Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1050
"Untired Spirits and Formal Constancy": Julius Caesar
Geoffrey Miles, Victoria University of Wellington
Returning to Shakespeare, the end (in both senses) of this study, it may be appropriate to return to the lines which I quoted at the beginning of the first chapter:
Let not our looks put on our purposes;
But bear it as our Roman actors do,
With untired spirits and formal constancy.
On the surface Brutus is simply urging his fellow conspirators to conceal their true intentions; but the words he uses are heavily loaded. 'Formal constancy' means (as John Dover Wilson noted) 'consistent decorum': playing one's part without slipping out of character.1 'Untired spirits' suggests a more Stoic kind of constancy: souls which do not tire but steadfastly withstand adversity. The Ciceronian and Senecan forms of constancy are thus linked. At the same time, both are enclosed within a theatrical metaphor: they are the qualities of 'our Roman actors'. The specifying of Roman actors, which may allude to the passage on actors in De officiis (1. 114), also seems to imply a logical connection between being Roman and constant and being an actor. At the same time, the perverse attribution of 'constancy' to actors, whose job is to play a number of roles, suggests a potential incongruity between the two halves of the line—between the inner spiritual strength of an 'untired spirit', and the public hypocrisy of assuming a merely 'formal' constancy. This incongruity is underlined by a submerged pun: 'untried'—in the context of 'put on', 'actors', and 'formal'—suggests the wearing of theatrical 'tires' or costumes.2 Untired spirits, then, are souls which appear naked and undisguised, not assuming a 'formal' appearance. The tensions between the two halves of the line mirror the central tension of the play, not simply between Ciceronian and Senecan constancy, but between the elements in both of inner truth and of external role-playing.3
These tensions are central to Shakespeare's first exploration of Roman constancy. Stoic constancy of the Senecan brand has long been recognized as important in Julius Caesar.4 The relevance of Ciceronian decorum has not been noted, in spite of extensive discussion of the play's images of acting and the theatre.5 Nor—though Julius Caesar has long been seen as a 'problem play', deeply concerned with issues of knowledge, judgement and error, rhetoric and persuasion—has the ironic relevance of the Stoic and Neostoic concept of 'opinion' been perceived.6 I hope in this chapter to show how Shakespeare constructs Roman constancy as a blend of Senecan constantia sapientis and Ciceronian decorum, and how both rest upon and are vitiated by the domination of Rome by opinion. The public temper of Rome is hostile to self-knowledge, in both the individual and the universal sense; in this society decorum becomes a determined playing of inauthentic roles, while aspirations to the heroic stature of the Senecan sapiens founder in the gap between claim and reality.
Before I develop this reading, however, a fundamental objection must be faced. Some recent critics have denied the relevance of Stoicism of Julius Caesar, on the grounds that, as Plutarch makes clear on the first page of his Life, the historical Brutus was not a Stoic:
Now touching the GRAECIAN Philosophers, there was no sect nor Philosopher of them, but he heard and liked it: but above all the rest, he loved Platoes sect best, and did not much geve him selfe to the new or meane Academie as they call it, but altogether to the old Academie (p. 1054, 2. 1-2)
—that is, the school of Antiochus of Ascalon, which eclectically fused Platonic, Stoic, and sceptical ideas. The debate about Brutus' philosophical position has focused in particular on his reference, in his confused explanation of his attitude to suicide, to 'that philosophy / by which I did blame cato for the death / Which he did give himself' (5. 1. 100-2). J. C. Maxwell pointed out in 1970 that, though commentators generally explained the 'philosophy' as Stoicism, the Stoics (Cato's school) in fact notoriously approved of suicide, whereas Plato condemned it.7 Subsequent critics have argued inconclusively over the passage and its implications.8 The most forceful challenge to Stoic readings of the play is that of Gilles Monsarrat, who argues that 'it is unreasonable to father on Shakespeare a philosophic misconception from which his main sources must have preserved him': Shakespeare's Brutus 'is never a Stoic and not always stoical'. More broadly, complaining that ' "Stoicism" is almost like a disease in many critical discussions of Julius Caesar', Monsarrat suggests that critics like Anson and Brower 'mistake "Romanity" for "Stoicism" '.9
For my purposes—concerned as I am with 'constancy' rather than with Stoic philosophy in general—this controversy seems something of a blind alley. I am not concerned (as for instance Vawter is) to argue that Shakespeare had a scholarly knowledge of Hellenistic philosophy, or a precise understanding of the subtle distinctions between the thought of the Stoics and of the Old Academy—which was, in fact, primarily Stoic in its ethical doctrines.10 In 5.1 he may indeed have himself been confused about the nature of Brutus' 'philosophy' (the source passage in North is, as already noted, deeply ambiguous)—though if so he turns the confusion to dramatic account. But in any case, I do not think Shakespeare's primary concern in this passage is to distinguish between Cato's Stoicism and Brutus' Platonism; he is much more concerned with the problematic relationship between constancy and suicide. Being 'constant'—a Platonic as well as a Stoic virtue—can be held to require either a Senecan suicide, or (in Plato's famous image) a steadfast sticking to one's post.11 Either a Stoic or a Platonist could reasonably take up either position, and Brutus' wavering between the two serves not so much to pin a philosophical label on him as to illuminate the ambiguity of constancy as a principle.
More generally, however, it seems undeniable that to represent the 'Romanity' of Brutus, and to a lesser extent of other characters, Shakespeare draws upon the Stoic traditions descending from Seneca and Cicero, and attributes to them attitudes and actions which his audience would clearly have identified as 'stoical'. The objections of Maxwell and Monsarrat to loose assertions about 'Stoicism' are valid; but to deny, on that ground, the illumination which Stoic traditions can throw on the play seems excessively purist.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 697
'A thing unfirm': the world of Julius Caesar
Shakespeare is of course not in any sense original in associating Rome with constancy. The equation of Roman and Stoic virtue had been a commonplace ever since Cicero. Many of the traditional Roman virtues, as defined by the Romans and by later tradition, can be seen as radiating from the central virtue of constancy: fortitude, justice, temperance, fides, gravitas, all involve steadiness and steadfastness, a refusal to be shifted from one's duty. Rome itself, the Eternal City, is an archetype of stability and permanence, with its straight roads and marble columns and arches, enduring even in ruins—though those ruins also imply the limits of worldly constancy. Rome's solidity, rationality and order are embodied in the 'Roman' simplicity and clarity of Julius Caesar's structure and language.
These Roman qualities are set, however, against a background of mutability, uncertainty, and mystery. It is most potently embodied in the storm, in which Rome is invaded by supernatural disorder: wild beasts roam the streets, the dead walk, and normality is transformed to 'monstrous quality' (1. 3. 68). 'Are you not moved,' Casca demands of Cicero, 'when all the sway of earth / Shakes like a thing unfirm?' (3-4). The subliminal pun suggests that Rome's 'sway', its civilized political order, rests on shaky foundations.12
The storm is all the more terrifying because, though it seems meaningful, its meaning is obscure. Characters suggest incompatible explanations: it is a sign of civil war in heaven or divine anger with mankind (Casca, 1. 3. 11-13), of the unnaturalness of Caesar's tyranny (Cassius, 1. 3. 68-77), of Caesar's impending death (Calphurnia, 2. 2. 30-1) or some other catastrophe (Caesar, 2. 2. 28-9), or simply a natural phenomenon. Cicero, who takes the last view (1. 3. 30), sums up:
Indeed it is a strange-disposèd time;
But men may construe things after their fashion,
Clean from the purpose of the things themselves.
