The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0883 Wednesday, 23 September 1998.
Date: Tuesday, 22 Sep 1998 14:06:11 -0400
Subject: Re: Julius Caesar and Stoicism
This is my first reply to other members.
Mr. Swilley wrote that the Stoicism of Julius Caesar, while generally
accepted, doesn't explain the action. I'm currently working on a larger
aspect of this "causal breakdown," I guess it would be, in all the Roman
plays. Mr. Swilley remarked that, logically, Brutus should kill Cassius
in the tent scene, because by letting him live, Brutus is betraying the
principal that led him to kill Caesar. Two things: Brutus may lead the
conspiracy (after being manipulated into it by Cassius), but he very
clearly heads a committee decision, so to speak, and makes sure that all
the conspirators have a hand in the actual murder. Similarly, his
soliloquy justifying the murder is made for the "general." He extricates
himself, or tries to absolve himself from personal responsibility.
Additionally, his soliloquy is notoriously illogical, although
rhetorically sophisticated as anything Antony will come up with during
the funeral oration. I mean, Brutus is depicted as Caesar's favorite,
and he knows, KNOWS that Caesar has never done anything tyrannical, yet
he cannot come up with a single reason why Caesar should not be crowned
I don't think the soliloquies can be trusted in this play. Brutus may
not know himself well enough to admit he has ambitious designs (not even
when Cassius practically leads him to the revelation), but he certainly
should realize his justification for Caesar's ambition is weak. Same
thing with Antony. The play gives us no evidence that Antony should feel
personally devastated by Caesar's death, and in fact the death makes it
easier for him to put his own ambitious plans into action. Why should we
believe Antony's soliloquy any more than his funeral oration? The issue,
perhaps, is not whether Antony (or anyone) has been fooled, but that all
take part in this kind of ritual, communal fooling. This seems to be the
brand of Stoicism espoused by the play, and if so, then it is surely a
criticism of the philosophy.