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Julius Caesar and the Properties of Shakespeare's Globe

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Dennis Kezar, Vanderbilt University

"The World makes many vntrue Constructions of these Speaches."1

For an antitheatricalist such as Stephen Gosson, the Renaissance stage travesties the courtroom, leaving the defendant with no voice and replacing a single judge with an injudicious jury: "At stage plays it is ridiculous, for the parties accused to reply, no indifference of judgment can be had, because the worst sort of people have the hearing of it, which in respect of their ignorance, of their fickleness, and of their fury, are not to be admitted in place of judgment. A judge must be grave, sober, discreet, wise, well exercised in cases of government, which qualities are never found in the baser sort."2 In his indictment of drama Gosson charges poets and players with reducing the accused to a lifeless and common text, "openly blown into the ears of many and made a byword" (p. 167); and he charges the audience, "carried away with every rumor," with blind injustice: "they run together by heaps, they know not whither; and lay about with their clubs, they see not why. Which thing the ancient Philosophers considering called them a monster of many heads" (p. 164).

Conspicuously, few apologists for Renaissance theater directly engage Gosson's assertion that the stage is a law court perverted, that it submits false evidence to a biased, bacchant audience. Indeed, Thomas Heywood admits the malleability of this audience only when insisting upon the virtues of fictionalized exempla: "Lively and well spirited action . . . hath power to new mold the hearts of the spectators and fashion them to the shape of any noble and notable attempt."3 Philip Sidney may obliquely concede the contingency of such modeling upon the audience's judgment when, for instance, he claims for the poet power "to bestow a Cyrus upon the world to make many Cyruses, if they will learn aright why and how that maker made him."4 But Sidney and the protheatricalists celebrate the bloodless "sweet violence"5 of an exemplary and embellished drama that moves the spectator to virtuous and prescribed behavior; Gosson argues not only that this same transaction can promulgate vice—both intentionally and unintentionally6—but also that it commits felonious violence against the object of representation itself. Far from a "glass of behavior," Gosson's theater presents men as silent exteriors before a dangerously subjective audience, an inversion of the ideal courtroom: "For the place, no private man's life ought to be brought in question or accused, but where he may plead in his own defense and have indifferent judges to determine the case" (p. 163). Thus he approves of Roman theatrical censorship for restoring the judiciary to its rightful place: "[the Roman censors] would not have the life and behavior of the citizens, subject either to a poet's inkhorn, or a player's tongue, but to the seat of justice" (p. 165). In contrast to this fixed institution of judgment, he finds the Renaissance "common" stage an interpretively open-ended venue, where the inwardness of a "private man's life" becomes the property of a public both ductile and unpredictable.7 At its most penetrating, Gosson's criticism of drama reveals the violence of what we might call "other-fashioning"—the coercion involved when a playwright silences a subject, appropriates that subject as spectacle, and displays it before the dubious construction of numberless judges.

Ironically, we find the most unflinching response to this definition of theatrical violence not in the prose of Gosson's opponents, but in the very public drama he seeks to censor. In my reading of The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, I claim that Shakespeare explores this same violence with acute self-consciousness; and that, more specifically, the dismemberment of Cinna the poet at the center of the dramatic action emblemizes the potentially ruinous energies of other-fashioning—focuses the anxieties about theatrical appropriation and audience response—that preside with thematic centrality over the play. Such a reading will involve an inversion of the paradigm typically imposed on the Renaissance stage when "self-fashioning" is the issue: rather than a cultural space that enables but ultimately contains a potentially subversive auto-poesis.8 I argue that Shakespeare represents in this play a stage subversive for its incontinence, a theater in which self-presentation dissolves before the alterative gaze and indeterminate interpretation of the spectator. Julius Caesar will have a doubled part in this essay, however. While I seek to demonstrate that in his play Shakespeare metatheatrically considers the relation—as conceived by the antitheatricalists—between the playwright, his matter, and his audience, I also attempt to historicize this self-consciousness, arguing that the play appears in a time (1599) and a place (the Globe) at which the nature of this relation is being energetically redefined and debated. This reading of Julius Caesar, then, tries to present the play as a dramatic reading of a contentious contemporary issue, a critical representation of the public theater's epistemological economy. For it is through this critique that Shakespeare defines both the dramatist and his customers as roughhandlers of the representations they fashion and watch; it is through this critique that Shakespeare considers public drama's potential for irresponsibility. In so doing, he defines the playwright as implicated in a process of which many apologists for theater would absolve him: guilty by association with an untrustworthy audience, a corrupt jury, Shakespeare's dramatist knowingly violates the subjects he stages.


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"Fashion it thus "

It might be objected that Gosson's view of theater as mistrial arises merely from his concern with a topical stage's potential for libel, a concern in fact shared by the state censors in Renaissance England.9 But Gosson conceives the injury of theatrical misrepresentation much more broadly, so that even Roman history can be victimized by Elizabethan dramatic adaptations:

If a true history be taken in hand .. . the poets drive it most commonly unto such points, as may best show the majesty of their pen .. . or wring in a show, to furnish the stage, when it is too bare; when the matter of itself comes short of this, they follow the practice of the cobbler, and set their teeth to the leather to pull it out.

So was the history of Caesar and Pompey . . . when the history swelled, and ran too high for the number of the persons that should play it, the poet with Procrustes cut the same fit to his own measure; when it afforded no pomp at all, he brought it to the rack, to make it serve.

(Plays Confuted in Five Actions, pp. 168-69)

Sidney's alchemy, whereby the brazen world of nature and history becomes golden, is here described as a violent and opportunistic craft. For Gosson does not seem to share Sidney's view of the inutile specificity of history; nor does he justify poetic fiction as the conversion of mundane fact into neoplatonic Truth. Rather, Gosson's "true history" exists as a prior authenticity endangered by subsequent authors who take it "in hand" and "make it serve" their own artistic designs—by playwrights who falsify historical evidence and "wring in" shows in order to construct compelling theatrical cases.

Something of this rhetoric of coercive and manipulative representation distinguishes Shakespeare's own metadramatic reflections upon the act of staging history. In the Prologue to The Life of Henry the Fifth, for instance, the Chorus admits the difficulty of dramatizing epic, and concedes the impossibility if not the impropriety of "cram[ming]" the play's historical subject "Within this wooden O"; and as the audience, we become accomplices to this constrictive, farcical force when we are invited to "Suppose within the girdle of these walls / Are now confined two mighty monarchies."10 While Shakespeare's "Chorus to this history" grapples with the presentational problem of daring "to bring forth / So great an object .. . On this unworthy scaffold," however, it also introduces the interpretive consequences of treating an historical subject as a spectacular "object." By invoking the audience's "imaginary forces," this Chorus indicates that dramatist and spectator must collaborate in fashioning and evaluating the evidence before them, and implies that the ultimate meaning of dramatic representation resides in the subjective and constitutive response of the audience: "Linger your patience on, and we'll digest / Th' abuse of distance, force a play" (2.Chorus.31-32). If one subscribes to Gosson's dark view of the playwright and his "worst sort of audience, moreover, this collaboration not only misrepresents "true history" through the dramatist's self-interested manipulation of the record, but also subjects the characters of that history to the equally suspect reception of spectators who—like an autonomous jury—follow their own ends in arriving at their verdict.

Julius Caesar dramatizes both sides of this exchange, demonstrating the potential violation of history and its subjects by theatrical representation and audience response. Replying skeptically to Casca's reading of the wonders and prodigies that herald the fifteenth of March, in fact, Cicero might be said to epigrammatize the open-ended process of other-fashioning: "Indeed it is a strange-disposed time. / But men may construe things after their fashion, / Clean from the purpose of the things themselves" (I.3.33-35). Primarily, of course, these lines warn against the inadvertent misprison central to tragedy—the defiance of augury, omens, and prophecy that generically signals Caesar's fall; the "hateful Error" that ruins Cassius, who dies having "misconstrued everything" (5.3.84). But in Shakespeare's history play Cicero's words resonate with a significance beyond the tragic myopia that can doom such interpreters. For the hermeneutic he describes—the subjective speculation and objectified spectacle that, for Gosson, corrupt the courtroom and reduce history to histrionics—also describes the theatrical mode by which men knowingly victimize others in Julius Caesar. Like the word "theater" itself (at once a place where one goes "to view" and a place where scenes are staged "to the view"), his verb "construe" blurs the distinction between the act of interpretation and the act of representation. Indeed, Cicero's insight becomes the conspirators' strategy as they construct their plot. Like the portents and soothsaying Caesar must ignore if this plot is to succeed, for instance, Calphurnia's dream has an internal validity and "purpose" that the conspirators must construe "after their fashion" if the show is to go on. Thus Decius claims that she has "all amiss interpreted" her vision (2.2.83), and he provides an alternative reading that effectively leads Caesar to his slaughter. Similarly, although Brutus regrets "That every like is not the same" (2.2.128), he realizes the republicans must represent Caesar as a simulacrum of himself in order to alienate him in the people's eyes. In a soliloquy that rehearses the apology for tyrannicide he will soon deliver to the plebeians, he admits the expediency of construing Caesar after his own fashion, clean from the purpose of the thing himself:

And since the quarrel
Will bear no color for the thing he is,
Fashion it thus: that what he is, augmented,
Would run to these and these extremities.


