Julius Caesar (Vol. 85)
For further information on the critical and stage history of Julius Caesar, see SC, Volumes 7, 17, 30, 50, 63, and 74.
Scholars generally date the composition of Julius Caesar to 1599, between Shakespeare's Henry V and Hamlet, and suggest that the drama combines the elements of Shakespearean history and tragedy. Set in Rome in 44 b.c., the play depicts the senatorial conspiracy to murder Caesar and the political turmoil that ensues in the aftermath of the assassination. Critics observe that the drama features two potentially tragic figures: the slain emperor and Marcus Brutus, Caesar's close friend and the head of the conspirators. Contemporary scholars have continued the tradition of analyzing the motivations and ambiguities inherent in Shakespeare's dramatization of these historical personages, particularly Brutus. Additionally, modern commentators have studied Shakespeare's intriguing historical reconstruction of early Imperial Rome, with a particular focus on the interrelationship of history, politics, and philosophy in the drama. Summarizing a contemporary understanding of Julius Caesar, John Wilders (see Further Reading) calls the work “a brilliantly constructed political thriller” with powerful resonance in the modern world.
Character-centered study of Julius Caesar has primarily concentrated on the figure of Brutus, who is considered by many critics to be the tragic focus of the play. Although conventional, twentieth-century critical consensus on Brutus has tended to emphasize his nobility and idealism, some critics have stressed the ambivalent nature of his character. William R. Bowden (1966) describes Brutus as intellectually inferior to his coconspirator Cassius, as well as generally unperceptive and deliberately self-serving, despite his attempts to mask these tendencies. In contrast to Bowden's unfavorable portrait of Brutus, Ruth M. Levitsky (1973) remarks on the virtues of this character. Levitsky contends that Brutus's virtue derives from his Stoic persona and ideals, which are the source of his will, purpose, constancy, and passion. Similarly, A. D. Nuttall (1983) admires Shakespeare's finely nuanced portrayal of Brutus. Nuttall traces the ways in which Shakespeare infused Brutus's character with such abstract qualities as Stoicism, pathos, egotism, shame, and rationalization in order to produce a well-rounded, psychologically distinct character capable of eliciting audience sympathy. Julian C. Rice (1973) contends that Julius Caesar promotes a philosophy of character based upon Renaissance Pyrrhonism, a skeptical philosophical position that underscores the antiheroic, fallible, and incongruous attributes of the play's characters.
Throughout most of its history, Julius Caesar has been highly popular on the stage. Directors and audiences alike are attracted to the play's grandiose displays of pageantry, rhetorical eloquence, forceful characterizations, and exciting battle sequences. Director Edward Hall's 2001 to 2002 production of Julius Caesar with the Royal Shakespeare Company generally inspired praise from reviewers. Patrick Carnegy (2001) admires Hall's interpretation, particularly its portrayal of the conspirators, rather than Caesar, as the greater threat to Rome, and notes that the production captured “the ambiguities at the heart of the play.” Russell Jackson (2002) contends that despite Hall's “ruthless” cutting of Shakespeare's text, the director managed an effective Julius Caesar by balancing ideological allusions with innovative perspectives on character, such as Brutus's display of an overarching pride and ambition that nearly matched Caesar's own self-absorbed power. Reviewer Frank Johnson (2002), in contrast, returns a far more critical estimation of the production, arguing that the worn idea of Caesar as a fascist dictator, as in Hall's staging, should be retired. Karin Coonrod's Theatre for a New Audience production failed to impress Bruce Weber (2003), whose appraisal faults its reductive concentration on American partisan politics. In contrast, Weber praises Daniel Sullivan's 2003 production of Julius Caesar staged at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego, particularly its imaginative and politically evocative setting which depicted life after the collapse of the American empire and suggested the destructive legacy imposed by worldly ambition.
