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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: March ::
Re: Julius Caesar, Cesario, Ganymede
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.0490  Monday, 13 March 2000.

[1]     From:   L. Swilley <
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        Date:   Friday, 10 Mar 2000 20:19:13 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.0474 Re: Julius Caesar, Cesario, Ganym

[2]     From:   L. Swilley <
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        Date:   Friday, 10 Mar 2000 20:19:13 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.0474 Re: Julius Caesar, Cesario, Ganym

[3]     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Sunday, 12 Mar 2000 16:22:51 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.0474 Re: Julius Caesar, Cesario, Ganymede

[4]     From:   Ed Taft <
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        Date:   Sunday, 12 Mar 2000 17:48:49 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Julius Caesar


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           L. Swilley <
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Date:           Friday, 10 Mar 2000 20:19:13 -0600
Subject: 11.0474 Re: Julius Caesar, Cesario, Ganymede
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0474 Re: Julius Caesar, Cesario, Ganymede

Like Mr. Ed Taft, I, too, stand by what I wrote.

Those interested in sources may pursue those interests undisturbed by
the form of the play which, by definition, cannot, by the nature of the
closed investigation of the "calculus" of the written argument,  depend
on material external to the work.

Practically speaking, there is no end to the possible glossing of a
work.  Is all that can be understood of the historical Caesar to be
absorbed by the viewer/reader of this play?  "This way madness lies."
When we gloss, our attention shifts from the apparent points in the
work, points made by the interrelation, intermodification of the play's
terms (by which, as in a good essay, its argument is created), to an
endless web of biographical and historical detail.  Finally, we do not
see what Shakespeare wrote, but what we have collected around that.

The director and the actor playing Caesar must never say to themselves,
"Oh, the audience understands that this is the Great Caesar," thus
ignoring their duty to dig into this particular character as written and
find this person whom Shakespeare has given us. (The capital irony here
is that this play's "Great Caesar" is very much a scheming,
self-deceiving, pompous fool.)

Let me make my point here by examining the play's presentation of
another character, Brutus.

How too many productions have we seen where Brutus means what he says to
his wife Portia when, learning of her having stabbed herself, mind you
to prove her trustworthiness!!  "O ye gods/ Render me worthy of this
noble wife!"   In all the productions I have seen in film or on stage,
he says this without the slightest misgivings about this woman's mental
condition.  Now, historical critics observe, - and directors and actors
foolishly listen -  "Well, Brutus is a Stoic; he would accept such an
act so."  But such a reaction breaks our sympathy with this character
and makes us think him as mad as the wife he praises. And when we part
company with the character that way, we have left only pity for him.

More importantly, such an interpretation ignores the possibility that
this is an early form of Brutus' doubt of his principles, the later and
most significant form occurring in the tent scene with Cassius: there,
the play and this character reach their peak (this crisis, too, is
generally ignored in performance), for there Cassius offers his chest
for the Brutus' dagger, saying pointedly that Brutus loved Caesar more
when he killed him, why not, indeed, kill Cassius now?  What is not
immediately pointed out is the truth beyond this "love,":  Brutus has
killed Caesar because Caesar *might have* done an awful wrong; surely he
will now kill Cassius who *has certainly* done so?  No. Brutus'
principles collapse altogether in this scene; he now chooses love of
friend over duty to state; he learns what he should have known at the
beginning of the play, but, of course, it is too late learned, and the
shift of principle is disastrous.  (Antony and Octavius have no such
qualms: "This many then shall die" - including relatives.  Their
political success is certain.)

To return to the earlier scene, that of Brutus and Portia:  in light of
the argument I offer here about the tent scene, it is likely - and
certainly saving of the character of Brutus - that, although he may
(and, of course, must) say, "O ye gods, etc.," his look must at least be
that of a man worried about a loved and respected wife,  and one of
implicit doubt of the principles  - which are his, too - that she says
drove her to this mad act.

In these examples, I have not really taken us away from my initial
point: that the play depends on its reflecting points; that the play
establishes its argument by the calculus of all the terms in it;  that
we seek explanations for those terms (and the argument itself) in the
gloss of sources at the peril of losing what the writer is actually
saying, and losing ourselves in footnotes.

That is why I say that whoever will understand what an "historical" play
says about its characters, had best shuffle off thoughts about the
historical figures whose names are used in it, and, for the moment,
rename the characters A or B or C - or anything but the historical
names, for the temptation to remember the historical figure when using
their names in a play is very great indeed, and finally blinding to the
real points being made in the work.