(1. 3. 33-5)
In a play centrally concerned with the problems of knowledge, judgement, and factual and moral error, Cicero's may be taken a choric comment applicable to much more than the storm.13
The disorder and uncertainty of the storm scenes colour the imaginative world of Julius Caesar to a surprising degree. All the major characters are complex and changeable, moved by feelings they do not fully understand; the play has a strong undercurrent of powerful, repressed emotions, reflected in imagery of fire, blood, and violence.14 Similarly, the macrocosm of Rome rests on the dangerously volatile and emotional plebeians. Rome itself is in a process of change from an old to a new order. The characters attempt to control this process, but we know in hindsight that their predictions are wrong and their actions tragically misguided; they move and act in darkness, unsure of anything. Looking into the future near the end of the play, Brutus and Cassius see only that 'the affairs of men rest still incertain' (5. 1. 95), and Brutus utters a heartfelt prayer:
O that a man might know
The end of this day's business ere it come!
But it sufficeth that the day will end,
And then the end is known.
(5. 1. 123-6)
His response to the uncertainty of life is a Stoic fatalism: since it is impossible to predict or control the future, one must be prepared to accept with courage and calmness 'the worst that may befall' (96).
The world of Julius Caesar is indeed one which naturally leads to Stoicism. Though in theory Stoic ethics rests on a dogmatic theory of knowledge, in practice the close association between Stoicism and scepticism suggests that it can equally be a response to ignorance. The most dramatic example of this is Montaigne's Pyrrho, the sceptic who resorted to an arbitrary and inflexible consistency in a world where no rational certainty was possible. Shakespeare's Romans, in rather the same way, try to create their own constancy within a mutable world. They do this partly through the permanence and stability of Roman institutions, and partly through aspiring as individuals to the virtue of constancy: to be unmoved, unchanged, always the same, rationally consistent and predictable, in a changing world. The ideal of Shakespeare's Romans is to be, in Casca's words, 'not moved, when all the sway of earth shakes like a thing unfirm'.15
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1865
'True fixed and resting quality': Senecan constancy
To be unmoved is the virtue of the Stoic sapiens, and this Senecan ideal is most splendidly evoked by Caesar just before his murder:
I could be well moved if I were as you.
If I could pray to move, prayers would move me.
But I am constant as the northern star,
of whose true fixed and resting quality
there is no fellow in the firmament.
(3. 1. 58-62)16
In declaring that he will not be 'moved', Caesar is making at least three claims: that he will not change his mind, is unmoved by emotion, and cannot be shaken by external pressures. The most obvious sense is the assertion of immovable will. Caesar refuses to change his decision about Cimber's banishment, and so 'turn preordinance and first decree' into childish capriciousness (38-9). Brutus later takes a very similar stand in refusing (with 'wonderfull constancy', as North commented) to pardon Lucius Pella (4. 2. 55 ff.). In either case, since the play withholds the facts about Cimber and Pella, we may commend their firmness of principle or condemn their obstinacy. It is clear that both Brutus and Caesar find a positive virtue in not changing their minds, refusing to be 'moved' in the sense (often used in the play) of 'urged' or 'persuaded'. Brutus is typical in expressing to Cassius his reluctance to '[b]e any further moved' (1.2. 167-8). The plebs, by contrast, are 'moved' (3. 2. 264) only too easily, and literally, by Antony's rhetoric.17
'Move' also, in these instances, implies the arousal of emotion. Caesar is denying that he 'bears such rebel blood' (40) as to be moved by emotive appeals. Brutus acknowledges that Caesar shares his own Stoic ideal of rationality: 'I have not known when his affections swayed / More than his reason' (2. 1. 20-1). It does not occur to him that to deny all 'affections' (emotions or friendships) may be as tyrannical as to be governed by them.18 Having himself acted on these principles in sacrificing his personal affection for Caesar to the public good, he is contemptuous of Cassius' appeals to love or anger:
Go show your slaves how choleric you are,
And make your bondmen tremble. Must I budge? . . .
By the gods,
You shall digest the venom of your spleen,
Though it do split you.
(4. 2. 99-100, 102-4)
The man who refuses to be moved by his own passions will not 'budge' in the face of Cassius'.19 He insists that emotions must be suppressed, even if the effect of that suppression is as painful and self-destructive as Portia's burning coals.
Brutus' Stoic view of emotion is most clearly seen in his advice to the conspirators on the frame of mind in which they must kill Caesar:
And, gentle friends,
Let's kill him boldly, but not wrathfully . . .
And let our hearts, as subtle masters do,
Stir up their servants to an act of rage,
And after seem to chide 'em.
(2. 1. 171-2, 175-7)
Brutus sums up the Senecan view that the wise man will do what is right 'boldly' but dispassionately. But the simplicity of this doctrine runs into confusion as Brutus, uneasily aware that you cannot kill a man in a spirit of calm reasonableness, ascribes the necessary emotion to the body rather than the heart or soul. The disjunction seems not only implausible but repellently hypocritical: Brutus' simile puts him in the position of one who orders a crime and then disclaims responsibility for it.20
The play thus, in a very traditional way, calls into question Stoic apatheia. As Antony tells the plebeians, 'You are not wood, you are not stones, but men' (3. 2. 143); Stoic-stockish impassivity is neither humanly attainable nor desirable. In fact, as I have suggested, Shakespeare's Romans are not passionless. The plebs are governed by emotion; so is Antony, though he is also capable of manipulating both his own feelings and theirs to political ends; and the mob violence which results powerfully demonstrates the dangers of unrestrained passions. Restrained passions, however, can be equally dangerous. Those patricians who, unlike Antony, hold to the Roman code of rationality are in fact more strongly influenced by feelings than they are prepared to acknowledge. Immovable Caesar vacillates between the demands of fear, ambition, and dread of ridicule; shrewd Cassius sacrifices his tactical judgement to his reluctance to oppose the grieving Brutus; Brutus himself seems unaware how far his decision to kill Caesar is motivated by personal and family pride. The play has an almost Freudian sense of how emotion can work all the more powerfully because it is repressed.
The effect of Stoic constancy, then, is not to eradicate emotion but to repress it. When the word 'constancy' is explicitly used, it is most often in the context of concealment. Brutus' exhortation to 'formal constancy' comes as he advises the conspirators to conceal their true thoughts and feelings; when he urges Cassius to 'be constant' (3. 1. 22) it is because Cassius' panic threatens to reveal the plot. Portia makes 'strong proof of [her] constancy' by giving herself 'a voluntary wound' and concealing her pain (2. 1. 298-9)—proving herself more constant than Brutus, who has been unable to hide his perturbation from her. Later, fearful of letting slip a betraying word under the strain of waiting for news, she prays,
O constancy, be strong upon my side;
Set a huge mountain 'tween my heart and tongue.