Shakespeare's representation of history and politics in Julius Caesar have been a major interest for contemporary critics. Joseph S. M. J. Chang (1970) views Julius Caesar as a demonstration of Shakespeare's historical relativism. According to Chang, the play illustrates that “the past is difficult to retrieve, and that the ends of history are best served by scrupulous objectivity.” Robin Headlam Wells (2002) claims that in Julius Caesar Shakespeare depicted a Machiavellian view of politics and history, but notes the play is “Machiavellian in the sense that it dramatises a pragmatic and sceptical view of politics which recognizes that virtue and utility are not always compatible.” Critics are also interested in the play's depiction of Rome and its affinities with Shakespeare's England. A. W. Bellringer (1970) maintains that the subject of Julius Caesar is essentially Roman, with no significant Elizabethan or modern parallels. Marvin L. Vawter (1973) also explores the play's Roman themes. The critic claims that the drama should be understood as a critique not just of Caesar's tyrannical ambition or the malicious intent of the conspirators, but as a wholesale condemnation of the corrupted Roman nobility for its destruction of natural, communal bonds. Myron Taylor (1973) regards Julius Caesar as a drama concerned with clashing philosophical perspectives: the Epicurean philosophy of Cassius and the superstitious worldview of Caesar. Taylor contends that the play refutes Cassius's atheist and materialist viewpoint and presents the philosophical message that “[m]en are not the masters of destiny, nor is history without moral significance.”
Criticism: Overviews And General Studies
SOURCE: Spevack, Marvin, ed. Introduction to Julius Caesar, by William Shakespeare, 2nd ed., pp. 1-45. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
[In the following excerpt, Spevack surveys the dramatic structure, themes, and characters of Julius Caesar.]
Broadly seen, Shakespeare's concern with the private sphere is most evident in his comedies and poetry, with the public sphere in the history plays. Had Shakespeare not resumed writing tragedies with Julius Caesar, the two tragedies which preceded it, Titus Andronicus and Romeo and Juliet, might mutatis mutandis be assigned to the histories and comedies respectively. But the question of genre need not be stretched or stressed. What is apparent from the Yorkist and Lancastrian tetralogies and King John is Shakespeare's interest in public affairs, in problems of power and rule, in the qualities of the ideal governor, in the confrontation of ideologies, in the clash of armies, in civil conflict, in the collision of the high and low members of the body politic, in history qua history. What is even more apparent, and very typical of Shakespeare, is the crystallisation of character in history, the emergence of individual personalities, and thus the inextricability of public and private affairs. This focus, especially since it involves a leading figure who is the key to the fate of...
(The entire section is 8903 words.)
Show us the love and view this for free! Use the facebook like button, or any other share button on this page, and get this content free!free!
Criticism: Character Studies
SOURCE: Bowden, William R. “The Mind of Brutus.” Shakespeare Quarterly 17, no. 1 (winter 1966): 57-67.
[In the following essay, Bowden describes Brutus as self-righteous and intellectually limited.]
A bothersome passage in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar is Brutus' accusation of Cassius in the celebrated quarrel scene:
I did send to you For certain sums of gold, which you denied me: For I can raise no money by vile means: By heaven, I had rather coin my heart, And drop my blood for drachmas, than to wring From the hard hands of peasants their vile trash By any indirection: I did send To you for gold to pay my legions, Which you denied me: was that done like Cassius?
These lines have elicited a good deal of scholarly comment (as what lines in Shakespeare have not?), but I do not know that their implications in an assessment of Brutus' character have ever really been faced. Let us attempt to face them here.
What Brutus is saying is, in blunt paraphrase, something like this: “I need money to pay my troops, but I am too noble to extort it from the poor; Cassius, you extort it from the poor and give it to me.” Obviously Brutus is unconscious of the double irony of his position here; but I simply cannot subscribe to any concept of Shakespeare...
(The entire section is 6187 words.)
Show us the love and view this for free! Use the facebook like button, or any other share button on this page, and get this content free!free!
SOURCE: Levitsky, Ruth M. “The Elements Were So Mix'd …” PMLA 88, no. 2 (March 1973): 240-45.
[In the following essay, Levitsky illuminates Brutus's Stoic virtues and contrasts his character with the less admirable Caesar.]
