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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: March ::
Re: Julius Caesar, Cesario, Ganymede
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.0540  Monday, 20 March 2000.

[1]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Thursday, 16 Mar 2000 12:11:55 -0500
        Subj:   SHK 11.0490 Re: Julius Caesar, Cesario, Ganymede

[2]     From:   Anthony Burton <
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        Date:   Thursday, 16 Mar 2000 13:42:32 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.0523 Re: Julius Caesar, Cesario, Ganymede


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Thursday, 16 Mar 2000 12:11:55 -0500
Subject: Re: Julius Caesar, Cesario, Ganymede
Comment:        SHK 11.0490 Re: Julius Caesar, Cesario, Ganymede

While I do not endorse L. Swilley's thesis about coming to an historical
play free of any historical reference point, I believe he presents a
valid insight when he says:

> 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.

But I think Swilley misses the point of the tent scene, which, I submit,
requires the audience to understand Brutus as an avowed stoic who is,
however, personally unable to follow the rigors of that philosophy to
the extreme of easy acceptance of Portia's bizarre death, while he is
able to feign stoicism when it suits him politically.  It seems to me
that the fury which Brutus directs at Cassius until the latter bares his
breast and invites a dagger thrust is intended to be understood as
misdirected grief:  "When I spoke that I was ill-temper'd too"; "O
Cassius, I am sick of many griefs ...  Portia is dead."  Brutus's
subsequent stoical response to Messala's revelation of Portia's death is
pure play acting to achieve the desired reaction: "Even so great men
should great losses endure."  Brutus's even shushes Cassius to prevent
him from giving away the gag:

                "Cassius:  Portia art thou gone?
                  Brutus:  No more, I pray you."

I realize that many highly regarded critics have concluded that the
double revelation of Portia's death reflects an imperfect redrafting by
Shakespeare.  I respectfully dissent.  The interpretation postulated
above adds so much to the character of Brutus that I can't believe it
was accidental.  In fact, an argument can be made that without this
reading Brutus is an unbelievable stick figure; with it he is an
entirely human politician.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Anthony Burton <
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Date:           Thursday, 16 Mar 2000 13:42:32 -0800
Subject: 11.0523 Re: Julius Caesar, Cesario, Ganymede
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0523 Re: Julius Caesar, Cesario, Ganymede

Let me add my support for the recent notes urging  respect for close
attention the thematic detail and historical context in Shakespearean,
and all other studies in the creative arts.  And this ties in with the
recent inquiry, whether all theater (art?) is a search for God.  An
artist lives in a realm we often call imagination-Theseus says it
beautifully in MND- and his or her skill, and chosen medium of
expression (literature, painting, etc.), and available  audience do not
always come up to the job of expressing what lives in that realm.  But
if we were, for one moment, to cease trying to join the artist through
his or her creation in that life of imagination we would be like the
perhaps apocryphal grade school student who, assigned to review a book
and having chosen one about penguins, wrote "This book tells me more
about penguins than I really wanted to know."
There are always facts which are more than we really want to know at any
given moment; it is an acute and frequent problem with directors and
performers,  since they can never hope to capture in any single
performance more than a fraction of what a great work offers to close,
repeated, and respectful study.  But our chosen penguin, named
Shakespeare, is still there for us to understand more or less fully
according to our desires, and we don't make its real nature any simpler
by ignoring the complexities it presents to a careful observer.  And,
more important, it is hard to talk intelligently about anything we
reduce to the size and shape of our own interests, because we inevitably
turn it into a fun-house mirror image of ourselves.  We avoid pedantry
by refraining from foisting knowledge when it is not called for or
cannot be grasped, not by shrinking from the search for it, or from
exchanging knowledge with people equally interested in meeting with the
artist in the realm where imaginative experience converges with the act
of creation.

Now, back to my penguin.

Anthony Burton
 

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