For Brutus, as for Gosson's violator of "true history," "the matter of itself comes short"; and the solution to the troublesome limitations of fact threatening to impede his plot and obstruct his case lies in theatricalized fiction, in fashioning the audience's perspective on the scene he is to perform by altering the evidence and ascribing to Caesar a new telos. Refusing the passive role of Sidney's historian—a pedant "so tied not to what should be but to what is, to the particular truth of things and not to the general reason of things"11—Brutus instead plays the poet and forces the awkwardly sui generis Caesar into the generic catastrophe of the de casibus tradition. He forces a play by "wringing in" a show.

This scene, however, draws blood, and herein lies the play's specific self-consciousness: men die in Julius Caesar not only from accidental misreading, not only from accepting the intentional misreadings of others, but also—much more unusually—from being consciously misread. As we shall see, Cinna the poet, dismembered for his name by an audience that has become actors, falls as the superlative victim of this last category, the archetypal sacrifice of a "private man's life" to the mistrial of public theater. For Cicero's words apply as much to the plebeian audience of this theater as they do to those who attempt to control their perspective on the evidence put before them. If representations can be manipulated after the politicians' fashion, so can they be misconstrued by the people's reception; if men can be appropriated by the political theater, so can they become the property of those who observe them.

And if men can be subjected to this estranging process, so can "true history"; if Cicero's observation pertains to those who inhabit Shakespeare's play, it also pertains to the playwright himself. On this metadramatic level, in fact, Cicero's acknowledgment of the construction to which omens and prognostications are susceptible attains further significance and irony. For by the late sixteenth century, a great deal of skepticism had arisen in England over an illusionistic strategy that Julius Caesar, like many Renaissance history plays, employs dramaturgic ally: the temporal sleight of hand whereby history is given a compelling predictive force and narrative shape.12 The strong rhetoric with which such manipulations of omens and prophecy were attacked, moreover, suggestively resembles that of the antitheatricalists. Most shrill, perhaps, is Raphael Holinshed's condemnation of Peter of Pomfret, "a man in great reputation with the common people" whom Holinshed brands a "pseudo-prophet or false foreteller of afterclaps . . . a deluder of the people."13 Francis Bacon likewise regrets that "the nature of Man . . . coveteth divination." He approves of the "many severe laws made to suppress" such prophecies, "for they have done much mischief," and he claims "that almost all of them, being infinite in number, have been impostures, and by idle and crafty brains, merely contrived and feigned, after the event passed."14 Holinshed and Bacon object to these anachronistic predictions for much the same reason that Gosson objects to the dramatization of history: in facilitating the "emplotment"15 of history's chaos into an orderly story, they are the instruments of deceivers rather than decipherers.

There are obvious reasons for the author of Julius Caesar to consider his use of history so self-consciously. Shakespeare's principal source for the play—North's translation of Amyot's French version of a Latin translation of Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans—already suggests the transformation of historical fact by collaborative human manufacture; as Sidney remarks, moreover, this poeticizing of history began with the first chronicler: "And who reads Plutarch's either history or philosophy, shall find he trimmeth both their garments with guards of poetry."16 Shakespeare fashions his play, then, from a text already read and fashioned, moralized and translated. Significantly, the short scene of Cinna's apprehension occasions a disproportionate degree of poetic departure from this text. Shakespeare chooses to specify that this Cinna is "the poet"; chooses to subject this poet to a crowd that, realising he is not Cinna the conspirator, nevertheless kills him because "his name's Cinna"; and chooses to suggest that Cinna's offstage fate will be dismemberment. In contrast, only one of the two accounts of "the murther of Cinna" in North's Plutarch describes the victim, in passing, as "a Poet." In this account, moreover, the crowd that kills Cinna genuinely confuses him with the conspirator, and tells us only that the plebeians "presently dispatched him" and "slue him outright."17 In his first dramatic adaptation of a Plutarchan narrative the playwright thus freely alters his historical source.

Focusing on such authorial decisions, Gary Taylor has recently concluded the most extended discussion of Cinna's death with a judgment that would have pleased Gosson: "To tell the truth boldly, the more I think about Shakespeare's scene, the less I like it. It is wrong historically, it is wrong morally; it was wrong then, it is still wrong now."18 Taylor does not, however, share Gosson's conception of the dramatist as an unabashed panderer to "the worst sort of people." Instead he indicts Shakespeare for both exaggerating the historical rabble's indiscriminate violence in this scene and depicting an apolitical poet's victimization at their hands, thereby creating a false opposition "between poet and plebeians, between poet and conspirator" (p. 338). The playwright, charges Taylor, creates a defense of poetry at the expense of truth. If we accept this argument, then Cinna's murder by the mob in 3.3 involves a program—a program extending to the camp poet's encounter with Cassius and Brutus in 4.3—whereby Shakespeare erects a false distinction between the poetic and political spheres. Far from a self-conscious exploration of the potential violence of the public theater, the scene appears on this reading a facade of false consciousness, a nefarious attempt to deny art's implication in the chaotic social world around it.

Is this the case? Taylor marshals strong evidence for his assertion that Shakespeare goes out of his way to enhance the fickleness of the rabble in this play. In North's Plutarch, for example, the funeral orations that precede Cinna's murder are separated by a day, and the crowd is constant in its disapproval of Caesar's assassination.19 In Shakespeare's version, by contrast, the orations are juxtaposed, and "the popular voice" becomes a rhetorical barometer. Taylor also seems justified in arguing that the poets in this play conspicuously make nothing happen. Whereas in Plutarch it is a philosopher who intervenes in the quarrel between Brutus and Cassius, successfully reconciling them, in Shakespeare a poet enters after the reconciliation has already occurred, and his well-intended but untimely doggerel is subsequently ridiculed (4.2.187-91). But the distinction between the men of the word and the men of the world in Julius Caesar may not be as clear as this reading suggests. And if the nominal poets in this play seem to emphasize the division between art and politics, the politicians bridge this gulf in their representation as dramatists playing to an audience.

Taylor foists upon the author of Julius Caesar (1599) the conception of poetry expressed by the author of Venus and Adonis (1592-1593)—"a publicly intimate relationship between poet and patron" above history, ideology, and the vulgus.20 A skeptic might object, of course, that intimacy is always a fictive pose for poets operating in a print culture, and that by submitting their words to fame's court such poets consciously (if surreptitiously) offer them as public property.21 Whether or not this was Shakespeare's awareness when he composed his non-dramatic poetry for individual patrons, however, it must have become so in 1599, when a pirate divulged two of "his sugred Sonnets"—previously circulated only "among his priuate friends"—to the world.22 Thus by 1599, if not before, there was irony, intentional or imposed, in the patronage poet's occupatio, as in Sonnet 102: "That love is merchandized whose rich esteeming / The owner's tongue doth publish everywhere." But the proto-romantic view of the poet Taylor ascribes to the author of Julius Caesar ignores more than the complex status of patronage poetry in the late sixteenth-century (and the significant body of recent criticism that has demonstrated this complexity).23 It also ignores Shakespeare's awareness of the altogether different socioeconomic mise en scène that produced the play itself. Indeed, Julius Caesar dramatizes the irrelevance and obsolescence of the very mode of poetry Taylor accuses Shakespeare of perpetuating under false pretenses.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2518

"A strange-disposed time"

Although poet remained both the popular and technical term for the playwright during Shakespeare's lifetime,24 there are reasons both historical and textual to suppose that dramatists working in England's increasingly public theaters had occasion to reevaluate and revalue this term. As Elizabeth's court blurred the distinction between private courtship and public courtiership, so her elaborately theatricalized self-presentation erased the boundaries between stagecraft and statecraft. When political power can be dramatized, power itself devolves to a public where interpretive possibilities proliferate. On the Renaissance public stage, sovereign self-presentation is necessarily subjected to representation; the autonomous production of ideology (like selfhood) is rendered an object of the contingencies of reproduction. It was less theatrical self-assertion, therefore, than a complaint of theatrical vulnerability that underlay Elizabeth's remark to a deputation of Lords and Commons: "We princes are set upon stages in the sight and view of all the world."25 Like Elizabeth, Hamlet realizes the danger of playing to the world. The collaborative social act of public theater, however, demands this economy, and Hamlet must finally submit to theatrical appropriation: "High on a stage . . . placed to the view"; reduced, like the court jester he has elegized, to a silent and portable synecdoche of the self; he becomes an erased mouth, a silence inviting spectators' glosses, the quietus ultimately required of the observed of all observers. For Hamlet and Elizabeth, the stage inexorably transforms the self into a passive spectacle fashioned for and by "the sight and view" of others.