In a survey of the half-century (1900-50) of scholarship dealing with Shakespeare's Roman plays, J. C. Maxwell commends Sir Mark Hunter's “Politics and Character in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar” as “one of the first among modern attempts to correct the tendency to overidealize Brutus and give him too central a part in the play.”1 In the thirty-odd years since Hunter's study was published this overidealization, I suggest, has been overcorrected.2 For while it is true that Brutus is not the ideal hero that Henry v is, he is still the noblest Roman of them all. This, I submit, is all that Shakespeare ever intended him to be; but that all is no little, and it ought not be denied him.
One of the more recent denigrations of Brutus is John Anson's “Julius Caesar, the Politics of the Hardened Heart,” in which Romans generally are indicted as “blocks … stones … worse than senseless things.”3 Certainly Shakespeare was capable of using such terms to describe young men who would devote their lives to “suck[ing] the sweets of sweet philosophy.” And, unquestionably, the moral petrification resulting from attempts...
(The entire section is 4239 words.)
Show us the love and view this for free! Use the facebook like button, or any other share button on this page, and get this content free!free!
SOURCE: Rice, Julian C. “Julius Caesar and the Judgment of the Senses.” Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 13, no. 2 (spring 1973): 238-55.
[In the following essay, Rice contends that Julius Caesar promotes a philosophy of character based upon Renaissance Pyrrhonism, a skeptical philosophical position that underscores the antiheroic, fallible, and incongruous attributes of the play's characters.]
When Brutus in his oration implores the crowd to awake their senses that they may the better judge (III.ii.17-18), some members of the Globe audience may have been struck by an implicit irony. Given the Pyrrhonic view of the absurd conclusions based on sensory evidence, which man mistakenly calls rational judgment, Brutus's asking men to judge by their senses might have struck an educated Elizabethan as only one more example of the blind folly which pervades Julius Caesar. A case for the centrality of the theme of human irrationality can be supported by purely internal evidence: attention to language, repetition, action, and structure. But the conjecture that Shakespeare could have consciously intended the play to be a commentary on human limitation may perhaps gain some probability by giving some attention to possible sources and to Renaissance philosophical backgrounds.
In spite of the fact that Shakespeare allows anachronistic clocks to strike in Rome, T. J. B....
(The entire section is 5732 words.)
SOURCE: Nuttall, A. D. “Brutus's Nature and Shakespeare's Art.” In Modern Critical Interpretations: William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, edited by Harold Bloom, pp. 105-20. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1988.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1983, Nuttall traces the ways in which Shakespeare infused Brutus's character with such abstract qualities as Stoicism, pathos, egotism, shame, and rationalization in order to produce a well-rounded, psychologically distinct character capable of eliciting audience sympathy.]
The eighteenth century was profoundly excited by the then novel intuition that Shakespeare's works conveyed the nature of the real world. This excitement lasted well through the nineteenth century and still rises, unbidden, in the untheoretical reader, even today. But in the twentieth century formalism came to Shakespeare criticism before it appeared elsewhere. The origins of this formalism, indeed, lie outside the twentieth century and outside England. Gustav Rümelin's Shakespearestudien (Stuttgart, 1866) is an important early essay in this mode. The translation in 1922 of Levin Schücking's Die Charakterprobleme bei Shakespeare brought the new approach to the attention of the English-speaking world. The consequent critical enterprise, powerfully led in the 1930s by E. E. Stoll, forms a distinct movement, quite separate from structuralism, but sharing...
(The entire section is 6285 words.)
Criticism: Production Reviews
SOURCE: Carnegy, Patrick. Review of Julius Caesar. Spectator 287, no. 9026 (4 August 2001): 42-3.
[In the following review, Carnegy praises Edward Hall's 2001 Royal Shakespeare Company production of Julius Caesar, particularly its portrayal of the conspirators, rather than Caesar, as the greater threat to Rome.]