(2. 4. 6-7)
Constancy is here conceived not as freedom from suffering but as repression of it; its function is to stop up the passage between feeling and expression. The power of the image is increased by the ambiguity of 'upon my side', which suggests an oppressive weight pressing upon the chest and heart.21 Constancy in Julius Caesar is not so much a superhuman imperviousness to pain as an ability to pretend to be impervious—like Seneca's gladiator who, though wounded, 'maketh shew that it is nothing' (Const. 16. 2).
The third sense of being 'unmoved' is the Stoic claim of indifference to external evils. Cassius sums up this doctrine when he tells Brutus, rather glibly, 'Of your philosophy you make no use, / if you give place to accidental evils' (4. 2. 199-200). The essence of stoic philosophy is to enable us to endure 'accidental evils' steadfastly, without 'giving place' to them, in the knowledge that such things are indifferent. Brutus uses the Stoic term when he claims to look on honour and death 'indifferently' (1. 2. 89),22 and Cassius picks it up when he tells Casca, 'I am armed, / And dangers are to me indifferent' (1. 3. 114).
The most obvious 'accidental evil', as in these passages, is death. Both Caesar and Brutus declare it indifferent. Caesar insists that it is not death ('a necessary end') but the fear of death that is an evil: 'Cowards die many times before their deaths' (2. 2. 32, 36). Brutus explains the Senecan technique of meditation on its inevitability: 'With meditating that she must die once, / I have the patience to endure it now' (4. 2. 244-6).23 We are made aware, however, that Brutus' Stoic indifference to Portia's death is assumed, and a note of strained overstatement in Caesar's lines makes us suspect that he, too, does not find the fear of death as incomprehensible as he claims (2. 2. 34-7). Brutus' true feelings about death are perhaps revealed in the dialogue over Caesar's body:
BRUTUS. Fates, we will know your pleasures.
That we shall die, we know; 'tis but the time
and drawing days out that men stand upon.
CASCA. Why, he that cuts off twenty years of life
cuts off so many years of fearing death.
BRUTUS. Grant that, and then is death a abenefit.
So are we Caesar's friends, that have abridged
His time of fearing death.
Caught in Casca's 'sophistical trap', Brutus skids from the claim that death is indifferent to the claim that it is positively desirable.24 Senecan Stoicism, as we have seen, is always tempted towards a death-wish; Shakespeare's Romans too are tempted to see death as a positive relief from the strain of 'so many years of fearing death' and denying their fear.
Immovable will, passionlessness, indifference to pain and death: all of these aspects of Stoic constancy add up to a claim to rise above humanity, to 'escape man', in Montaigne's phrase. This aspiration is reflected especially in an exaltation of mind and spirit over body, seen in Brutus' reluctance to sleep (4. 2. 281-2) and Portia's voluntary wound; its ultimate act is suicide, the destruction of the body to preserve the mind. Set against it is the physical weakness of the characters: epilepsy, fever, deafness, short-sightedness, ague, insomnia, fainting, illnesses real and pretended. Episodes such as Caesar's epileptic fit at the moment of being offered the crown, and the fatal myopia of the 'great observer' Cassius (1. 2. 203), suggest nature reminding the Romans (again in Montaigne's words) of the 'mortalitie . . . and insipiditie' of the human condition, by forcing them to acknowledge flaws 'inexpugnable unto our reason, and to the Stoicke virtue' (2. 2).25
The most extreme statement of this aspiration to divinity is, again, Caesar's Northern Star speech. As John Anson first pointed out, Caesar here echoes Lipsius' claim to 'that great title, the neerest that man can have to God, To be immooveable'.26 He represents himself as the pole star (3.1. 60), the one unmoving point in a mutable world, and as Mount Olympus (74), an image of immovable bulk but also one which combines the connotations of Seneca's two images of constancy: the rock and the god. Caesar is thus more than human, while the rest of mankind, who are 'flesh and blood, and apprehensive' (67), possess only the lower attributes of humanity, in Lipsius' words 'the filth of the bodie and contagion of the senses'.27 Indeed, as Anson noted, he betrays that he does not see himself as 'flesh and blood' when he declares that his blood cannot be 'thawed' or 'melt[ed]' (41-2); like the icy Angelo (another character who, as his name suggests, aspires to rise above humanity), Caesar 'scarce confesses / That his blood flows' (MfM 1.3. 51-2). Ice-cold and stone-hard, Caesar represents himself as the monstrous Stoic-stock of the anti-Stoic tradition. The hollowness of the claim, already implied by his vacillations in the previous scene, is made brutally clear when Olympus' and 'the Northern Star' are reduced to a 'bleeding piece of earth' (257) on the Senate floor.
The constancy of Brutus, Caesar's mirror-image,28 is subjected to a less brutal critique. Though less prone than Caesar to claim godlike status, Brutus too seeks to rise above humanity by achieving an impossible degree of consistency, rationality, and imperturbability, 'armed so strong in honesty' that external threats pass by him 'as the idle wind' (4. 2. 124-5). It is an admirable ideal, yet its effect in practice is often to make him rigid, cruel, and (most of all) dishonest—since, although he cannot in fact be absolutely constant, he must pretend to himself and others that he is so.
Brutus (despite the claims of some anti-Stoic critics) is clearly neither evil nor mad; for that matter, even Caesar's invocation of the Northern Star is splendid as well as bombastic. The play's treatment of Senecan constancy is not unsympathetic; but it is shown to be a flawed ideal, not humanly attainable, and therefore liable to involve its adherents in continual pretence and self-deception. In Montaigne's formula, it is 'a profitable desire; but likewise absurd'.
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Shakespeare's treatment of Stoic constancy is essentially traditional. What is more original in the play is his sense of the relationship between constancy and Rome: the paradox that such a heroically individualistic, heaven-aspiring ideal should arise out of a society whose values are public-spirited and earthbound, and the deeper irony that, in fact, an ideal which rests on pretence is thoroughly appropriate to a society governed by appearances and 'opinion'.
In Julius Caesar virtue is defined as Romanness. The characters are obsessively conscious of their national identity: the words 'Rome' and 'Roman' occur seventy-three times, not merely as labels but often with a moral significance.29 Cassius tells the conspirators to 'show yourselves true Romans' (2. 1. 222)—that is, courageous and loyal. Brutus urges Messala, 'as you are a Roman [i.e. honest], tell me true,' and Messala replies, 'Then like a Roman [i.e. bravely] bear the truth I tell' (4. 2. 241-2). To 'be a Roman' in this sense, to live up to the virtues the word implies, is the highest possible praise: Brutus' epitaph for Cassius is 'last of all the Romans' (5. 3. 98). To fail to live up to them, for instance by breaking a promise, is to be no true Roman but guilty of 'bastardy' (2. 1. 135-9). Genuine as the Roman virtues are, there is something faintly absurd in this elevation of a place-name into a moral norm. Its self-referentiality also raises moral problems: if virtue is identified as Roman, and Romanness as virtue, by what standards can Rome itself be judged?