In 1601 the Queen of England identified herself as the property of a public beyond her control: "I am Richard II. Know ye not that? .. . He that will forget God, will also forget his benefactors; this tragedy was played 40tie times in open streets and houses."26 Stephen Greenblatt has observed that Elizabeth responds here to the potential for iteration and indeterminacy27 of a play construed after a subversive fashion, a play that seems to have broken the boundaries of its house and emerged into a world of limitless audience and multiple factions. To this we should add that her response is concomitant with a perceived disintegration of patronage assumptions ("He that will forget God, will also forget his benefactors"), and with her recognition that she has become a victim of other-fashioning. Whether referring to Shakespeare's play or to Hayward's tract, the anger and anxiety of Elizabeth's self-identification with Richard responds to the fact that it is an identification thrust upon her, an identification that threatens her identity. Like the commissioning viewer of an anamorphic painting, she looks to the story of Henry of Lancaster and Richard of Bordeaux for a familiar reflection of her self-image and finds instead—from another's perspective—a radically subversive alterity, a subrogated persona that troubles the semiotics of the whole composition.28

Two years before this dramatic alteration challenged Elizabeth's "Semper Eadem," the Chamberlain's Men had completed a metaphoric transition—from The Theatre, through The Curtain, to The Globe—29 that seems appropriately responsive to a self-conscious shift, in England's public drama, from the aesthetically insulated to the politically fraught. It was on the Globe's stage, in 1599, that an actor playing the Chorus in Henry V anticipated a Caesar-like "general of our gracious Empress" returning triumphantly from Ireland (5.30-34); and it was earlier in this same year, many scholars agree, that Julius Caesar was first produced as the inaugural play in "this wooden O."30 1599, the year the "newly built" Globe became "the possession of William Shakespeare and others,"31 would have been particularly unaccommodating for the vision of playwrighting "as a publicly intimate relationship between poet and patron." For the preceding year, the Privy Council responded to the annual letter of complaint from the Lord Mayor and the Court of Aldermen with a resolution that was unprecedented: it declared that all public playhouses were to be "plucked down" due to the "lewd matters that are handled on the stages" and the "very great disorders" resulting from the "resort and confluence of bad people." This order of the Privy Council (July 28, 1598), which might have given specific topical resonance to the antitheatrical and anticongregational Tribunes in the first scene of Julius Caesar, was of course never executed, but it marked the beginning of an intense period of legislation against London's public theaters. To gain "possession" of the Globe near the end of the sixteenth century was to enter a theater of contest in which private enterprise and state power were frequently at odds.

Indeed, the Globe itself was constructed of contested property. On December 28, 1598, James and Richard Burbage, together with a master carpenter and a dozen tradesmen, dismantled the deserted Theatre and transported its valuable timber to the Bankside, where it was erected as the new home of the Chamberlain's Men. Giles Allen, the increasingly antitheatrical landlord of the Theatre who had requested the departure of his thespian tenants earlier that year, seems to have desired to "convert the wood and timber thereof to some better use." In the subsequent lawsuit Allen's plaint is remarkable for its representation of the defendants as a mob run amok, threatening city and crown. The Burbages and their accessories, he charged,

then and there armed themselves with divers and many unlawful and offensive weapons, as, namely, swords, daggers, bills, axes, and such like, and so armed did then repair unto the said Theatre. And then and there, armed as aforesaid, in very riotous, outrageous, and forcible manner, and contrary to the laws of your Highness' realm, attempted to pull down the said Theatre, whereupon divers of your subjects, servants, and farmers, then going about in peaceable manner to procure them to desist from that their unlawful enterprise, they (the said riotous persons aforesaid) notwithstanding procured then therein with great violence, not only then and there forcibly and riotously resisting your subjects, servants, and farmers, but also then and there pulling, breaking, and throwing down the said Theatre in very outrageous, violent, and riotous sort, to the great disturbance and terrifying not only of your subjects, said servants, and farmers, but of diverse others of your Majesty's loving subjects there near inhabiting.32

It is tempting to compare this riotous representation to the plebeians, "moved"—by Antony's promise of a new recreational park "On this side Tiber," fit for "common pleasures" (3.2.249-50)—to "Pluck down benches! Pluck down forms, windows, anything!" (3.2.258-59). Less conjecturally, we can observe that Allen's no doubt embellished account comes very near the energies that Shakespeare represents in the Globe's inaugural play. An intriguing insight into Shakespeare's complex response to this moment of artistic reassessment appears in Andrew Gurr's demonstration that, around the year 1600, he began to reconceive his customers as spectators rather than auditors.33 Some of the epistemological and political implications of this transformation appear most clearly when we consider the altogether different response of a rival playwright to this same period of change.

For Ben Jonson, the recurrent metaphor of the "Poetomachia" is that of the trial or arraignment, so that the warring dramatists present, in Tibullus' phrase, competing "Law-cases in verse."34 But Jonson's problem, even as he goes about defining the role of the socially relevant public poet, lies in determining that court in which he wishes to appeal his case. In Poetaster (1601), for instance, he legitimizes his ideal, politically and morally salutary poets (Horace and Vergil), by banishing the socially marginal (Ovid), and by purging the civically deleterious (Crispinus and Fannius). Jonson's poetic ideal proves less than efficacious on the public stage, however, where cases are tried not in Augustus' court, but by a corrupt jury. Jonson sends "An armed Prologue" to defend his play from rooms filled with "base detractors, and illiterate apes";35 and in his "apologeticall Dialogue," addressing not a multitudinous spectatorship but an individual reader, he declares the world a "baud" and promises his next dramatic effort will seek a fit audience, however few: "Where, if I prove the pleasure but of one / So he judicious be; He shall b'alone / A Theatre unto me" (213-15). But in the public theater, such retreats into Stoic self-sufficiency are as impossible as imposing a fixed, textual meaning on a script intended for common consumption. In the Globe, to turn one's back on the world is inevitably to invite backstabbing. Thomas Dekker therefore prefaces his theatrical response to Jonson in terms perfectly pitched to elicit the latter's anxiety: "Horace hal'd his Poetasters to the barre, the Poetasters untruss'd Horace: how worthily eyther, or how wrongfully, (World) leave it to the jurie."36 Before this jury, Dekker in Satiro-Mastix (1601) does with Horace much what the Essex party does with the story of Richard II in the same year: as a deposition scene appears subversive when placed in the contemporary political context, so does Horace look ridiculous when dropped "into the middle of a flamboyantly romantic tragi-comedy."37 For Jonson, as for his Queen, the public theater submits one to an audience composed of both predatory rival playwrights and an injudicious tribunal.

Finding his case altered by 1603, then, Jonson replaces the Augustan court with the Tiberian to reflect the willful misreading and evidentiary misconstruction to which the public poet is vulnerable. In his dedicatory epistle to Lord Aubigny, he at once identifies Sejanus' reception with that of its dismembered "subject," and seeks to appeal the Globe's unjust verdict to a single patron: "It is a poem that—if I well remember—in your Lordship's sight, suffered no less violence from our people here than the subject of it did from the rage of the people of Rome, but with a different fate, as (I hope) merit."38 Here, perhaps, is a case for Taylor's criticism of the dramatist disingenuously posing as an apolitical creature victimized by a world he claims the right to ignore, a playwright for whom "our people here" are indeed "vulgar interlopers" mangling the intimate artistic utterance of a play that has silently become "a poem."39 For the Jonson of 1603, theatrical values ultimately prove corrosive to his conception of artistic integrity; the Globe, engaged in a bacchanalia of epistemological and evaluative indiscrimination, must either consume the Orphic poet or exile him to a private, meritocratic world elsewhere. What would later in Jonson's dramatic career become an effort to prevent this indiscrimination by seeking a poetic audience, not a theatrical spectatorship,40 takes an early shape in his desire to place his literary evidence before homogeneous judges, not a heterogeneous jury. As late as 1611, in fact, he intermittently appeals to a higher evaluative court; his epistle to the Earl of Pembroke, published prefatorily to Catiline, reveals an attempt to convert drama into patronage poetry: "Now, it approcheth your censure cheerefully, and with the same assurance, that innocency would appeare before a magistrate." Like Milton after him, Jonson inhabits a "solitude" threatened by "evil tongues," a fragile kingdom of intentionality "with dangers compassed round," and he seeks to define his hermeneutically "fit audience" by insulating it from "the barbarous dissonance" of those inimical to his poetic meaning.