Not so long ago Ruggiero Raimondi arrived at Covent Garden to sing, as he had often done elsewhere, the title role in Verdi's Attila. An early call was to the costume department where he genially introduced himself as the Hun: ‘Well, what's it to be this time? Hitler or Mussolini?’ The same question has hovered over modern stagings of Julius Caesar going back at least as far as Death of a Dictator, Orson Welles's legendary rehash of 1937, when Caesar was indeed Mussolini and the crowd scenes Nazi rallies. Since then the Roman colossus has suffered further resurrections as General de Gaulle (RSC 1968), Fidel Castro (Miami 1986) and, played by a woman, as Margaret Thatcher (London 1993).
We may never know what temptations Edward Hall, Stratford's new director of the play, may have entertained in this area, nor are such characterisations necessarily wrong. The good news is that he's created a highly effective black-shirt atmosphere without nailing his Caesar too precisely, or his adversaries, come to that. What David Daniell, editor of the...
(The entire section is 784 words.)
SOURCE: Jackson, Russell. Review of Julius Caesar. Shakespeare Quarterly 53, no. 4 (winter 2002): 536-49.
[In the following excerpted review of Edward Hall's 2002 Royal Shakespeare Company production of Julius Caesar, Jackson notes that despite Hall's “ruthless” cutting of Shakespeare's text, the director managed an effective staging by balancing ideological allusions with innovative perspectives on character.]
The seasons final main house production was Julius Caesar, directed by Edward Hall in a ruthlessly cut version that removed the first scene and all its business with the citizens, simplified the battlefield sequences, and was played without an interval. The audience was confronted with the legend “Peace. Freedom. Liberty.” projected on the back wall. As the house lights went down, the denim-jacketed soothsayer opened a trap door in the stage to produce a bleeding heart. He stood to one side—he lurked around through much of the play—as thunderous drumming, in the manner of Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will, brought on a uniformed, flag-waving crowd, led by a blonde soprano, also in jackboots and black uniform, who led the company in what seemed a cross between a Latin translation of “The future belongs to us” from Cabaret and something left over from Carl Orff's Carmina Burana. Those who understood it nodded their heads and smiled: the general...
(The entire section is 590 words.)
SOURCE: Johnson, Frank. “Let's Drop the Fascist Caesar and Give the Middle Classes a Real Challenge.” Spectator 288, no. 9053 (9 February 2002): 28.
[In the following review of Edward Hall's 2002 Royal Shakespeare Company production of Julius Caesar, Johnson decries the cliché of presenting Caesar as a fascist dictator.]
The Royal Shakespeare Company's latest Julius Caesar, just arrived at the Barbican from Stratford, has Caesar as a fascistic dictator. Here we go again.
For decades that has been the only Caesar on offer from either of our national, subsidised companies. The incidence of fascist Caesars has increased the further we have travelled in time from the fascist era. When, as adolescents, we of my generation became acquainted with the plays from the Old Vic gallery, Caesar tended to be set in ancient Rome. The Caesar who, for some of us, was the role's last great interpreter—the late Brewster Mason—wore a toga, and played him as a benign ruler, at worst an enlightened despot.
We cannot tell whether that was what Shakespeare thought of him. But Shakespeare would have been much exposed to the Roman Catholic Church's opinion. There, Caesar was history's greatest source of good among secular rulers; precursor of the Roman empire which spread Latin civilisation and order. Much of the Church's imagery, including...
(The entire section is 1123 words.)
SOURCE: Weber, Bruce. Review of Julius Caesar. New York Times (22 January 2003): B5, E5.
[In the following review of Karin Coonrod's 2003 Theatre for a New Audience production of Julius Caesar, Weber contends that this production's contemporary American setting and anti-conservative political agenda obscured rather than broadened the drama's underlying character conflicts.]
Like a lot of intelligent people, Shakespeare was amazed at the paradox of political speech—that it is demonstrably misleading, and that people believe it anyway. This is the bizarre quirk of human nature that Julius Caesar deals with especially. And because politics is never without purveyors of egregious, self-serving lies, the play is perpetually relevant. Though it doesn't have the psychological depth of Hamlet and doesn't achieve or even aim for the grievous sadness of King Lear, it can really make you outraged.
Outrage appears to be very much on the mind of the director Karin Coonrod, whose Julius Caesar opened Sunday at the Lucille Lortel Theater. Without making it explicit, the show reads as a protest against the Republican oligarchy in Washington.