Similar problems are raised by another of the play's keywords, 'honour'. What is 'Roman' and hence praiseworthy is defined by the opinions of other Romans, by honour and reputation. But what is honour? Brutus identifies it with 'the general good':
If it be aught toward the general good,
Set honour in one eye and death i'th' other,
And I will look on both indifferently;
For let the gods so speed me as I love
The name of honour more than I fear death.
CASSUIS. I know that virtue to be in you, Brutus,
As well as I do know your outward favour.
Well, honour is the subject of my story.
But the honour that is the subject of Cassius' story is (as his image betrays) an 'outward' matter of public recognition; he harps on the contrast between the 'honours that are heaped on Caesar' (135) and the 'dishonourable graves' (139) to which others like himself are relegated. By his deliberate confusion of personal honourableness with public honours, he shows how Brutus' 'honourable metal may be wrought / From that it is disposed' (309-10).30 Later, in the Forum, Antony hammers the word 'honourable' itself into another shape, so that the crowd revile Brutus' honour as villainy. Brutus, who begged them to 'Believe me for mine honour' (3. 2. 14), can have no easy answer, for how can 'honour' be defined except as that which others regard as honourable?31
Such questions, as we have seen, were being urgently debated in the late sixteenth century by Neostoics and sceptics like Montaigne. In their terms, the Rome of Julius Caesar may be defined as a society governed by 'opinion'. It erects its own standards into moral absolutes, and is dominated by the fallible and fickle judgements of public opinion. The problematic quality of Julius Caesar, and its preoccupation with questions of truth and judgement, are thus thematically related to its Roman setting. Not that such problems are exclusively Roman; but the Romans are peculiarly prone to them because their pagan and secular world lacks absolute values. Relying purely on human reason, they fail to recognize how far they are in fact guided by opinion; as Montaigne remarked in the 'Apologie', the two can be hard to distinguish in their 'inconstant vanitie and vaine inconstancy'.
The 'public temper of Rome' (in Eliot's phrase) means that truth is constituted by judgements arrived at through a process of public observation, discussion, and persuasion. Characters continually observe and attempt to 'construe' one another's behaviour and character, as Cassius observes and construes Brutus (1.2. 34, 47), Caesar and Antony observe Cassius, and everyone observes Caesar.32 They also continually attempt to persuade one another. The Rome of Julius Caesar echoes with rhetoric; not only in the great public scenes but in private encounters and even in soliloquy, characters use language to persuade others (or themselves) to a desired opinion.33
In such a society there is a constant temptation to confuse what seems true (or can be made to seem true) with what is true. 'Fashion it thus' (2. 1. 30), Brutus tells himself, construing Caesar's actions after his own fashion. The conspirators want Brutus in their plot because, as Casca puts it,
he sits high in all the people's hearts,
And that which would appear offence in us
His countenance, like richest alchemy,
Will change to virtue and to worthiness.
Metellus similarly argues that Cicero's 'silver hairs will purchase us a good opinion' (2. 1. 143-4). Their assumption that what matters is how the conspiracy is seen by others is unconsciously echoed by Brutus a little later, when he urges the conspirators to kill Caesar without anger:
This shall make
Our purpose necessary, and not envious;
Which so appearing to the common eyes,
We shall be called purgers, not murderers.
Of course, the fact that the murder appears necessary does not make it so—any more than the fact that the murderers 'seem to chide' their rage means that they are in fact passionless.34 Brutus has temporarily lost sight of the distinction he later passionately regrets: 'That every like is not the same, O Caesar, / The heart of Brutus ernes to think upon' (2. 2. 128-9). The Romans of Julius Caesar are fatally prone to overlook the difference between 'like' and 'the same'.
The most critical way in which opinion displaces knowledge in the play is the failure of self-knowledge. Shakespeare's Romans are more concerned with the way in which others perceive them than with their own self-awareness—a flaw which, I have suggested, is inherent in both Senecan and Ciceronian Stoicism. The issue is most clearly defined in a passage of Socratic dialogue between Brutus and Cassius:
CASSIUS. . . . Tell me, good Brutus, can you see your face?
BRUTUS. No, Cassius, for the eye sees not itself
But by reflection, by some other things.
CASSIUS. 'Tis just;
And it is very much lamented, Brutus,
That you have no such mirrors as will turn
Your hidden worthiness into your eye,
That you might see your shadow. I have heard
Where many of the best respect in Rome—
Except immortal Caesar—speaking of Brutus,
And groaning underneath this age's yoke,
Have wished that noble Brutus had his eyes.
Cassius proposes, and Brutus accepts, that it is impossible to see yourself except as reflected in the eyes of others. Self-knowledge can be gained only through the opinions held of you by others, whose opinions in turn are validated by the 'respect' in which they are held . . . The sense of endless regression is underlined by Cassius' imagery, which echoes the discussions of honour by Cicero (in Tusculans 3) and later writers such as Du Vair. For Cicero, true honour is the accurate reflection of virtue, but false honour, popular reputation, is a mere shadow. Cassius' word 'shadow', which hovers between the two meanings, suggests that the distinction is itself a somewhat shadowy one.35
Brutus, in a flash of insight, objects
Into what dangers would you lead me, Cassius,
That you would have me seek into myself
For that which is not in me?
Cassius brushes aside the question; his task is to induce Brutus to abandon his own sense of his 'self, and accept instead the image of Brutus the tyrannicide reflected in Cassius' glass. In the orchard scene we see this process completed, as Brutus is drawn to accept 'the great opinion / That Rome holds of his name' (1. 2. 318-19), as embodied in the cryptic and forged letter which he has to 'piece . . . out' by the light of 'exhalations whizzing in the air' (2. 1.51, 44). It is a wonderfully suggestive image of the corruption of self-knowledge by 'opinion'. From now on Brutus will, as Cassius wishes, have and be governed by 'that opinion of [him]self / Which every noble Roman bears of [him]' (92-3).
This failure in self-knowledge of the play's most introspective character is symptomatic of a world in which people see their actions most clearly as reflected in the eyes of others. It is not surprising that one of the recurring images is that of the theatre, where characters' performances are judged by an audience: Casca sees Caesar's refusal of the crown as a performance clapped and hissed by the people (1.2. 258-61), and Cassius and Brutus, standing over Caesar's body, speculate how future audiences will respond when the 'lofty scene' is 'acted over' (3. 1. 112-19). The most striking of these images, Brutus' charge to the conspirators to emulate the 'formal constancy' of 'Roman actors', suggests how constancy in this world becomes defined as a form of performance. But the link between constancy and Roman acting, of course, had already been made by Cicero.
