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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: March ::
Re: JC and Sex
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0651  Tuesday, 20 March 2001

[1]     From:   Steve Sohmer <
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        Date:   Friday, 16 Mar 2001 11:27:24 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0633 Re: JC and Mac. and Sex

[2]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Friday, 16 Mar 2001 12:46:52 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0633 Re: JC and Mac. and Sex

[3]     From:   Mari Bonomi <
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        Date:   Friday, 16 Mar 2001 13:09:09 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0633 Re: JC and Mac. and Sex

[4]     From:   L. Swilley <
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        Date:   Sat, 17 Mar 2001 15:34:39 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0633 Re: JC and Mac. and Sex

[5]     From:   Stephanie Hughes <
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        Date:   Sat, 17 Mar 2001 16:22:54 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0633 Re: JC and Mac. and Sex


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Sohmer <
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Date:           Friday, 16 Mar 2001 11:27:24 EST
Subject: 12.0633 Re: JC and Mac. and Sex
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0633 Re: JC and Mac. and Sex

Dear Friends,

Shakespeare was certainly aware that Brutus was Julius Caesar's
illegitimate son. As Suffolk says, "Brutus'bastard hand Stabbed Julius
Caesar" (2H6
4.1.138-9)

Shakespeare found plenty of testimony about this in the ancient
historians.  Seutonius wrote, "But above the rest [of Caesar'sexual
conquests], he cast affection to Servilia the mother of M. Brutus; for
whom both in his last Consulship he had bought a pearle that cost him
sixe millions of Sesterces, etc." Appian shared the view that Brutus was
illegitimate, and the natural son of Caesar: "It was even thought that
Brutus was his son, as Caesar was the lover of his mother, Servilia
(Cato's sister) about the time of his birth, for which reason, when he
[Caesar] won the victory at Pharsalus, it is said that he gave an
immediate order to his officers to save Brutus by all means, etc."
Plutarch also suggests Caesar's motive: "Some saye he [Caesar] did this
for Serviliaes sake, Brutus mother. For when he [Caesar] was a young
man, he had bene acquainted with Servilia, who was extreamelie in love
with him. And bicause Brutus was borne in that time when their love was
hottest, he [Caesar] perswaded him selfe that he begat him, etc." This
sorts well with Seutonius' report of Caesar's dying words: "some have
written, that as M. Brutus came running upon him he said, [in Greek] And
thou my sonne."

There are, I think, recondite clues to the illegitimacy of the Brutus in
"Julius Caesar," e.g. when Cassius soliloquizes, "Well Brutus, thou art
Noble: yet I see, Thy Honorable Mettle may be wrought From that it is
dispos'd: therefore it is meet, That Noble mindes keepe ever with their
likes: For who so firme, that cannot be seduc'd?" This punning turns on
"Noble ... mettle [metal] ... seduc'd [=debased]. A "Noble" was a coin
of gold, the "honorable" metal. Coining and coins were Shakespeare's
habitual metaphors for extramarital sex and illict births. (See Molly
Mahood for more.) In Antony's funeral oration he refers to Brutus as
"Caesars Angel." The Angel was an old English gold coin, often referred
to as the "angel-noble," having as its device the archangel Michael
standing upon, and piercing the dragon (OED).

The wiser sort among Shakespeare's auditors would certainly have known
that Brutus was the bastard son of Caesar -- which would have added
tremendous pathos to Brutus's exclamation, "O ye gods, render me worthy
of this noble wife." Portia was the daughter of Cato, Brutus a bastard.

Steve

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Friday, 16 Mar 2001 12:46:52 -0500
Subject: 12.0633 Re: JC and Mac. and Sex
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0633 Re: JC and Mac. and Sex

Paul Doniger writes that Julius Caesar's tragic hero is really Brutus.
This is an old argument, as Paul no doubt knows, that last heated up in
the 50's when there were some excellent movie versions of the play.
Those who think differently from Paul would argue that Caesar is the
real tragic hero because even after his death, his spirit (Caesarism)
and his ghost dominate both the action of the play and the mind of
Brutus.

Be that as it may, I think that the real focus of the play is the
origins of myth. Paul will remember that the main source of the play is
Plutarch's Parallel Lives, and so literate members of the audience would
soon be asking themselves what the story unfolding on the stage is
parallel to.  The answer is contained in the initials of the title: JC
-- Julius Caesar and Jesus Christ.  The parallelism was well-known at
the time, for one ruled the state and the other the universe.

The basic question is the same:  Is Julius Caesar a God or a flawed
mortal?  Is he a savior or a megalomaniac?  The parallelism extends to
Brutus and Judas, both of whom are found in the bottom rung of hell, if
Dante is to be believed.

