Download Julius Caesar Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Introduction

(Shakespearean Criticism)

Julius Caesar and the Properties of Shakespeare's Globe

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...

(The entire section is 12,190 words.)