But this defiant, embattled stance must not be confused with Shakespeare's in the same period. If any Shakespearean dramatic text seems to invite such confusion, it is Troilus and Cressida (1601-03?), with its appended preface addressing an "eternal" reader in an ideal act of literary communication independent of history, the staling stage, and "the palmes of the vulger."41 More substantially, however, the play represents a self-conscious departure from Jonson's conception of the theater poet; it may even be Shakespeare's fullest acknowledgment that the public playwright is not an innocent victim of the interpretive energies of a place such as The Globe.

Troilus and Cressida's chiastic mock of Poetaster's "armed Prologue," for instance, recognizes the permeability of authorial prophylactics against promiscuous interpretation. Rather than guarding his play from the audience's subjective misconstruction, Shakespeare's "prologue arm'd" (Prologue, 23) invites the audience to participate in this martial drama as autonomous, potentially combative judges: "Like or find fault, do as your pleasures are, / Now good or bad, 'tis but the chance of war" (30-31). If the preface contemptuously dismisses the clapper-clawing hands of the multitude, this prologue submits the play's reception to the multiple "pleasures" of a similarly arbitrary jury. And in his epilogue Pandarus suggests that all those who have participated in this sullying "performance" are not only infected by a venereal clap, but also equipped with a rapacious claw. The "traders in the flesh" (5.10.45) who fill "Pandar's hall" (47) figure a collaborative spectatorship that would hypocritically distance itself from the prurient and purveyant drama it has employed. In a rebuke that reminds us his name means nothing but "to go between," however, Pandarus refuses his customers such a voyeuristic withdrawal:

O world, world, world! thus is the poor agent despis'd! O traders and bawds, how earnestly are you set a-work, and how ill requited! Why should our endeavor be so lov'd and the performance so loath'd?


Pandarus' diction here, if not his sense, is that of the antitheatricalist excoriation of a Babylonian stage endeavoring to satisfy a devouring world—a pandering playwright vending his diseased images to an easily infected audience in the "market of bawdrie." His almost post-coital regret and eruptive self-aversion, in fact, seem to anticipate the contrition, as described in A Refutation of the Apology for Actors, of playgoers who "know the Histories before they see them acted [and] are very ashamed when they have heard what lyes the Players insert among them, and how greatly they deprave them."42 Far from a defense of poetry, this epilogue incorporates the antitheatrical position in an unrepentant admission of dramatic guilt that finally indicts the audience as an accessory. To show, claims Pandarus, is to violate; to watch is to participate.

Such a conclusion is the caustic culmination of a play that metatheatrically considers its own role in the deflation and perversion of classical heroic characterology. The "strange fellow" whose argument Ulysses reiterates to lure Achilles to battle seems to articulate a benign version of this role when he claims that "[N]o man is the lord of any thing . . . Till he communicate his parts to others; / Nor doth he of himself know them for aught, / Till he behold them formed in th' applause / Where th' are extended" (3.3.115, 117-20). But James Calderwood's description of this communicative theory as involving "a generative intercourse between bearer and observer"43 plays down Shakespeare's emphasis on the degenerative potentiality of such intercourse. In a drama that itself refracts the epics of Homer and Vergil through several different "recuyells" of the histories of Troy,44 the fate of history and its subjects ultimately rests in the hands of the dramatist and his audience. Like Pandaras, the playwright can commodity the "parts" of historical subjects by assembling a textual pastiche for a predatory public; like Thersites, who is himself addressed as a "fragment,"45 the playgoer can reduce all such representations to scabrous objects through dissective evaluation. The same hands that manufacture constitutive applause can serve as claws of misconstruction. By dramatizing such a transaction and transformation, Troilus and Cressida explores the darker possibilities of a theater that defines the dramatist not as a victim but as a conspirator. We can trace this exploration back to the Globe's inaugural play.


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"Censuring Rome"

Julius Caesar seems to know no other medium than the public stage, as critics have long demonstrated by pointing out its preference for the rhetorical mode over the lyrical, for public declamation and customary proverbs over private reflection and soliloquy.46 As Brutus responds when asked if one can ever properly know one's self: "No, Cassius, for the eye sees not itself / But by reflection, by some other thing" (1.2.52-53). Frequently, this "other thing" proves to be the speculum of theater itself. In a marketplace reeking of the commoners' breath, Caesar is clapped and hissed for his political dumbshow "according as he pleas'd and displeas'd" his plebein audience, "as they use to do the players in the theatre" (1.3.259-61). Brutus urges his fellow conspirators to dissemble their purpose by bearing the staid countenance of "our Roman actors" (2.1.226). And Antony, the lover of plays who most successfully exploits political theater, drops a telling term as he urges Octavius to reevaluate Lepidus, the least consequential and most easily manipulated member of the triumvirate: "Do not talk of him / But as a property" (4.1.39-40). One of Julius Caesar's central dramas is the appropriation of the private by the public, the denotation of "that within which passeth show" by "actions that a man might play," and the reduction of autonomous men to communicable parts and transferable stage properties. The play concedes the potential violence of this drama in the central, emblematic scene of Cinna's dismemberment. In Julius Caesar's earlier consumption of its eponym, however, the play suggests that such physical violence can serve as a metaphor for the injury of theatrical other-fashioning.

Shakespeare's later Roman tragedies pluck out the heart of mystery with the ceremony of sacrifice and the savage coolness of an anatomy.47 Cleopatra would prefer to be a "stark-nak'd" corpse rather than face her audience as a conscious property in the figurative dismemberment she imagines Octavius staging in his theatrical triumph, "pinion'd," "hoist," and displayed "to the shouting varlotry / Of censuring Rome." She ruins her mortal house unwilling to witness the "Mechanic slaves" who will expose Antony and herself "to the view," distorting their biographies through mannered theatricalism (5.2.49-62, 208-21). But while Cleopatra may resist theatrical appropriation by playing the Roman, the irony of this refuge is as inescapable as the theater that subsumes her. For the theater imagined in Shakespeare's Roman tragedies is populated by an intrusive public and exploitative actors; it tolerates no inscrutable inwardness, no self-sufficient independence from the theatrical economy; it sheds blood and breaks bodies to render the private public, to sacrifice individual subjectivity to theatrical viability and spectacle. Coriolanus may refuse to play to such a crowd, "turn[ing]" his "back" in a consummately anti-theatrical gesture of introversion, standing instead "As if a man were author of himself," seeking to be "every man himself and "not . . . other than one thing." But he is stabbed to death as the people shout "Tear him to pieces!"48 And what is the public theater but the people? What are these people but Gosson's Hydra-like "monster"? As a proleptic and definitive answer to such questions, Julius Caesar digests its subject (who has proclaimed "always I am Caesar" [1.2.212] with the same self-consciousness, the same ironic untenability, and perhaps the same anxiety toward protean theatricality that underlies Elizabeth's "Semper Eadem") early in the third act, when the conspirators decide that Caesar must die to be seen. Brutus tries and condemns his friend not for what he is, but for what he might be, for the undetermined and undisclosed subjunctive mood of his spirit:

He would be crown'd
How that might change his nature, there's the question.


O that we then could come by Caesar's spirit,
And not dismember Caesar! But, alas,
Caesar must bleed for it!


Caesar must bleed because the conspiracy of Caesar can have no unscrutinized spirits. Caesar must bleed because the conspirators—no less than the plebeians who come to his funeral shouting "We will be satisfied! Let us be satisfied! (3.2.1)—wish to see his body opened before them like a text. Caesar must bleed for a theater whose liturgy is haruspication,49 whose medium is synecdoche, and whose privileged jury is invariably comprised of multiple observers of a silenced object.

The constituents of this jury, however, proliferate wildly the moment the courtroom is confused with theater, the moment the accused is converted into evidentiary spectacle. A number of critics have demonstrated that Caesar's death coincides with his historicization and textualization.50 His famous (paene) ultima verba, in fact, seem to function antithetically to the infamous anachronism that strikes in 2.1 : as Sigurd Burckhardt has argued, the clock that punctuates the conspirators' plot resonates with the timelessness and interpretive indeterminacy of their action.51 In an English stage-play, however, Caesar's marmoreal Latin appears to italicize the difference of history and its distance from the drama that relates it. Yet his last words are themselves the product of theatrical appropriation: although they live in the popular memory in Shakespeare's translation, they were originally delivered in Greek.52 Caesar may die in his native tongue, but his speech is rendered alien by his maker. It is a fundamental irony of Julius Caesar that its most self-conscious presentation of the autonomous past of history proves inextricably bound to the eternal present of dramatic reenactment and reinterpretation.