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'A Roman's part': Ciceronian decorum
The peculiar quality of Roman constancy in Julius Caesar, I have suggested, derives from the mingling of its Senecan and Ciceronian definitions. While Senecan Stoic constancy involves an element of pretence, it is Cicero who explicitly recommended his readers to model their behaviour on 'Roman actors'. Shakespeare's Romans, however, take from Cicero's image not its ostensible point—the need to choose appropriate roles—but rather its implications of externality and performance.
For Cicero, every human being has three personae or roles which must be played consistently—the role of a human being, the role of oneself as an individual, and the social role—but the first two must take precedence over the last. In Julius Caesar—from the opening lines in which Flavius and Murellus berate the plebeians for violating decorum by appearing on the street 'without the sign of [their] profession' (1. 1. 4-5)—the social role is primary.36 Shakespeare's Romans are less concerned with 'play[ing] the man well and duely' (in Montaigne's phrase), or with knowing themselves, than with being consistently Roman, playing 'a Roman's part' (5. 3. 88).
Even individual identity becomes a social role. Names such as 'Brutus' and 'Caesar' become the labels of a persona, a publicly defined role which the bearer of the name must play.37 We see this most clearly in the device which John W. Velz has usefully labelled 'illeism', by which characters refer to themselves (or their listeners) in the third person.38 Illeism is used most often by Caesar—'Caesar is turned to hear' (1. 2. 19), 'Caesar shall forth' (2. 2. 10), 'Shall Caesar send a lie?' (2. 2. 65)—but also by Brutus, Cassius, Antony, Casca, Portia, and others. Its effect is to suggest the speaker looking at himself or herself from the outside. When Caesar says, 'Caesar should be a beast without a heart / If he should stay at home today for fear' (2. 2. 42-3), he means that this is what others would say of him. When Brutus says that 'poor Brutus, with himself at war, / forgets the shows of love to other men' (1. 2. 48-9), he is concerned with how his friends will 'construe' his neglect of them.
In such cases the name stands for an ideal self which the speaker must consistently live up to. Caesar must be valiant, Brutus wise, Portia constant, in order to be themselves. 'Shall Caesar send a lie?' implies that Caesar, being Caesar, cannot stoop to such an act. Portia tells Brutus that he is acting out of character ('I should not know you Brutus'), and, when he tries to use illness as an excuse, responds unanswerably, 'Brutus is wise, and were he not in health / He would embrace the means to come by it' (2. 1. 254, 257-8). Brutus, being Brutus, cannot act as unwisely as he claims to be doing.
The relationship between person and name is defined most sharply by Caesar. Advised by Antony not to fear Cassius, he retorts,
I fear him not.
Yet if my name were liable to fear,
I do not know the man I should avoid
So soon as that spare Cassius.
He goes on to analyse shrewdly why Cassius is dangerous, yet ends by insisting, 'I rather tell thee what is to be feared / Than what I fear, for always I am Caesar' (212-13). 'Caesar' by definition cannot fear. In asserting 'always I am Caesar', Caesar is making the Stoic claim to be unus idemque inter diversa, always the same. This is not exactly a claim to be 'true to himself (in a sense he is being false to himself, since his earnest denials betray that he does indeed fear Cassius), but rather to be true to his role. 'Caesar' is a publicly assumed role, which Caesar the man must play with decorum and 'formal constancy'. The range of actions possible to him is circumscribed by his role; to allow others to say 'Lo, Caesar is afraid' (2. 2. 101) would be a violation of decorum.
To see one's actions in this way from the outside can be a means of avoiding personal responsibility. When Caesar announces what 'Caesar' thinks, he is not expressing his personal feelings but issuing a press statement about a public figure. His shifts in 2. 2 between third person ('Caesar shall forth') and first person ('I will stay at home') suggest his wavering between the vulnerable human being and the immutable public Caesar. Similarly Brutus, while debating with himself over the murder, speaks of himself as T; having made the decision, he slips self-protectively into the third person:
O Rome, I make thee promise,
If the redress will follow, thou receivest
Thy full petition at the hand of Brutus.
(2. 1. 56-8)
Representing himself as Rome sees him, as a public figure, he avoids the personal implications of the direct statement 'I shall kill Caesar.'
In some ways the Romans of Julius Caesar are acting out Cicero's concept of decorum. They see themselves as actors, conceive of virtue as the consistent playing of a part, and are intensely concerned with aequabilitas, believing that 'ther is nothing more seemely than an evennesse in all mans lyfe, and everye of his doinges'. They neglect, however, the rest of Cicero's sentence: ' . . . which you can not keepe, if you counterfette an others nature, and lette passe your owne' (1. 111). Lacking self-knowledge, they try instead to act artificial parts imposed on them by their society, the expectations of others, and their own moral aspirations. Casca, an extreme and semi-comic example, seems a man without a self, who changes his personae (obsequious courtier, laid-back cynic, superstitious omen-monger, Stoic patriot) as rapidly as he changes his opinions.39 Others show a clearer tension between natural self and role: Caesar shows fitful glimpses of human warmth and weakness behind the mask of being 'always . . . Caesar'; 'gentle Portia' (2. 1. 277) is crushed by her attempts to live up to the role of Brutus' wife and Cato's daughter.
The tension is clearest in Brutus, the gentle philosopher who turns himself into a political assassin, despite his sense that he is being made to 'seek within [him]self for that which is not in [him]'. He is drawn away from his true self by temptations which Cicero warns against: family tradition, the influence of others, the pressure of public opinion, and, most of all, what Cicero singles out as the greatest enemy of true decorum: the desire to take up a noble role without considering whether one is fitted for it—'for neither is it to anye purpose to fight againste nature nor to ensue any thynge that ye can not atteine' (1. 110). The strain of Brutus' fight against his own nature finally leads him to embrace death with relief.
The most successful characters in Julius Caesar are those who eschew consistency and treat their roles as masks to be manipulated and discarded. Both Cassius (in the earlier scenes) and the theatre-loving Antony play with the possibility of alternative roles: 'If I were Brutus now, and he were Cassius . . . ' (1. 2. 314); 'But were I Brutus, / And Brutus Antony . . . ' (3. 2. 221-2). Refusing (in Montaigne's words) to treat a 'vizard or apparance' as a 'real essence' (3. 10), they avoid the rigidity of a Brutus or a Caesar. Of course, the flexibility of an Antony has its own dangers. Antony and Cleopatra will suggest that the future belongs to Octavius, who maintains his role perfectly because, as far as we can see, he has no identity outside it.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3357
'Like Brutus, like himself
The Roman idea of constancy in Julius Caesar, with its blend of Senecan steadfastness, Ciceronian consistency, role-playing, and concern for public opinion, is perhaps most sharply summed up in the traditional phrase: to be 'like oneself. The phrase is only used in the last act, and it is in these final scenes that the meaning of constancy is most clearly defined, as Brutus faces its final test, death.