The play moves from a realistic (but not definitive) portrayal of Caesar
and others to the world of myth.  When Antony eulogizes Brutus, he puts
everyone, even himself, back in the clouds. And we are left to wonder
about what it was that we just witnessed, and what it really means.

--Ed Taft

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mari Bonomi <
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Date:           Friday, 16 Mar 2001 13:09:09 -0500
Subject: 12.0633 Re: JC and Mac. and Sex
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0633 Re: JC and Mac. and Sex

Paul Doniger comments that JC is really about Brutus, despite its
title.  I agree with him; otherwise it is simply a history play, and not
a tragedy.

Shakespeare is in good company: the play we call Antigone today is the
tragedy of Creon, not of Antigone... but I guess "Creon's Downfall"
doesn't cut it as a title either <wry smile>.

Mari Bonomi

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           L. Swilley <
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Date:           Sat, 17 Mar 2001 15:34:39 -0600
Subject: 12.0633 Re: JC and Mac. and Sex
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0633 Re: JC and Mac. and Sex

Paul Doniger wrote,

"I wonder if it is possible that Shakespeare ignored all this
dramatically rich material because his play is not about Julius Caesar
at all. It may be called _The Tragedy of Julius Caesar_, but it is
really the tragedy of Marcus Brutus. Although the figure of Julius
Caesar does dominate the plot, Brutus is clearly the tragic hero, noble
of character, complete with a 'tragic flaw' (his own arrogant purity,
both as a stoic and as a man of virtue) which causes his downfall..."

In the article on "Julius Caesar" in "The Wordsworth Dictionary of
Shakespeare," Charles Boyce wrote,

"The telling comparisons between Brutus and Caesar demonstrate the
play's most essential ambivalence: the tyrant and his opponent are not
easily distinguishable...Both Brutus and Caesar have great leadership
qualities, and, being certain of his virtues, each is susceptible to
flattery and manipulation by lesser men.  In murdering Caesar, Brutus
follows the Caesar-like course of attempting to change society in
accordance with his views.  Similarly, in the war that follows the
assassination, Brutus behaves as imperiously as Caesar did, enacting
precisely the failings of autocratic leadership - the isolation from his
followers, the presumption of sound decision-making., the potential for
tyranny - that he had acted to prevent in killing Caesar. Significantly,
Caesar's Ghost identifies itself as Brutus' 'evil spirit.'"

It would appear, then, that, in Boyce's view, the character of Caesar
might be considered to continue in the action of the play in Brutus and
reach an end appropriate to that "single" character at the conclusion of
the play.

One might take a similar view of "Antony and Cleopatra": Cleopatra
continues on alone  in the  fifth act, but she is "with" Antony in her
regally-robed death, thus *publicly* "royalizing" their mutual *private*
love, a union of interests they had so desperately, so tragically tried
but failed to achieve in life.

           L. Swilley

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephanie Hughes <
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Date:           Sat, 17 Mar 2001 16:22:54 -0800
Subject: 12.0633 Re: JC and Mac. and Sex
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0633 Re: JC and Mac. and Sex

> I wonder if it is possible that Shakespeare ignored all this
> dramatically rich material because his play is not about Julius
Caesar
> at all. It may be called _The Tragedy of Julius Caesar_, but it
is
> really the tragedy of Marcus Brutus. Although the figure of
Julius
> Caesar does dominate the plot, Brutus is clearly the tragic
hero, noble
> of character, complete with a 'tragic flaw' (his own arrogant
purity,
> both as a stoic and as a man of virtue) which causes his
downfall. I
> have often suspected that Shakespeare gave the play this title
because
> it would attract a larger audience than _The Tragedy of Marcus
Brutus,
> Senator of Rome_ .

> What do you all think?

I agree that Caesar's love life was ignored because that was not what
the play was about. The play is about politics and the kinds of pressure
that it creates that may make an individual make decisions that are not
in the best interest of himself or his community.  We see a similar
topic dealt with in Coriolanus. He is bad, but he has been made bad by
the situation that surrounds him.  Much the same question is dealt with
in Richard II. What justifies removing a ruler from power?

I agree that the play is about Brutus, not Caesar. As for the title,
many titles don't say much about the play unfortunately, otherwise we'd
have an easier time figuring out what some of the "lost plays" were
about. and Shakespeare himself may not have been responsible for the
title. But you may be right that whoever gave it the title may have
thought the public audience was more likely to know who Caesar was than
Brutus.

     Stephanie Hughes
 

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