From the opening scenes in this modern-dress production, the director uses the costuming and manner of her actors to evoke the contemporary American nexus of conservative political power among the...
(The entire section is 792 words.)
SOURCE: Weber, Bruce. Review of Julius Caesar. New York Times (22 July 2003): E1, E5.
[In the following review, Weber admires director Daniel Sullivan's 2003 production of Julius Caesar staged at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego, particularly its imaginative and politically evocative setting which depicted life after the collapse of the American empire and suggested the destructive legacy imposed by worldly ambition.]
Julius Caesar is so full of aphorisms and declarations that onstage it often succumbs to pomposity. The play is so concerned with the difference between what men say and what they think as they jockey for power that it is frequently performed with two-faced hyperbole. And it is so determined to illustrate the manipulative nature of politics that in performance it can drip with irony or light up its contemporary relevance in neon. No wonder it is a junior high school classic.
The wonder of Daniel Sullivan's gripping horror movie of a Julius Caesar at the Old Globe Theater here through Aug. 10 is that while the play remains as clear as glass to the average 13-year-old, and the production as alluring as a video game, it is also a pertinent, politically shrewd and subtly fearful prognostication regarding the world we now live in.
The actors, led by Robert Foxworth, as a Brutus of fine masculine integrity, and Robin Gammell, who...
(The entire section is 1075 words.)
SOURCE: Berlin, Normand. Review of Julius Caesar. Massachusetts Review 44, no. 3 (fall 2003): 531ff.
[In the following excerpted review of Laird Williamson's 2003 Oregon Shakespeare Festival production of Julius Caesar, Berlin compliments Williamson's intriguing interpretation of the play, which emphasized Caesar's tyrannical nature and the irresistible power of fate.]
[I]n the OSF [Oregon Shakespeare Festival] production of Julius Caesar, performed in the indoor Angus Bowmer Theatre, … director Laird Williamson … [places] his Roman play in modern times without specifically designating a fixed time. That is, he gives us costumes that include World War I uniforms and coats, World War II Gestapo raincoats, American Green Beret uniforms, Clockwork Orange masks and garb, Marlene Dietrich stockings and garters, and miscellaneous rag outfits usually associated with the homeless. In stage center we find a removable wall made of scrap metal that was once armor, guns, swords, knives. The music that greets us in the play's beginning and that we hear at selected moments throughout the play is ominous and discordant. The stage throughout is filled with shadows, patches of darkness. Williamson said that he was looking for a film noir effect, and he achieves it. That he offers as the epigraph to his program notes a quote from Brecht points us to the kind of “modern” world he...
(The entire section is 1363 words.)
SOURCE: Chang, Joseph S. M. J. “Julius Caesar in the Light of Renaissance Historiography.” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 69, no. 1 (January 1970): 63-71.
[In the following essay, Chang views Julius Caesar as a demonstration of Shakespeare's historical relativism.]
Criticism of Julius Caesar has moved steadily toward the position recently taken by Mildred E. Hartsock, that the play “is a demonstration that the truth of character cannot be known.”1 Earlier critics had become reconciled to a divided characterization of Caesar, and they began to find inconsonances in Brutus as well.2 The more the play is examined, the more one is inclined to accept the conclusion Miss Hartsock tentatively offers: “Perhaps Shakespeare was playing a bitter ‘modern’ trick, and, in the spirit of Pilate's embarrassing question, implying that the truth cannot be known.” The difficulty, by her own admission, is that this interpretation comes close to proposing “that in 1599, a playwright would be expressing a twentieth-century concept of relativity.” It is the purpose of this paper to suggest that the concept of relativity is not peculiar to the present age, and that the internal evidence which Miss Hartsock drew from the play was not misconstrued. Julius Caesar exploits for dramatic purposes the growing awareness among Renaissance historians...
(The entire section is 3783 words.)
SOURCE: Kaufmann, R. J., and Clifford J. Ronan. “Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: An Apollonian and Comparative Reading.” Comparative Drama 4, no. 1 (spring 1970): 18-51.