While Caesar's blood is still warm, this metadramatic irony operates at the conspirators' expense as they celebrate the conclusion of their case and their authorship of a history play:

Cassius: Stoop then, and wash. How many ages hence
Shall this our lofty scene be acted over
In states unborn and accents yet unknown.

Brutus: How many times shall Caesar bleed in sport;
That now on Pompey's basis lies along
No worthier than the dust!


Cassius and Brutus assert the historical primacy of their action while anticipating the future stage history of this "lofty scene." They attempt to distinguish between a gory event and its aestheticized dramatization as "sport." But in Julius Caesar history is conceived a priori in theatrical terms, by actors who recognize its perspectival malleability. It is Brutus' presumed dramatic control over the action and evaluation of the history in which he participates that signals his hybris. Just as Brutus seeks to mold Caesar into a figure of deservingly punished pleonexia, for instance, so does he attempt to direct the roles of his fellow conspirators. Calling for Caius Ligarius, he prepares to convert a man with undetermined political allegiances into a character with an unambiguous part to play: "Send him but hither, and I'll fashion him" (2.1.220). And after assuming direction of an assassination rehearsed in "Pompey's Theatre" (1.3.152), Brutus insists on the conspirators' billing as sacrificers, not butchers, as purgers, not murderers. Julius Caesar, however, proves to be beyond Brutus' management; and his reversal from conspirator to conspired against coincides with the deposition of his self-presentation and an authorial usurpation of the play for which it was intended. Restaging the scene of tyrannicide around the property of Caesar's corpse, Antony in 3.2 assigns to the conspirators the very parts they had eschewed. Cassius and Brutus condemn themselves when they draw a false distinction between bloody history and bloodless drama, declaring the case closed while the jury is still out, and abandoning the public stage to Antony's constructions. Having reduced Caesar's body to a text with wounds that gape "like dumb mouths" (3.1.260), they forget the instability of this text. They fail to recognize that the ambiguous body of the condemned "ma signify equally well the truth of the crime or the error of the judges, the goodness or evil of the criminal."53 Thus, like their victim, the conspirators become objects of other-fashioning.

Shakespeare reveals his awareness that his own plotting of history is subject to the same interpretive energies it employs. Critics such as Taylor would deny this consciousness of contingency, reading Shakespeare's public drama as the literary "work" of an entrenched patronage poet rather than the "play" of an author willingly de-centered by the common theater.54 An instructive corrective to this anachronism, however, appears in Samuel Johnson's editorial complaint:

But of the works of Shakespeare the condition has been far different [from that of works published under the direct supervision of their authors]: he sold them, not to be printed, but to be played. They were immediately copied for the actors, and multiplied by transcript, vitiated by the blunders of the penmen, or changed by the affectation of the player; perhaps enlarged to introduce a jest, or mutilated to shorten the representation; and printed at last without the concurrence of the author, without the consent of the proprietor, from compilations made by chance or by stealth out of the separate parts written for the theatre.55

The original "condition" of Shakespeare's dramatic texts resembles Gosson's description of history adapted to the theater, a description that applies equally well to Caesar's body: "mutilated" as occasion demands; deconstructed into, and reconstituted from, the "separate parts" of different participatory perspectives; they exist less as intrinsic meaning than as material to be recreated in performance.

If this metaphor of a corporeal text subject to the unkindest cuts of all implies a distinction between victimhood and aggression, it is clear that Shakespeare identifies with the latter. To insist like a Jonsonian prologue upon a fixed, hermeneutically determined textualism is almost invariably to be a victim or a fool on Shakespeare's stage. Calling for a judgment consonant with his inflexible reading of a bond he has authored, Shylock becomes a victim of alternative interpretations; fashioning himself in a letter that seems to reflect the greatness of his own self-image, Malvolio becomes a "propertied" fool when he realizes his ridiculous part and cross-gartered fashion have been assigned by unseen witnesses.56 Nobody's fool and never a self-proclaimed victim outside of the sonnets, Shakespeare recognizes the terms of the theatrical economy in which he operates. While the theater is open, no case is closed; when the jury is "the common eyes," a moment can transform plaintiff into defendant, text into pretext, the carefully wrought self into an appropriated other; when the price of admission buys the audience something as insubstantial as a play, the theater compensates by procuring all that it represents as the interpretive property of this audience.

There is evidence suggesting the special inevitability of this economy for the Renaissance author of Julius Caesar. By imagining "states unborn" and "accents yet unknown," Cassius prophesies the linguistic and cultural differences Shakespeare encounters as he recovers this "lofty scene" from history; simultaneously, then, this play looks back to an anterior future when the English state and language were "yet unknown" and forward to a present when those restaging the scene might have "Small Latine and Lesse Greek," a time when Cicero's linguistic inaccessibility to Casca might reflect Plutarch's to Shakespeare: it was Greek to both of them. But like the playwright's history, Cassius' prophecy is construed after a dramatic fashion: on a level we have already considered, this prophecy becomes for Shakespeare an opportunity for dramatic irony. We know what for Casca is tragically "unknown" and "unborn"—that the conspirators' "lofty scene" will be first "acted over" by Antony's accent, and that the play will conclude with the conspirators' deaths and the birth of the Second Triumvirate. From Shakespeare's literary and historical moment, however, the irony goes further. For by the end of the sixteenth century, Cassius' and Brutus' first performance had long been the stock of artists and the debated exemplum of moralists and political theorists, receiving different "accents" or evaluative emphases as monarchy and republic, tyrants and traitors, were viewed from different perspectives.57 For a playwright capable of imagining an audience of "eyes not yet created,"58 though, the shortest path to obsolescence and revisionary victimization is to deny the contingency of such emphasis upon the historical moment, to assume a unanimous and monological interpretive community, and to forget that his play is the property of the very history it represents—that his text (before the posthumous First Folio) has no status, only unforeseen "states." The political ambiguity of Julius Caesar is therefore the design of a survivor, not a victim. With Aufidius, Shakespeare acknowledges a truth fatally denied by Coriolanus: that in both history plays and history, "virtues / Lie in th' interpretation of the time" (4.7.49-50). Accordingly, if Julius Caesar has a central reference point, it is an audience at once constitutive and prone to metamorphosis.

The plebeians who comprise this audience, however, also embody the misconstructive jury, the bacchanalian rout, posited by the antitheatricalists in their indictment of the public stage as a courtroom travestied. In the central scene of Cinna's apprehension by this audience Shakespeare seems to concede many of the terms of the antitheatrical position as he looks critically at the economy in which he is implicated. This scene presents a mock treason trial, made disturbingly absurd by the fact that the accused withholds no interior allegiances to be revealed. If Caesar represented for the conspirators a mysterious "serpent's egg" of potentiality (2.1.32), Cinna discloses his innocence in direct, brief, wise, and true replies to his interrogators. The plebeians' response is to collapse the distinction between body and spirit that Brutus himself honored in the breach his dagger made; and the result is a savage farce, a brutal simplification of the theatrical appropriation that pervades the play.

As Cinna speaks his last vain words, he becomes what the plebeians wish him to be, a silent stage property to be fashioned as an insistent audience likes it:

Cinna: I am not Cinna the conspirator.

4. Plebeian: It is no matter, his name's Cinna. Pluck but his name out of his heart, and turn him going.

3. Plebeian: Tear him, tear him! Exeunt all the Plebeians dragging off Cinna.


We might follow Taylor's "Bardicide" in reading this passage as a self-conscious reference to Orpheus' dismemberment (pp. 334-38). But we must make a crucial distinction between Shakespeare's apparent allusion to the archetypal poet-victim here and the similarly oblique suggestion of Orpheus' fate we have seen in Jonson's dedication to Sejanus. Unlike Jonson, Shakespeare does not represent this figure—and the violence inflicted upon him by "the rage of the people of Rome"—in a moment of injured self-identification. Rather, Shakespeare seems to conjure the specter of Orpheus' sparagmos to demonstrate the fate of a kind of poet, a kind of voice, when subjected to the abattoir of public theater. Such a generic application, in fact, had precedent in the Renaissance: "the euhemeristic reading of the Orpheus myth as the displacement of Greek lyric poetry by Dionysiac ritual drama" might, for instance, have presented itself to the playwright in Golding's Ovid.59 If Cinna serves as a figure for Orpheus, moreover, then we have in Julius Caesar an important early example of what Kenneth Gros Louis has described as a seventeenth-century poetic and iconographic development: the shift from representations of Orpheus triumphant to representations of Orpheus dismembered, reflecting an emergent skepticism toward poetry's ability to communicate clearly and to achieve its desired humanistic effects on its audience.60 In the world of Julius Caesar, at any rate, to treat the nominal poets as Shakespeare's self-representations is to confuse the purpose of the play's conscious differentiation between victims and victimizers, between an obsolescent mode of poetic subjectivity and the drama that consumes it. Far from an insidious defense of drama's innocence and inconsequence, Julius Caesar enacts a farsighted, metatheatrical critique of the dramatist and his diverse clientele.

