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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: March ::
Julius Caesar, Cesario, and Ganymede (Portia)
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.0577  Monday, 27 March 2000.

From:           Yvonne Bruce <
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Date:           Friday, 24 Mar 2000 14:59:23 -0500
Subject:        Julius Caesar, Cesario, and Ganymede (Portia)

Re the "double revelation" of Portia's death in <Julius Caesar>:

I can't resist adding my two cents, because in my reading the revelation
is more about Portia than Brutus, and ultimately it doesn't matter at
all to the play or to the character of Brutus whether Shakespeare
planned the second revelation or merely forgot the first.

My reading comes in response to work I've been doing on the Roman plays,
and specifically to <JC>'s deep investment in stoicism. I'll eschew an
explanation of my thesis, except to say that the revelation in Act 4
demonstrate the paradox of stoicism at the heart of the play. I argue,
for example, that in 2.1 Portia's stabbing of herself in the thigh fails
to convincingly prove constancy (cf. Montaigne's problems with her
father Cato the Younger's "stoic" suicide), but that her death as
reported by Brutus in act 4 does.  In other words, stoicism is
antithetical to dramatic representation, so when Portia draws attention
to her wound, she does not convince us that she can bear Brutus' secrets
very well (she convinces us of just the opposite, in fact). But when
Brutus reports her death (the first report), we are, I believe,
impressed by the decisive and speedy way she has dispatched herself-now
that's stoic. She's still, according to Brutus, impatient and grieving
when she kills herself, but she does it without ostentation and without
lingering.

It seems to me that the point of the double revelation is not its
twoness, but its reportage. I realize my thesis is still incomplete, so
I'm working on the possible significance (or lack) the double revelation
might have for Brutus. It also seems to me, however, that in the second
revelation Shakespeare punningly refers to the first when he has Brutus
say, "Why, farewell, Portia. We must die, Massala. / With meditating
that she must die once, / I have the patience to endure it now."

I've gotten off the main topic as it's been discussed on the list, but
the inadequate stoicism of <JC> is central to the play and to the tent
scene.  Though I have been greatly influenced by Mr. Swilley's readings
in the past, I can't agree that the tent scene is one of great collapse
or revelation.  When Brutus tells Cassius he really doesn't care what
Cassius thinks, yes, Brutus is trying to save face, but I think that, at
bottom, he really doesn't care a great deal (another danger of stoicism!
the Elizabethans warned against this, too). Toward the end of that
scene, Brutus remarks that he "carries anger as the flint bears fire,"
ie, briefly. But this is no more than Cassius had observed in 1.2 using
the same imagery.  I think Ralph Berry is right to say that, by the end
of the play, Brutus and Cassius are "weary automata," playing out their
parts with diminishing expectations of success. I don't think there's
enough left of Brutus in the tent scene for him to stike more than a
spark of anger, indignation, or revelation.

Yvonne Bruce
 

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