[In the following excerpt, Kaufmann and Ronan discuss Julius Caesar as a sustained study of the limits and tragic potentiality of Stoic constancy.]
My enemies are those who want to destroy without creating their own selves.
A man's virility lies more in what he keeps to himself than in what he says.
All crimes, so far as guilt is concerned, are completed even before the accomplishment of the deed.
Peter S. Anderson's brilliant essay in a recent issue of this journal advanced discussion of Julius Caesar to a new level of methodological sophistication.1 His working out, through intelligent deployment of structuralist techniques, of a “metonymic epistemology of sacrifice” must be studied in toto and attentively to appreciate its rich critical dividends. The essay charts the mythopeic infrastructure of the play better than this has ever been done. He transposes into discursive language something of the wonderful polyphony of the play, its interplay of mutually qualifying analogues from different planes of abstraction. Numerous critics have felt, but...
(The entire section is 14357 words.)
SOURCE: Bellringer, A. W. “Julius Caesar: Room Enough.” Critical Quarterly 12, no. 1 (spring 1970): 31-48.
[In the following essay, Bellringer maintains that the subject of Julius Caesar is essentially Roman, with no significant Elizabethan or modern parallels.]
Julius Caesar is best regarded as an example of Polonius's category ‘tragical-historical’. The tragedy is inherent in the historical situation: it is Rome's in the same sense that in the history plays the tragedy is England's. But Roman politics are significantly different. Julius Caesar cannot simply be read as a cautionary tale for the times, warning dissatisfied subjects against the folly of killing the king. Any relations with Elizabethan politics are tangential rather than analogous. Ancient Rome is not just a monarchical nation-state, but the whole expanse of conquered Europe. She is also a small city with a peculiar political tradition. From this contradiction comes the tension of ‘the times’ which largely determines the fates of the individuals in the play. As Robert B. Heilman has argued, ‘the antecedent fact is the public situation—… the apparent development of a political dictatorship—and we see the private life in this context’.1 It is a mistake to look for a tragic hero here. There is no scope and no worked out role for greatness.
(The entire section is 7925 words.)
SOURCE: Taylor, Myron. “Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and the Irony of History.” Shakespeare Quarterly 24, no. 3 (summer 1973): 301-08.
[In the following essay, Taylor regards Julius Caesar as a drama concerned with clashing philosophical perspectives: the Epicurean philosophy of Cassius and the superstitious worldview of Caesar.]
Plutarch's account of the death of Julius Caesar at the hands of the republican conspirators Brutus and Cassius provided Shakespeare with a story ideally suited to his dramatic intents. In general politically neutral, the story as Plutarch recounted it contained many examples of supernatural phenomena commenting upon political events. In addition, Plutarch underscored the ironic implications in the actions of the plotters: in trying to end the tyranny of Caesar, they succeeded only in creating the worse tyranny of the Triumvirate. Ultimately the very swords that they had used against Caesar were conveyed into their own bosoms. In words drawn from Hamlet, the “enginer [was] hoist with his own petar.”1
Shakespeare made little attempt to “distance” his material. Rome emerged in his version looking very like contemporary London, even to the notorious clocks, and Caesar, Cassius, and Brutus became recognizable English types who would have been perfectly at home in the reigns of Richard II or Henry IV. Indeed the lesson taught by...
(The entire section is 3757 words.)
SOURCE: Vawter, Marvin L. “Julius Caesar: Rupture in the Bond.” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 72, no. 3 (July 1973): 311-28.
[In the following essay, Vawter contends that Julius Caesar should be understood as a critique not just of Caesar's tyrannical ambition or the malicious intent of the conspirators, but as a wholesale condemnation of the corrupted Roman nobility for its destruction of natural, communal bonds.]
Among the many questions raised in Julius Caesar, one of the most important is Cassius' rhetorical question to Brutus amidst his vehement characterization of Caesar:
Now in the names of all the gods at once, Upon what meat doth this our Caesar feed, That he is grown so great?