              L. Swilley

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           "L. Swilley <
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Date:           Sunday, 12 Mar 2000 07:08:38 -0600
Subject: 11.0474 Re: Julius Caesar, Cesario, Ganymede
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0474 Re: Julius Caesar, Cesario, Ganymede

I appreciate Sean Lawrence's position here.  My remarks were
particularly addressed to the director and actors of historical plays
who must seek the person of the character, independent of any gloss.
But  audience - and director and actor - all  should apply their
knowledge of history or biography only after the play, not during it;
otherwise, they alter the wholeness of character-as-written and miss the
playwright's larger points, which is creative and philosophical rather
than researched and historical.  For example, in Brutus' two scenes I
mentioned in a former response (Brutus and Portia, and Brutus and
Cassius in the tent), Shakespeare is evidently presenting a person
finally realizing that friendship is more important than duty to state.
I doubt that this is Plutarch's point as it is Shakespeare's.

But even biographers downplay or underline facts of the person's life in
order to make a case for or against them; for example, contrast the
presentation of Pius XII in a recent work, "Hitler's Pope," with the
biographical case John Paul II must be building in his determination to
see Pius canonized.  And, of course, Hochhuth's "The Deputy," a creative
work, is yet another presentation of that historical character, but,
above all, a *person," not primarily an historical construction.

Somewhere here there is a discussion of the presentation of historical
plays in dress different from that of the historical period depicted.
Might that not be seen as the director's plea that we should  look at
the persons of the characters rather than historical figures?

All told, I do not think that an ignorant audience's  determination to
gloss the particulars of an historical play before it has grasped the
larger points which those particulars build is argument against my case.

>Sean Lawrence wrote,

>.. we ought
>to remember that Shakespeare isn't creating characters out of thin air.
>People had heard of these historical figures before, and already had a
>number of associations in mind...  If a tall, bearded man walks into
>a cabinet meeting wearing a top hat, everyone will know that it's Abe
>Lincoln, and will have some associations in mind-the Gettysburg address,
>the emancipation proclamation, etc.  There's no getting around this...

Here below, I believe, Mike Jensen has misconstrued my argument. (I was
probably unclear).  As a formalist, I celebrate and encourage the
investigation into sources *to the degree that they help us see and
clarify what the writer has written.*   But 1) it IS what the writer has
written that must rise clearly out of the investigation of source; and
2)  whatever is made "clear" by source must suffer the test of propriety
in the formal context before it is form-ally accepted.

>What about the long productive history of scholarship
>comparing the plays to their sources, examining what Shakespeare used,
>what he deleted, and what he changed?  What about those interesting
>essays identifying incidents deleted in the sources that live on in the
>characterization.  This is interesting and worthwhile work that should
>not be flippantly dismissed.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Sunday, 12 Mar 2000 16:22:51 -0500
Subject: 11.0474 Re: Julius Caesar, Cesario, Ganymede
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0474 Re: Julius Caesar, Cesario, Ganymede

> Surely it's a 19/20 century  phenomenon to see Polonius (and Prospero,
> and Shylock) as elderly (dotard, grizzly magus and Fagin/Svengali) ?

Carol Morley's remarks ignore significant elements of the texts.  I'm
not sure about Prospero, but Hamlet's taunts to Polonius about old men
(2.2.196 ff. or thereabouts) and the fact that Mer applies the adjective
"old" to Shylock at four different points seem to me to warrant a
director's conceiving these characters as elderly.

Valetudinariously,
David Evett

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ed Taft <
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Date:           Sunday, 12 Mar 2000 17:48:49 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Julius Caesar

Clifford Stetner is right on target when he discerns that I think of
Julius Caesar as an extension of Shakespeare's source, Plutarch's
Parallel Lives, first translated into English and published in 1579 by
Sir Thomas North.  Cliff asks which life is parallel to Caesar's in
Plutarch; alas, the answer is not really clear.  Most modern editions
parallel one Greek and one Roman life (e.g., Lycurgus and Numa), but
scholars are by no means certain that the parallelism of the title is
actually carried out in the work. Editors often rearrange lives to
"show" parallelism (or contrast), but the original is more cavalier
about such things.

Nonetheless, the CONCEPT of parallel lives (Caesar's and Christ's), and,
of course, contrasts, too, is one that a clever, educated member of the
audience could (and I think would) have picked up on.

The bottom line for Shakespeare, I think, is that in the later histories
and in JC, he is beginning to form very modern notions of history and
myth, and he is delving into the very origins of belief, both religious
and secular.  Is Caesar "a man on a white horse"? It's hard to tell,
isn't it?

Thanks for the comments, Cliff.

--Ed Taft
 

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