The problems involved in being constant are sharply highlighted in Brutus' double response to the death of Portia. At the end of the quarrel in 4. 2, Brutus, who has been rigidly self-contained in the face of Cassius' passion, bursts into surprising rage at the poet's interruption. Cassius teases him with the lapse from his customary 'philosophy', and Brutus responds (with an odd blend of stark grief and Stoic pride), 'No man bears sorrow better. Portia is dead' (4. 2. 201). The revelation, which forces us to re-evaluate what had up to this moment seemed Brutus' inhuman coldness, is the play's most dramatic demonstration of constancy as the repression of pain. It is illuminated, too, when we learn that Portia, who was so proud of her ability to 'bear . . . with patience' (2. 1. 300), died of '[i]mpatience' of Brutus' absence (4. 2. 204), and by a method horribly appropriate to the Stoic suppression of emotion: swallowing fire (206-10).
A little later, the question of Portia's death is raised again. This time Brutus claims ignorance:
BRUTUS. Now as you are a Roman, tell me true.
MESSALA. Then like a Roman bear the truth I tell;
For certain she is dead, and by strange manner.
BRUTUS. Why, farewell, Portia. We must die, Messala.
With meditating that she must die once,
I have the patience to endure it now.
MESSALA. Even so great men great losses should endure.
CASSIUS. I have as much of this in art as you,
But yet my nature could not bear it so.
In this public response Brutus is at once maintaining decorum, the behaviour appropriate to 'a Roman' and to Brutus, and staging a Senecan 'example of constancy' for the benefit of others like Messala. But in the process of maintaining formal constancy he is forced to dissemble his true feelings and tell a flat lie. The ambiguity of Cassius' half-admiring, half-appalled comment hinges on the meaning of 'art'. Its primary, ostensible meaning is 'The learning of the schools' (OED 3)—that is, 'I am as well trained as you in Stoic ethical theory, but I couldn't bear to put it into practice like this.'40 There is, however, a secondary meaning shared only between Cassius and Brutus: 'Studied conduct or action . . . artfulness' (OED 13)—'I thought I was a good hypocrite, but how can you bear to act at a moment like this?' Many critics, equally appalled, have explained away the duplicate revelation as a confusion produced by rewriting.41 I see it rather as central to Shakespeare's portrayal of constancy: as a genuinely noble ideal which nevertheless rests on unnatural suppression of feeling and on 'artful' pretence, both directed toward satisfying the opinions of others.
The possibility of suicide for Brutus himself is first raised in his conversation with Cassius in 5. 1. I have already looked at this problematic passage in relation to the ambiguity of North and the question of 'that philosophy'; here I would note how Shakespeare links these ambiguities to questions about decorum. Brutus shifts from a fumbling first-person attempt to explain his position ('I know not how, / But . . . ') to a firm third-person declaration that 'Brutus . . . bears too great a mind' to be led in triumph. The illeism suggests that he has slipped from Stoic philosophy to Roman decorum. Philosophy may claim that it is more constant to endure defeat, but as 'Brutus' and a 'noble Roman' he cannot endure such humiliation; to live on in defeat would be for him, as for Cato in Cicero's discussion (1. 112), a violation of decorum. To preserve the integrity of his persona, he must die.
The link between death and decorum is heavily stressed in the scenes which lead up to Brutus' death. Titinius dies with the words: 'this is a Roman's part' (5. 3. 88). In 5. 4 this idea of playing a part to the end, and dying in character, is linked with an echoing insistence on names. Young Cato 'proclaim[s his] name about the field' (3) until he is cut down and Lucillius declares that he will 'be honoured, being Cato's son' (11). Lucillius himself meanwhile is more literally playing a part: 'And I am Brutus, Marcus Brutus, I' (7).42 When his pretence is discovered, he tells Antony,
I dare assure thee that no enemy
Shall ever take alive the noble Brutus.
The gods defend him from so great a shame.
When you do find him, or alive or dead,
He will be found like Brutus, like himself.
(5. 4. 21-5)
The context, with its motifs of names, honour, and acting, throws a light on the implications of the traditional Stoic formula. Acting 'like himself, Brutus, as much as Lucillius, can be seen as a man playing the role of Brutus.43
Senecan constancy and decorum finally mingle in Brutus' death scene. His justification for death is Stoic: it is 'more worthy' to choose death, actively asserting one's freedom, than to wait to be killed (5. 5. 24).44 Under the Stoicism, though, there is a sense that death is positively welcome. When Brutus declares, 'my bones would rest, / That have but laboured to attain this hour' (41-2), he implies the 'teleological fallacy' (life is merely a preparation for death); but we also hear a note of sad futility (has my labour come only to this?) and of relief that the labour is over. The same note of relief is heard in his last words: 'Caesar, now be still. / I killed not thee with half so good a will' (50-1). At the same time he reveals his continued concern with honour and reputation, assuring his followers that he will 'have glory by this losing day' (36), and reassuring himself that Strato, the instrument of his death, is 'a fellow of a good respect' whose life has 'some smatch of honour in it' (45-6). After his death, Strato and Lucillius sum up:
MESSALA. . . . Strato, where is thy master?
STRATO. Free from the bondage you are in, Messala.
The conquerors can but make a fire of him,
For Brutus only overcame himself,
And no man else hath honour by his death.
LUCILLIUS. So Brutus should be found. I thank thee, Brutus,
That thou hast proved Lucillius' saying true.
This coda brings together the themes of constancy, decorum, honour, and death. Brutus' suicide has proved his Stoic constancy: asserting his freedom and his invulnerability to external evils, he has set his spirit free and left only his despised body to the conquerors. He has died, in Seneca's term, for the sake of dignitas: by dying well he escapes the peril of an evil life, ensures he cannot be forced to change or compromise, and remains himself to the end. Thus he preserves not only Senecan constancy but also decorum. Lucillius recalls for us his earlier prediction; Brutus has been 'found . . . like himself, consistent in character to the end.
Nevertheless, the hints of relief and regret in Brutus' dying words remind us that the role he has been playing, with increasing strain, was not necessarily his true self. He has maintained his role to the end and died in the way Lucillius and others expected. Roman opinion will honour him for dying 'like himself'—but, as he himself said, every like is not the same.45
The death of Brutus embodies the complexity of 'constancy' in Julius Caesar. He simultaneously fulfils the demands of Stoic ethics, remaining 'constant as the Northern Star' in the face of defeat and death, and of Roman decorum, maintaining 'formal constancy' and playing his part consistently to the end; in both ways he has been 'always the same' in life, and will remain so in fame after his death. Both ideals, however, involve the strain of pretending to be what he is not, and concealing and suppressing his human weakness. It is not surprising that Brutus welcomes death. Only in death can he end the strain of pretence, and achieve in fact the condition he aspires to: absolute changelessness and immovability, a complete freedom of the mind from the body's weakness, and a complete identification between himself and his public role. Ultimately, to play 'a Roman's part' is to die.
lJulius Caesar, New [Cambridge] Shakespeare (Cambridge, 1949), note ad loa; he does not explicitly make the connection with Cicero. 'Formal' means 'in outward form or appearance' (OED lc), but with overtones of more pejorative senses: merely in outward appearance (2c), preoccupied with forms (8). Compare the use of 'form' with implications of pretence and deceit in 1. 2. 299 ('puts on this tardy form') and 4. 2. 40 ('this sober form . . . hides wrongs').
