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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: January ::
Q: A Great Caesar
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, SHK 8.0059.  Wednesday, 15 January 1997.

From:           Louis C. Swilley <
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Date:           Tuesday, 14 Jan 1997 09:44:05 -0600 (CST)
Subject:        Julius Caesar

Shakespeare presents Caesar as pompous, fearful, bragging and subject to
manipulation by flattery.  Nothing in productions I have seen questions these
facts.  Yet this is the man whom Brutus, Antony and others in the play (the
messenger who comes to the grieving Antony!) praise for his "greatness."

I have been looking for that "greatness" in the character as presented in
various productions for years.  (Years ago, in London, I did see Gielgud as
Caesar deliver the "Yon Cassius hath a lean and hungry look" while leaning back
vulnerably on the edge of a fountain and delivering those lines directly to
Cassius who stood meekly before him. I nearly leapt from my seat with delight
at the insight of this new interpretation, for here was a Caear who was indeed
formidable. Unfortunately, nowhere else in the production was this insight
capitalized upon - we were returned to Caesar-the-pompous-fool routine.)

If we take the position that the character of Caesar is comparable to that of
Hitler, Mussolini, Evita, and, as about them, wonder how such a posturing,
self-filled "leader" can command the respect of his associates, we must
conclude that, in fact, he doesn't. As with the case of those historical
figures, we must suppose that Caesar's associates find him just as he is
presented to us, but follow him because his is the currently successful
"bandwagon," and they want to be on it. (I exclude Brutus, the idealist, the
dreamer, in this - and I address the Caesar of the *play*, not the historical
Caesar, whatever he was.)

Now, everything is reasonably explained: those responsible for the government,
says Shakespeare, are as weak and or corrupt as the Caesar they allow to lead.
Ah, but not everything.  What about Marc Antony's soliloquy over the corpse, a
soliloquy rich with praise for this dead leader? Under the circumstances of the
siloloquy, we cannot doubt that these are the true feelings of this man.  Yet
Antony is the man who *immediately* capitalizes on this death and who will
shortly show himself hard enough to condemn his own nephew to death in a
political trade-off ("Here with a spot I damn him.") Is it not probable that,
in the privacy of his soliloquized thoughts, this ambitious, ruthless Antony
would not remark to himself the faults of the Caesar whom Shakespeare has shown
us to *have* faults? Surely *he* is not like the dreaming Brutus?  (If he is,
he certainly awakens from the condition quickly!).

                              * * *

Is it possible to present a Caesar who is indeed great, as the single scene in
the Gielgud production mentioned above suggested that there might be?  And that
pompous, "I am as constant as the northern star" speech be delivered by a
Caesar who shows here, perhaps, a sense of humor?  (Indeed, might not his
greatness be, in part, his power of persuasion by suggesting through the
camaraderie of humour that he is "just one of the guys" and therefore has only
such power as they democratically allow him?)  It has always seemed to me that
the man who delivered that speech as it is usually given is inviting his death
not only at the hands of the conspirators, but at the hands of the audience as
well!

May I hear from scholars, directors and actors on the above points?
 

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