Cinna is no more Shakespeare than is the officious camp poet dismissed later in the play for his inutility and for his decidedly unheroic couplet:

Poet: For shame, you generals! what do you mean?
Love, and be friends, as two such men should be,
For I have seen more years, I'm sure, than ye.
Cassius: Ha, ha! how vildly does this cynic rhyme!
Brutus: Get you hence, sirrah; saucy fellow, hence!
Cassius: Bear with him, Brutus, 'tis his fashion.
Brutus: I'll know his humor, when he knows his time.
What should the wars do with these jigging fools?
Companion, hence!


Like Cinna, although by verbal rather than physical violence, this poet is removed from the stage because he is an anachronism, a "fashion" in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nearly ten years before Julius Caesar first appeared, Christopher Marlowe had introduced a revolutionary play with a prologue defining his theater in negative terms remarkably similar to Brutus':

From jigging veins of rhyming mother wits,
And such conceits as clownage keeps in pay,
We'll lead you to the stately tent of war,
Where you shall hear the Scythian Tamburlaine
Threatening the world with his high astounding terms,
And scourging kingdoms with his conquering sword.
View but his picture in this tragic glass,
And then applaud his fortunes as you please.


For Shakespeare as for Marlowe, "the stately tent of war" offers little shelter for poets who do not know their time, exposing them instead to ridicule and to the ruinous energies of a theater that has overtaken them. For Shakespeare as for Marlowe, moreover, the "tragic glass" of this public theater confines mighty men in little room, represents historical figures through dramatic spectacle, and proffers this dramatized exterior to an uncertain reception. In such an economy, authorial intention can claim no more control over a text's consequences than Antony claims over the people he has "moved" through a carefully staged scene:

Now let it work. Mischief, thou art afoot,
Take thou what course thou wilt!


In such an economy, a text's consequentiality consists in part of this predictability.


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Significantly, every act of writing in Julius Caesar draws blood. In the broadsheets Cassius writes "in several hands," "wherein obscurely Caesar's ambition shall be glanced at" (1.2.316, 319-20); in the anonymous notes Cinna the conspirator throws in Brutus' way (1.3.145); and in the proscription list on which Antony damns lives with spots of ink (4.1.6), the injury textually inflicted seems to correspond with the author's intention. And yet the conspirators, as we have seen, involuntarily involve themselves in their own plot the moment they script it and declare it finished. Antony in turn loses sole authorship of his counterplot as it becomes the collaborative product of the other triumvirs. Having judged the proscription list complete, he is forced by Octavius to add the name of Lepidus' brother, a revision Lepidus makes contingent upon the inclusion of Antony's nephew. Similarly, once a text is composed in this play, it is subject to politicized readings beyond the author's control, and of this pervasive process the poet's death once again provides a central, emblematic image. Culminating a scene in which he amplifies the plebeians' outrage by gradually undressing Caesar's torn corpse, Antony publicly reads the dead man's will as a last incitement to riot (3.2.240-52). Just two scenes later, however, Caesar's will is figuratively dismembered as Antony determines "How to cut off some charge in legacies" (4.1.9). The intervening scene of Cinna's murder presents the literal dismemberment of an author whose will counts for nothing and whose audience chooses to misread him. In this scene Shakespeare schematizes the fate of all communication in the play. When the audience is both mobile and prone to action, when spectators become collaborators, when the jury arrogates the dual privilege of constituting meaning and executing its sentence, a speech-act's illocutionary intention dissolves into its perlocutionary effect. From the vantage point of 1601, such an awareness can only appear prophetic, for two years earlier Shakespeare claims for his drama the dangerous power to bestow an Exton on the world to make many Extons.62

But what justification have we for treating Julius Caesar's plebeians as an unflattering, unmitigated representation of the Globe audience's potential? To what extent is Shakespeare's metadramatic antitheatricalism contained by Rome and the play that concerns it? A limited answer lies in recognizing the diachronic transformation of the crowd in Julius Caesar. The plebeians who make their final exit bearing Cinna at the end of Act 3 first took the stage preparing for Caesar's triumph at the beginning of Act 1, and we must include the facts of this metamorphosis in our assessment of Shakespeare's representation of the audience in this play. Instead of a pack of marauding plebeians pursuing a poet, we find in 1.1 "certain commoners" (s.d.) set upon by inquisitorial tribunes; instead of an indistinct rabble seeking blood we find a remarkably individuated cobbler able to pun with the best of Shakespeare's English tradesmen. The line distinguishing sixteenth-century England and ancient Rome in Julius Caesar is never more blurred than in this scene. The Tribunes alternately seem like London aldermen policing sumptuary laws and Puritan antitheatricalists censuring the license, social confusion, and spectacle of the public theater: Flavius and Murellus chastise the keepers of this shoemaker's holiday for doffing "the sign" of their profession and donning their "best attire" (4, 48); and having dispersed the crowd, they set out to "Disrobe the images" decked with Caesar's "ceremonies" (64-65). The "certain Commoners" who cross the stage in 1.1 would appear to have no more objectionable motive than the desire for spectacle, the wish "to see Caesar and rejoice in his triumph" (31). And yet the Tribunes' antitheatrical anxiety in this scene is justified (and, significantly, left unchallenged by a play that does not make them the conventional object of protheatrical satire). Not only do the masquerading commoners range about the liberties dislocated from their social station; they are also interpretive individuals, each capable of construing the meaning of words after his fashion, as the cobbler's relentless punning reveals. When the vulgar can divest themselves of their social signifiers, when the vernacular can be invested with paronomasial significance, the theatrical audience acquires interpretive agency and the theater itself thereby becomes epistemologically open-ended and politically consequential. In 1.1 the plebeians enter as political innocents, and Murellus reproves them for failing to realize that the triumph they yearn to watch "comes . . . over Pompey's blood" (51). In 3.3 the plebeians exit bloodied with the experience of political theater, having demonstrated that to watch in this play is also to act. While in 1.1 they observe a social carnival, in 3.3 they effect political carnage. In 1.1, the cobbler's playfulness with language, his witty misreading of the Tribunes' sense, appears innocuous, whereas in 3.3, the fourth plebeian's wordplay is fatal, his misreading of Cinna a literal pun that tears name from thing. In 1.1, finally, Shakespeare's audience might have recognized itself in the protheatrical image of a harmless, recreational spectatorship; in 3.3 this audience would have seen itself transformed into (or revealed as?) the misconstruing miscreation that elicited Roman theatrical censorship.

Such is the plebeians' metamorphosis from "stones" (1.1.36) to "men" (3.2.142),63 from theatrical naïfs to initiates in the political theater. Like all metamorphoses, it involves less a break than a continuum: the difference between culling out a holiday and killing a man depends only on the degree of the spectators' participation. And like many initiations, it involves a ceremonial rite. If Caesar dies at the hands of republican fellow players unwilling to cede the theater to a single monarchical actor, Cinna dies as a sacrifice to an audience that has taken the stage. It may seem strange for Shakespeare to inaugurate his Globe in these terms, to baptize his audience with the blood of a poet, to figure its interpretive autonomy in a literal act of dismemberment. But dismemberment is his metaphor when, less than a year after Julius Caesar's first performance, he invokes his audience's imaginative collaboration in Henry V: "Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts; / Into a thousand parts divide one man" (Prol. 24-25). In the theater of the world every character is subject to synecdochic reading, every act and representation imperfect and unfinished, every text submitted to the cutting room, the deceptively "little room" where spectators, no less than actors, conspire to "force a play." It is as an emblem of this theater's censurable energies and properties that Cinna is dragged offstage.64


1 Rowland Whyte, describing the interpretive frenzy provoked by a device displayed by Essex at an entertainment for the Queen in 1595, in Letters and Memorials of State . . . Written and Collected by Sir Henry Sidney, Sir Philip Sidney, Robert Earl of Leicester, and Viscount Lisle, ed. Arthur Collins (1746), 1:362.

2 Stephen Gosson, Playes Confuted in Five Actions (1582), sig. C8v. All references to Gosson's works in this essay appear in Arthur F. Kinney's edition (Markets of Bawdrie: The Dramatic Criticism of Stephen Gosson [Salzburg, 1974]). I have modernized the spelling but retained the punctuation of this edition. Unless otherwise noted, all references to Gosson appear in Playes Confuted in Five Actions.