2OED 'Tire' v3 2b ('To attire, clothe duly'); cf. 'tiring-house', the theatrical term for the backstage area. I have not seen this pun previously noted.
3 Few critics have looked in detail at these lines. One exception is Jonathan Goldberg, James I and the Politics of Literature (Baltimore, 1983), 164, who notes the contradiction between 'resplendent transcendence' and 'the duplicitous form of the actor', but distracts from the central problem by creating unnecessary difficulties over the contrast between genuine and assumed looks.
4. . . Robert Ornstein, 'Seneca and the Political Drama of Julius Caesar', Journal of English and Germanic Philology [JEGP] 57 (1958), 51-6, is not on constancy, but relates to a comment in Seneca's De beneficiis (2. 20) on Brutus' political naivety.
5 Earlier critics regretted the stiffness of the characters ('more orators than men': Mark Van Doren, Shakespeare (London, 1939; New York, 1955), 153). But MacCallum's perception in 1910 (Shakespeare's Roman Plays) of a distinction between character and role in Caesar ('he must affect to be what he is not', 231) and Brutus ('a kind of pose', 241) has been taken up by most later critics, many of whom see role-playing as related to the political and ethical nature of Rome. Some of the more important discussions are L. C. Knights, 'Personality and Politics in Julius Caesar' (1965; repr. in his 'Hamlet' and Other Shakespearean Essays (Cambridge, 1979), 82-101); Peter Ure, 'Character and Role from Richard III to Julius Caesar', in his Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama, 22-43; Matthew Proser, The Heroic Image in Five Shakespearean Tragedies (Princeton, 1965), 10-50; Stampfer, Tragic Engagement, 77-99; John W. Velz, ' "If I Were Brutus Now": Role-playing in Julius Caesar', Shakespeare Studies 4 (1969), 149-59; Kaufmann and Ronan, 'Julius Caesar', esp. 20 ('Stoicism is a form of acting'), 37-43; Simmons, Pagan World, ch. 3 ('Julius Caesar: Our Roman Actors', 65-108); Thomas F. Van Laan, Role-playing in Shakespeare (Toronto, 1978), 152-61; Goldberg, Politics of Literature, ch. 4 ('The Roman Actor', 164-76); Ralph Berry, 'Communal Identity and the Rituals of Julius Caesar', in his Shakespeare and the Awareness of the Audience (London, 1985), 75-87; Edward Pechter, 'Julius Caesar and Sejanus: Roman Politics, Inner Selves and the Power of the Theatre', in E. A. J. Honigmann (ed.), Shakespeare and His Contemporaries (Manchester, 1986), 60-78.
6 R. A. Foakes, 'An Approach to Julius Caesar', Shakespeare Quarterly [SQ] 5 (1954), 259-70, was perhaps the first to note the thematic importance of knowledge and error: 'All is the result of a self-deception, an obsession with names and an ignorance of reality' (270). The epistemological theme has been developed by Ernest Schanzer, The Problem Plays of Shakespeare (London, 1963); Mildred E. Hartsock, 'The Complexity of Julius Caesar', PMLA 81 (1966), 56-62; René E. Fortin, 'Julius Caesar: An Experiment in Point of View', SQ 19 (1968), 341-7; D. J. Palmer, 'Tragic Error in Julius Caesar', SQ 21 (1970), 399-409 (which Stoically derives error from passion); Wilders, Lost Garden, ch. 5 ('Knowledge and Judgement', 79-101). Chang ('Renaissance Historiography') and Rice ('Judgment') relate the theme to Renaissance scepticism, and Vawter, 'After Their Fashion', to Stoic views on fate and divination (an emphasis rather different from mine).
7 'Brutus's Philosophy', Notes and Queries 215 (1970), 128.
8 Mark Sacharoff, 'Suicide and Brutus' Philosophy in Julius Caesar', Journal of the History of Ideas 33 (1972), 115-22, lays out the problems but comes to no convincing conclusion; R. F. Fleissner, 'That Philosophy in Julius Caesar Again', Archiv 222 (1985), 344-5, unconvincingly suggests that 'that philosophy' is Cato's not Brutus'; Wymer, Suicide and Despair, 152, argues that, in the light of Neostoic disapproval of suicide, Shakespeare could still have considered Brutus a Stoic; Martindale and Martindale argue that 'Shakespeare deliberately blurs the issue' (Shakespeare and the Uses of Antiquity, 168), though they see this as a weakness in the play.
9 Monsarrat, Light from the Porch, 139-44 (141, 143, 144). In a long footnote (141-2 n.) Monsarrat effectively dismantles Vawter's claim that the historical Brutus was a Stoic.
10 Long, Hellenistic Philosophy, 224.
11Phaedo 61c; see also Wymer, Suicide and Despair, 10-11.
12 The pun is noted by Dover Wilson and Arthur Humphreys (Oxford Shakespeare edn., Oxford, 1984).
13 See Jane Bligh, 'Cicero's Choric Comment in Julius Caesar', English Studies in Canada, 8 (1982), 391-408, who surveys earlier comments to the same effect.
14 On imagery, see G. Wilson Knight, The Imperial Theme (London, 1931; 3rd edn., 1951), 32-62 (The Torch of Life') and Charney, Shakespeare's Roman Plays, ch. 3. Knight's The Eroticism of Julius Caesar' (63-95), though eccentric, brings out the elements of irrationality and disorder which conflict with Roman order in the play, and recent criticism has increasingly focused on these: e.g. Spevack's introduction ('What truth . . . exists in the play is connected with the "irrational" ', 26); Mark Rose, 'Conjuring Caesar: Ceremony, History, and Authority in 1599', English Literary Renaissance 19 (1989), 291-304 (The world of this play is fundamentally mysterious', 298).
15 This causal relationship is not always recognized: e.g. Vawter cites Casca's words as showing that constancy is impossible, but does not add that they also show why it is so desirable ('Division', 184).
16 There is no hint for this speech in Plutarch. The possible influence of earlier theatrical versions of Caesar as a bombastic Senecan tyrant-figure was explored by Harry Morgan Ayres, 'Shakespeare's Julius Caesar in the Light of Some Other Versions', PMLA 25 (1910), 183-227, and Joan Rees, 'Julius Caesar: An Earlier Play and an Interpretation', SQ 4 (1955), 135-41.
17 'Move[d]' is also used in this sense at 1. 1. 61; 1. 3. 120; 3. 1. 236; 3. 2. 224. The sense of 'persuaded' is clearest in 1. 3; elsewhere it has clear emotional overtones. Kaufmann and Ronan, 'Julius Caesar', 24, note the centrality of the word 'move', without distinguishing its senses; Michael E. Mooney, ' "Passion, I See, Is Catching": The Rhetoric of Julius Caesar', JEGP 90 (1991), 31-50, comments on its use in contexts of persuasion.