Cassius does not require an answer, for it is his way of conveying the enormity of Caesar's tyranny. In metaphors of physical size, he describes for Brutus and for us a beast feeding on other men, so gargantuan that he “doth bestride the narrow world / Like a Colossus, and we petty men / Walk under his huge legs, and peep about” (I.ii.133-35). So “monstrous” and “prodigious grown” (I.iii.71, 77) is Caesar that Rome's “wide walks” have “room enough” for only him (I.ii.153-54).1
Since at this point in the play we have had only a brief glimpse of Caesar (he has spoken seventeen...
(The entire section is 7822 words.)
SOURCE: Wilson, Richard, ed. “‘Is This a Holiday?’: Shakespeare's Roman Carnival.” In New Casebooks: Julius Caesar, pp. 55-76. Houndsmills, UK: Palgrave, 2002.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1993, Wilson examines the carnivalesque elements of Julius Caesar.]
Julius Caesar was the first Shakespearean play we know to have been acted at the Globe, and was perhaps performed for the opening of the new Bankside theatre in 1599. The Swiss tourist Thomas Platter saw it on 21 September, and his impressions help to locate the work within the different cultural practices that went to make the Elizabethan playhouse. To our minds, accustomed to a decorous image of both Shakespeare and ancient Rome, it is just this collision of codes and voices which makes the traveller's report so incongruous and jarring:
After lunch, at about two o'clock, I and my party crossed the river, and there in the house with the thatched roof we saw an excellent performance of the tragedy of the first emperor, Julius Caesar, with about fifteen characters; and after the play, according to their custom, they did a most elegant and curious dance, two dressed in men's clothes and two in women's.1
Along with chimney-pots, feather hats, bound books and chiming clocks in the play itself, we can absorb the cultural shock of the ‘house...
(The entire section is 8601 words.)
SOURCE: Wells, Robin Headlam. “Julius Caesar, Machiavelli, and the Uses of History.” Shakespeare Survey 55 (2002): 209-18.
[In the following essay, Wells claims that in Julius Caesar Shakespeare depicted a Machiavellian view of politics and history.]
Why did Shakespeare use stories from the Graeco-Roman world? Machiavelli went to Roman history because he believed that Livy's narratives provided political lessons that could be applied to the modern world. It has traditionally been supposed that Shakespeare dramatized stories from Plutarch and other historians for similar reasons. For the new ‘politic’ historiographers, and, it used to be generally assumed, for Shakespeare as well, the importance of ancient history lay in its ability to illuminate modern events.1 In recent years these assumptions have been challenged by materialist and postmodern scholars who have argued that the supposedly essentialist view of humanity underpinning this rational historiography is an invention of pre-theoretical literary scholarship. Shakespeare, it is claimed, was a precursor of our own disillusioned postmodern view of ‘man’ and history. Julius Caesar certainly suggests that Shakespeare took a sceptical view of politics. But evidence in the play in support of the claim that he shared the anti-humanist theories of the postmodern historiographers he is said to anticipate is less...
(The entire section is 6433 words.)
Barton, Anne. “Julius Caesar and Coriolanus: Shakespeare's Roman World of Words.” In Shakespeare's Craft: Eight Lectures, edited by Philip H. Hughfill, Jr., pp. 24-47. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1982.
Centers on the manipulative techniques of rhetoric, oratory, and persuasion depicted in Julius Caesar and Coriolanus.
Blits, Jan H. “Manliness and Friendship in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.” In The End of the Ancient Republic: Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, pp. 3-20. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1993.
Studies the manly virtues and masculine relationships that inform Shakespeare's portrayal of Rome in Julius Caesar.
Coles, Blanche. Shakespeare Studies: Julius Caesar. New York: Richard R. Smith, 1940, 281 p.
Offers a scene-by-scene analysis of plot, character, and theme in Julius Caesar.
Daniell, David, ed. Introduction to The Arden Shakespeare: Julius Caesar, by William Shakespeare, pp. 1-147. Walton-on-Thames, UK: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1998.
Provides an overview of Julius Caesar.
Dean, Leonard F., ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of Julius Caesar: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prenctice-Hall, 1968,...
(The entire section is 419 words.)