3 Thomas Heywood, An Apology for Actors, ed. Arthur Freeman (New York and London, 1973), sig. B4.

4 Philip Sidney, An Apology for Poetry, in Prose Works, ed. Albert Feuillerat (Cambridge, Eng., 1963), p. 12 (my italics).

5An Apology for Poetry, p. 24.

6 See Playes Confuted in Five Actions, p. 161.

7 Gosson specifically objected to the recent arrival of the public stage, noting that even "modest" and "good" plays are "not fit for every man's diet: neither ought they commonly to be shown" (The Schoole of Abuse, p. 97).

8 A (now besieged) formulation of Michel Foucault's subversion-containment model appearing most influentially in Stephen Greenblatt's Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England (Berkeley, 1988), esp. pp. 21-65.

9 For an excellent discussion of the state's attempts to control topical references on the Renaissance stage, see Paul Yachnin, "The Powerless Theater," English Literary Renaissance, 21.1 (Winter, 1991), 49-74.

10The Life of Henry the Fifth, Pro., 12, 19-20. References are to The Riverside Shakespeare, gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans (Boston, 1974).

11An Apology for Poetry, p. 45.

12 See Marjorie Garber, "'What's Past Is Prologue': Temporality and Prophecy in Shakespeare's History Plays," in Renaissance Genres, ed. Barbara Kiefer Lewalski (Cambridge, 1986), pp. 301-31. See also Sharon L. Jansen Jaech, "Political Prophecy and Macbeth's 'Sweet Bodements,'" Shakespeare Quarterly, 34 (1983), esp. p. 291.

13Shakespeare's Holinshed, ed. Richard Hosley (New York, 1968), p. 48 (Chronicles, 1587 ed., p. 180).

14 Francis Bacon, "Of Prophecies," in Essays, ed. Edwin A. Abbott, 2 vols. (London, 1881), 2:20-21.

15 Following Garber (p. 311, n. 15), I borrow this term from Hayden White's Metahistory (Baltimore, 1973), pp. 6-7.

16An Apology for Poetry, p. 68. Plutarch himself refused the title of "historian," choosing instead to relate and evaluate the "lives" and "minds" of his subjects.

17 Plutarch's Liues of the Noble Grecians and Romans, trans. Sir Thomas North (1579), intro. George Wyndham, 6 vols. (New-York, 1967), 6:69-70, 201.

18 Gary Taylor, "Bardicide," in Shakespeare and Cultural Traditions: The Selected Proceedings of the International Shakespeare Association World Congress, Tokyo, 1991, ed. Tetsuo Kishi, Roger Pringle, and Stanley Wells (Newark, Del., 1991), p. 343. We must dismiss as specious Taylor's assertion that the scene also presents "a theatrically impossible dismemberment" (p. 334). The stage directions indicate Cinna is to be dragged offstage for his fate. Moreover, false limbs for such scenes appear in the few extant lists of Elizabethan stage properties, and the illusion of onstage dismemberment seems not to have been impossible in such plays as Doctor Faustus and Titus Andronicus (see Philip Henslowe's inventory of March, 1598, in C. Walter Hodges, The Globe Restored [New York, 1953], pp. 71-72. On pp. 73-74, Hodges demonstrates Elizabethan "stage machinery to produce the illusion of a beheading").

19 See North's Plutarch, 6:15. In The Life of Brutus no mention is made of Brutus' oration; in The Life of Caesar no mention made of Antony's.

20 Such is at least the ostensible authorial stance in Venus and Adonis, the epigram of which exhorts, "Vilia miretur vulgus: mihi flavus Apollo / Pocula Castalia plena ministret aqua" (from Ovid's Amores, 1.15.35-36). The subsequent dedicatory epistle to Henry Wriothesley also distinguishes between the unimportant censure of "the world" and the all-important pleasure of Shakespeare's patron.

21 Arthur F. Marotti remains one of the more vocal proponents of this view. See his "Patronage, Poetry, and Print," Yearbook of English Studies, 21 (1991), pp. 1-26; and his "Shakespeare's Sonnets as Literary Property," in Soliciting Interpretation: Literary Theory and Seventeenth-Century English Poetry, ed. Elizabeth D. Harvey and Katharine Eisaman Maus (Chicago, 1990), pp. 143-73.

22 Francis Meres, Palladis Tamia, Wits Treasury (1598), ed. D. C. Allen (Urbana, 1933), p. 283. William Jaggard printed the two sonnets (138 and 144) in The Passionate Pilgrim (1599).

23 In "The Politics of Astrophil and Stella," Ann Rosalind Jones and Peter Stallybrass reveal that the distinction between literary courtship and public courtiership was often blurred in late sixteenth-century England's "publicly intimate" poetry (Studies in English Literature, 24.1 [Winter, 1984], 53-68). For further demonstrations of the difficulty of maintaining privacy in the Elizabethan and Jacobean patronage systems, see Annabel M. Patterson, Censorship and Interpretation: the Conditions of Writing and Reading in Early Modern England (Madison, 1984); and David Norbrook, Poetry and Politics in the English Renaissance (London and Boston, 1984), esp. pp. 109-56, 195-234.

24 Taylor observes this fact only to conflate what I am suggesting are the increasingly divergent roles of the patronage poet and the "theatre-poet" in late sixteenth-century England ("Bardicide," p. 345 n.8).

25 Quoted in J. E. Neale, Elizabeth I and her Parliaments, 1584-1601, 2 vols. (London, 1965), 2:119.

26 The Queen's comments were recorded by William Lambarde. See the Arden edition of Shakespeare's King Richard II, ed. Peter Ure (Cambridge, 1956), pp. lvii-lxii.

27The Power of Forms in the English Renaissance, ed. Stephen Greenblatt (Norman, Ok., 1982), p. 3.

28 In one of the best recent readings of Hans Holbein's The Ambassadors, Charles Harrison describes its anamorphic effect as an intrusion of historicity upon essentiality: "the carefully achieved illusion of its instantaneity, its 'presentness,' damaged beyond repair by the representation of its contingency" ("On the Surface of Painting," Critical Inquiry, 15:2 [Winter, 1989], 324).

29 Between 1597 and 1599 the Chamberlain's Men probably performed at The Curtain while The Theatre at Shoreditch was being razed and its timber used to build The Globe at Bankside. See Glynne Wickham, Early English Stages, 1300-1660, 2 vols. (Oxford 1972).

30 See Gary Taylor, "Canon and Chronology," in William Shakespeare: A Textual Companion (Oxford, 1987), p. 121; and Julius Caesar, in The New Cambridge Shakespeare, ed. Marvin Spevack (Cambridge, Eng., 1988), pp. 1-5.

31 From the postmortem inventory of Sir Thomas Brend (May 16, 1599). Cited by S. Schoenbaum, Shakespeare: A Compact Documentary Life (Oxford, 1977), p. 209.

32 This and the preceding quotation of Allen appear in C. W. Wallace, The First London Theatre: Materials for a History (Lincoln, 1913), pp. 278-79.

33 Andrew Gurr, Playgoing in Shakespeare's London (Cambridge, Eng., 1987), p. 93.

34Poetaster, 1.3.7. Citations are to Ben Jonson, ed. C. H. Herford, Percy and Evelyn Simpson, 11 vols. (Oxford, 1925-1952).

35Poetaster, "The Third Sounding," 6, 9. Like other playwrights in the War of the Theaters, Jonson imagines an audience that includes antagonistic playwrights and actors bent upon adulterating his text (see "The Third Sounding," 18-20, and Envy's speech, "After the Second Sounding"). John Michael Archer has shown that "the, paranoid construction of Jonsonian authorship" was also a response to his fear of spies among his own actors and audience (Sovereignty and Intelligence: Spying and Court Culture in the English Renaissance [Stanford, 1993], pp. 94-120). One effect of the theatrical war, then, is to literalize the subjective and deliberately misconstruing audience—the audience-turned-actors—that I argue is a source of concern in Julius Caesar.

36 Thomas Dekker, Satiro-Mastix, ed. Josiah H. Penniman (Boston and London, 1962), "To the World," 15-17.

37 Katharine Maus, Ben Jonson and The Roman Frame of Mind (Princeton, 1984), p. 92.

38 Jonson, "To The No Less Noble, By Virtue Than Blood: Esme, Lord Aubigny," 7-10.

39Sejanus provides many targets for Taylor's program of exposure. The indictment of Cremutius Cordus in Act 3, for instance, presents an untenable claim for the disinterestedness of historiography, a disingenuous denial of contemporary relevance, in a history play judged treasonously topical by the Privy Council in 1603.

40 For Jonson's fully articulated desire for a "blind audience," see the Prologue to The Staple of News. For a discussion of the antagonism between spectacle and word that developed with some continuity throughout Jonson's career, see D. J. Gordon, "Poet and Architect: The Intellectual Setting of the Quarrel Between Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones," in The Renaissance Imagination, ed. Stephen Orgel (Berkeley 1975), pp. 77-101.