18 Levitsky, 'Elements', 242, is clearly wrong to assume that Brutus is criticizing rather than praising Caesar, but the misreading does suggest the potential moral ambiguity of his praise. On Brutus and reason, see Vawter, 'Division', 182, though his comments are extreme.
19OED and editors define 'budge' as 'flinch', but the idea of movement is clearly implied.
20 See Kaufmann and Ronan, 'Julius Caesar', 40.
21 Shakespeare elsewhere uses 'sides' (of the body) in the context of repressing powerful emotions: e.g. TN 2. 4. 92; Lear (F text) 2. 2. 370.
22 Brutus' phrasing is suggestively ambiguous. The following lines make it clear that he means 'I am indifferent to death if it comes accompanied by honour' ; but the more literal reading, that honour (fame, popular approval) is as 'indifferent' as death, is clearly also a plausible Stoic position.
23 Benjamin Boyce, 'The Stoic Consolatio and Shakespeare', PMLA 64 (1949), 771-80, deals with Shakespeare's often ironic use of such Stoic responses to death.
24 The phrase is Harley Granville-Barker's, Prefaces to Shakespeare (London, 1963; first pub. 1930), ii. 227.
25 On the motif of sickness see Knight, Imperial Theme, 40-2 ('Nearly everyone in the play is ill'); Foakes, 'Approach', 198-9.
26 Anson, 'Politics of the Hardened Heart', 14-18. This paragraph is strongly indebted to Anson, though I diverge from his subsequent argument.
27 Vawter ('Division', 177) and most editors, like the OED, take 'apprehensive' to mean 'intelligent' (OED's sense 4); I prefer, with Humphreys, to take it as meaning primarily 'capable of perception' (OED 2). It seems incongruous in this context for Caesar to praise human beings in general for being intelligent.
28 Critics who have noted the parallelism of Caesar and Brutus include Norman Rabkin, 'Structure, Convention and Meaning in Julius Caesar', JEGP 63 (1964), 240-54, and Simmons, Pagan World, 87.
29 Foakes, 'Approach', 267-9; Berry, 'Communal Identity', in Awareness. Word counts here and elsewhere are taken from Marvin Spevack (ed.), A Complete and Systematic Concordance to the Works of Shakespeare, 6 vols. (Hildesheim, 1968-70).
30 This passage is well discussed by Simmons, Pagan World, 95-8.
31 On 'honour' I am indebted to Norman Council, When Honour's at the Stake: Ideas of Honour in Shakespeare's Plays (London, 1973), ch. 3 (60-74). Gary Miles illuminatingly discusses the actual importance of honour in Roman culture, though he oddly concludes that Shakespeare failed to understand, or at least to communicate, 'why his Roman subjects identified public performance and personal worth as completely as they did' ('How Roman', 282).
32 Leggati has some shrewd comments on the ways in which 'appearances matter' in the play (Shakespeare's Political Drama, 141-3).
33 On rhetoric, see Gayle Greene, ' "The Power of Speech To Stir Men's Blood": The Language of Tragedy in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar', Renaissance Drama 11 (1980), 67-93; John W. Velz, 'Orator and Imperator in Julius Caesar: Style and the Process of Roman History', Shakespeare Studies 15 (1982), 55-75; Anne Barton, 'Julius Caesar and Coriolanus: Shakespeare's Roman World of Words', in Philip H. Highfield Jr. (ed.), Shakespeare's Craft (Carbondale, Ill., 1982), 24-47 (who argues that rhetoric in this play is 'unequivocally poisonous', 40); and Mooney, 'Rhetoric'.
34 See Kaufmann and Ronan, 'Julius Caesar', 40.
35 William O. Scott, 'The Speculative Eye: Problematic Self-Knowledge in Julius Caesar', Shakespeare Survey 40 (1988), 77-89, discusses this passage, though with the effect of darkening rather than illuminating it. Like other commentators Scott compares Tro. 3. 3. 90-118, where the same idea is treated with more overt irony.
36 Barbara L. Parker, ' "A Thing Unfirm": Plato's Republic and Shakespeare's Julius Caesar', SQ 44 (1993), 30-43 (36), links this episode with a passage in Plato's Republic (4. 434) where carpenter and cobbler typify the masses who must not be allowed to meddle in government. If she is right, the play opens with an allusion to Plato's view that a just community depends on each citizen consistently playing a single role, and hence a gesture towards the Platonic assumptions at the root of the whole constancy tradition. (This is not to accept Parker's wider interpretation of Shakespeare's politics as Platonic.)
37 Foakes, 'Approach', 264-7; Madeleine Doran, 'What Should Be in that "Caesar"?: Proper Names in Julius Caesar', in Shakespeare's Dramatic Language (Madison, 1976), 120-53; Berry, Awareness, 79 (the name as 'a kind of externalized self).
38 Velz, 'Ancient World', 10. Velz also discusses the device in 'If I Were Brutus Now', but his political interpretation (someone must 'be Caesar') is different from mine.
39 The inconsistencies of Casca's characterization have often been criticized (e.g. by Granville-Barker, Prefaces, ii. 212), but in a play so concerned with constancy they are surely as deliberate as those of Cleopatra. For his changes of opinion, note e.g. 2. 1. 142, 152.
40 For the use of 'art' to mean (Stoic) philosophy, compare Thomas Lodge's The Wounds of Civil War (ed. J. W. Houppert, Regents edn., London, 1969), where Marius' question, 'What mean have they left me to cure my smart?' is answered by the echo 'Art' (3. 4. 46).
41 Most earlier 20th-cent. editors saw this passage as an earlier version of the scene intended to have been replaced by 4. 2. 195-210, and often bracketed it (e.g. Dover Wilson, T. S. Dorsch (Arden, London, 1955)). More recent editors tend to accept that both versions were intended to stand (e.g. the complete Oxford; Humphreys, 79-81), though Spevack, in a confusingly inconclusive discussion, seems to incline towards the duplication theory (149-50). Thomas Clayton, ' "Should Brutus Never Taste of Portia's Death but Once?": Text and Performance in Julius Caesar', Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 23 (1983), 237-58, surveys the debate and convincingly defends the existing text.
42 Other editors give the line (unassigned in F) to Brutus himself; the difference does not seriously affect my argument.
43 Foakes ('Approach', 267) notes the importance of the episode but not the significance of 'like himself; Brower (Hero and Saint, 233) connects the phrase in passing with Brutus' 'noble role' but does not develop the insight.
44 This Stoic idea is not explicit in Plutarch's account.
45 Wymer, Suicide and Despair, ch. 7, esp. 150-4, discusses Brutus' suicide in terms very close to my own, noting the sense of 'tragic . . . self-defeat' (135), the tension between inwardness and public persona, and the un-Roman sense of 'dejection [and] weariness' (154).
Source: '"Untired Spirits and Formal Constancy': Julius Caesar," in Shakespeare and the Constant Romans, Clarendon Press, 1996, pp. 123-48.
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