle. The production was considered one of the highlights of a remarkable Stratford 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 Theatre. The cast also included Ian Charleson as Octavius.
  • 1994: Arvind Gaur directed this play in India 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, Assam in 1998. Arvind Kumar translated Julius Caesar into Hindi. This production was also performed at the Prithvi international theatre festival, at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi.
  • 2005: Denzel Washington played Brutus in the first Broadway 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.[23]

Screen performancesEdit

See also Shakespeare on screen (Julius Caesar)

Adaptations and cultural referencesEdit

The Canadian comedy duo Wayne and Shuster parodied Julius Caesar in their 1958 sketch Rinse the Blood off My Toga. Flavius Maximus, Private Roman Eye, 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.[24]

The 1960 film An Honourable Murder is a modern reworking of the play.

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.[25][26]

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.[27]

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 made by Mark Antony 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, including the titles of ...

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.

In the Ray Bradbury book Fahrenheit 451, some of the character Beatty's last words are "There is no terror, Cassius, in your threats, for I am armed so strong in honesty that they pass me as an idle wind, which I respect not!"

  • The play's line "the fault dear Brutus lies not in our stars but in ourselves" gave its name to the J.M. Barrie play Dear Brutus.

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  • Boyce, Charles. 1990. Encyclopaedia of Shakespeare, New York, Roundtable Press.
  • Chambers, Edmund Kerchever. 1923. The Elizabethan Stage. 4 volumes, Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-811511-3.
  • Halliday, F. E. 1964. A Shakespeare Companion 1564–1964. Shakespeare Library ser. Baltimore, Penguin, 1969. ISBN 0-14-053011-8.
  • 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

NotesEdit

  1. Shakespeare, William; Arthur Humphreys (Editor) (1998). Julius Caesar. Oxford University Press. p. 1. ISBN 0192836064. http://books.google.com/books?id=Soh9UVaIqRMC&pg=PA1#v=onepage&q=&f=false. 
  2. Wyke, Maria (2006). Julius Caesar in western culture. Oxford, England: Blackwell. p. 5. ISBN 9781405125994. 
  3. Named in Parallel Lives and quoted in Spevack, Marvin (2004). Julius Caesar. New Cambridge Shakespeare (2 ed.). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. p. 74. ISBN 9780521535137. 
  4. Julius Caesar, Act 1, Scene 2, Line 18
  5. Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 1, Line 77
  6. Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 2, Line 73.
  7. Julius Caesar, Act 4, Scene 3, Lines 19-21.
  8. Julius Caesar, Act 4, Scene 3, Line 283.
  9. Julius Caesar, Act 5, Scene 5, Line 68.
  10. Wells and Dobson (2001, 229).
  11. Spevack (1988, 6), Dorsch (1955, vii–viii), Boyce (2000, 328), Wells, Dobson (2001, 229)
  12. Wells and Dobson, ibid.
  13. Pages from Plutarch, Shakespeare's Source for Julius Caesar
  14. Plutarch, Caesar66.9
  15. Suetonius, Julius82.2
  16. Reynolds 329–333
  17. Taylor 301–308
  18. Houppert 3–9
  19. Evans, G. Blakemore: "The Riverside Shakespeare", page 1100 Houghton Mifflin Company, 1974
  20. Richard Edes's Latin play Caesar Interfectus (1582?) would not qualify. The Admiral's Men had an anonymous Caesar and Pompey in their repertory in 1594–5, and another play, Caesar's Fall, or the Two Shapes, written by Thomas Dekker, Michael Drayton, Thomas Middleton, Anthony Munday, and John Webster, in 1601-2, too late for Platter's reference. Neither play has survived. The anonymous Caesar's Revenge dates to 1606, while George Chapman's Caesar and Pompey dates from ca. 1613. E. K. Chambers, Elizabethan Stage, Vol. 2, p. 179; Vol. 3, pp. 259, 309; Vol. 4, p. 4.
  21. Halliday, p. 261.
  22. "Theatre: New Plays in Manhattan: Nov. 22, 1937". TIME. November 22, 1937. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,758411,00.html. Retrieved 2010-03-13. 
  23. "A Big-Name Brutus in a Caldron of Chaosa". The New York Times. April 4, 2005. http://theater.nytimes.com/2005/04/04/theater/reviews/04caes.html?scp=1&sq=A%20Big-Name%20Brutus%20in%20a%20Caldron%20of%20Chaos&st=cse. Retrieved 2010-11-07. 
  24. "Rinse the Blood Off My Toga". Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare Project at the University of Guelph. http://www.canadianshakespeares.ca/multimedia/video/rinse_the_blood.cfm. Retrieved 2010-03-13. 
  25. "Julius Caesar On Screen". BFI Screenonline - The Definitive Guide to Britain's Film and TV History. http://www.screenonline.org.uk/tv/id/566329/index.html. Retrieved 2010-03-13. 
  26. "Heil Caesar!". The Internet Movie Database. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0284178/. Retrieved 2010-03-13. 
  27. Herbert Mitgang of The New York Times, March 14, 1984, wrote: "The famous Mercury Theater production of Julius Caesar in modern dress staged by Orson Welles in 1937 was designed to make audiences think of Mussolini's Blackshirts – and it did. The Riverside Shakespeare Company's lively production makes you think of timeless ambition and antilibertarians anywhere."

External linksEdit

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