41 Just as the play's genre is an early topic of debate, so its earliest stage history is contested by the 1609 preface, which advertises Troilus and Cressida as "a new play, neuer stal'd with the stage, neuer clapper-clawd with the palmes of the vulger"; by the Stationers' Register, which records its existence in February, 1603; and by the quarto title-page (first state), which advertises the play "As it was acted by the Kings Maiesties seruants at the Globe."

42A Refutation of the Apology for Actors, by I.G. (1605). Quoted in Herschel Baker, The Race of Time: Three Lectures on Renaissance Historiography (Toronto, 1967), p. 80. For similar statements, see The Schoole of Abuse, pp. 92-93, and Playes Confuted in Five Actions, pp. 194-95.

43 James L. Calderwood, Shakespearean Metadrama (Minneapolis, 1971), p. 136. See also his "Appalling Property in Othello," University of Toronto Quarterly, 57:3 (Spring, 1988), 357.

44 William Caxton's Recuyell of the Histories of Troy e was just one of Shakespeare's available sources. See also Geoffrey Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare (London, 1966), 6:83-111.

45 Carol Cook considers this same issue, though from a Lacanian perspective, in "Unbodied Figures of Desire," Theatre Journal, 38 (March, 1986), 44-46.

46 See esp. Paul Cantor, Shakespeare's Rome: Republic and Empire (Ithaca, 1974), pp. 108-10.

47 A similar claim has been made for the earlier Titus Andronicus (1593-1594), in which rape and dismemberment render Lavinia's body an annotated text, a silent emblem submitted to others' reconstructive reading. See Douglas E. Green, "Interpreting 'her martyr'd signs': Gender and Tragedy in Titus Andronicus," Shakespeare Quarterly, 40 (1989), 317-26.

48Coriolanus, 3.3.134; 5.3.36; 4.7.42; 5.6.120; 5.2.65-66. Earlier Coriolanus seems to recognize that it is death that submits one to other-fashioning, life that grants the temporary privilege of maintaining one's self-conception: "While I remain above the ground you shall / Hear from me still, and never of me aught / But what is like me formerly" (4.1.51-53).

49 David Kaula has found a pattern of eucharistic allusions in the ritual attending Caesar's murder in "'Let Us Be Sacrificers': Religious Motifs in Julius Caesar," Shakespeare Studies, 14 (1981), 197-214.

50 See Mark Rose, "Conjuring Caesar: Ceremony, History, and Authority in 1599," in True Rites and Maimed Rites: Ritual and Anti-Ritual in Shakespeare and His Age, ed. Linda Woodbridge and Edward Berry (Urbana and Chicago, 1992), p. 264.

51 Sigurd Burckhardt, Shakespearean Meanings (Princeton, 1968), pp. 3-21.

52 See Richard Macksey, "Last Words: The Artes Moriendi and a Transtextual Genre," Genre, 16 (Winter, 1983), 508. "Et tu Brute?" appears to have been a not uncommon theatrical tag before Shakespeare's play, and in Every Man Out of His Humour (5.6.79) Jonson would parody it as a cliché.

53 Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York, 1979), p. 46.

54 See Alvin Kernan's Shakespeare, The King's Playwright in the Stuart Court, 1603-1613 (New Haven, 1995). While Kernan demonstrates aspects of the patronage system in Shakespeare's Stuart drama, his case seems to me overstated and to ignore some of the performative issues considered here.

55 Samuel Johnson, Johnson on Shakespeare, in The Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson, ed. Arthur Sherbo (New Haven, 1968), 7:51-52. Alexander Pope also speaks of Shakespeare's original manuscripts being "cut" and "divided" into the "Piecemeal Parts " of the "Prompter's Book" ("Preface to 'The Works of Shakespear," in Eighteenth-Century Essays on Shakespeare, ed. D. Nichol Smith [Oxford, 1963], p. 54).

56 See Twelfth Night, 4.2.89. Like Shylock, Malvolio leaves his play less assimilated than "propertied" by the comedy's reestablished social order. Such coercion certainly appears elsewhere in Shakespeare's comedies and romances; but the appropriation of individuals as stage spectacle—as James Calderwood has argued—is essentially a tragic device, a problematic ethos that comedy and romance must finally transcend or absorb. See his "Appalling Property in Othello," pp. 353-75.

57 One need only consider the different assessments of Caesar's death in Plutarch, Appian, Dante, Michelangelo, Fulbecke, Sidney, and Milton for a sense of its interpretive possibilities. For a history of political interpretations of Julius Caesar, see John Ripley, "Julius Caesar" on Stage in England and America, 1599-1973 (Cambridge, Eng., 1980).

58 Sonnet 81, line 10. In the case of Julius Caesar, Shakespeare's prophecy of literary survival was especially appropriate: the committee established to erect his monument in Westminster Abbey initiated this canonization with a commissioned performance of the play at Drury Lane, April 28, 1738 (see David Piper, The Image of the Poet: British Poets and their Portraits [Oxford, 1982], pp. 78-82).

59 James Calderwood comes very close to ascribing such a reading to Shakespeare elsewhere, arguing that in Titus Andronicus Shakespeare explores a tension between lyric and dramatic genres suggested in the eleventh book of Golding's Ovid (Shakespearean Metadrama, pp. 28-30).

60 Kenneth R. R. Gros Louis, "The Triumph and Death of Orpheus in the English Renaissance," Studies in English Literature, 9.1 (Winter, 1969), 63-80. Elizabeth Sewell has claimed that Shakespeare "trusts poetry, if Orpheus is undivided, if poetry and dreams and shadows and the theater are taken as a means toward learning and even toward science." See The Orphic Voice: Poetry and Natural History (New Haven, 1960), p. 110.

61Tamburlaine the Great, Part I (Prologue, 1-8), in The Complete Works of Christopher Marlowe, ed. Roma Gill (Oxford, 1987).

62 In his reading of Richard II as a dramatization of "the interpretive efforts of the listener," Keir Elam considers Sir Pierce of Exton's construction of Bolingbroke's ambiguous utterance (5.4.1-2, 7-9) as the nexus between an undetermined illocutionary speech-act and perlocutionary action (The Semiotics of Theatre and Drama [London and New York, 1980], pp. 164-65).

63 The plebeians' transformation from passive spectators to furious actors seems to evoke Ovid's account of the death of Orpheus (though, it should be noted, without tidy correspondence). Murellus calls them "blocks," "stones," "worse than senseless things" for their unreflective devotion to Caesar (1.1.34). In Ovid's account, Orpheus draws the trees, beasts, and stones to follow him, but these same stones become involuntarily "reddened with the blood of the singer" only when the Maenads hurl them at the poet (Ovid's Metamorphoses, trans. Rolfe Humphries [Bloomington, 1955], p. 259). Antony seems to contrast the plebeians to such passivity, however, when he declares in his funeral oration, "You are not wood, you are not stones" (3.2.142). Here the semi-autonomous plebeians resemble the bloodthirsty Maenads rather than their inanimate instruments. Nor does Julius Caesar clearly designate one particular character as a figure of Orpheus' victimization. The ominous "bird of night" that sits "Even at noon-day upon the market-place / Howting and shrieking" (1.3.26-28), for instance, may recall Ovid's description of the Maenads' attack on Orpheus: "they came thronging / Like birds who see an owl, wandering in daylight" (p. 260); thus the owl in 1.3 may represent an Orphic Caesar, soon to be set upon by the Furious conspirators. But if the conspirators are likened to the Maenads here, then reading the plebeians as "stones" turned against the conspirators by Antony's oration, or as Maenads themselves in the dismemberment of Cinna the poet, seems dubious. Nevertheless, both Caesar and Cinna die like Orpheus, "who stretched out / His hands in supplication, and whose voice / For the first time, moved no one" (p. 260). I would argue that Shakespeare's allusions to the death of Orpheus are in fact overdetermined in Julius Caesar, and that this reflects the play's bifurcation of the tragic victim (Orpheus) into Caesar and Brutus. This bifurcation pivots on the death of Cinna. Thus Antony, the conspirators, and the plebeians are described with reference to the Maenads.

64 A version of this paper was presented at the 1996 International Shakespeare Association World Congress. I am grateful to Gordon Braden, Paul Cantor, James Nohrnberg, Herbert Tucker, and especially Katharine Maus for their help.

Source: "Julius Caesar and the Properties of Shakespeare's Globe," in English Literary Renaissance, Vol. 28, No. 1, Winter, 1998, pp. 18-46.

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Julius Caesar (Vol. 85)


No Spectre, No Sceptre: The Agon of Materialist Thought in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar

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