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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: October ::
Re: More about "Julius Caesar"
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.2128  Thursday, 24 October 2002

From:           Brian Willis <
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Date:           Wednesday, 23 Oct 2002 11:29:11 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 13.2121 Re: More about "Julius Caesar"
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2121 Re: More about "Julius Caesar"

Are there any parallels in Caesar with Elizabeth (clearly approaching
the end of her reign in 1598-99) and the Essex Rebellion? What if Caesar
was an exploration of revolution and the consequences of it?
Shakespeare's company has been linked with Essex before (and with the
notorious performance of Richard II). Is Brutus a portrayal of Essex? Is
Elizabeth Caesar, a physically impaired aging monarch who is
nevertheless a strong ruler (and perhaps neither too overbearing nor
sympathetic)? I think there is a lot more going on here than "is Caesar
good or bad". The four largest characters pull on our sympathies in many
directions at different times. At different moments in the play, I find
sympathy or scorn for Caesar, Brutus, Cassius, and Antony.

As far as the depiction within the play, it is vitally important to
remember that Shakespeare distances us from Caesar at many points, not
the least of which is his decision to depict the offering of the crown
to Caesar and the seizure offstage and through the interpretation of
Casca. His sardonic reporting is meant to make us distrust many things
about the play.  But we neither loathe Caesar for how he manipulates the
crowd nor do we feel sympathy for him because of his seizures (which
would have been a spectacular piece of acting). The depiction is
satirical, and quite funny as Brutus and Cassius comment upon it.
Throughout the play, we are told by Cassius, Casca, and others about
Caesar's actions and deeds until, like Brutus, we are convinced that it
is best to act against him. What do we get when the assassination takes
place? A statement of power and resolution from Caesar, and sympathy. We
are most let into Caesar's character just before he dies, in his scene
with Calphurnia and with his wounded, though now cliched, final words.
Antony is very carefully placed to gain our sympathy through his actions
and his dominance in Act III, and then he too fades into the background
when we see him pricking his enemies into the legions of death. Like the
plebians of the play, we are manipulated into believing what Shakespeare
would have us feel. The play is much more complicated than we have been
led to believe. It is about who is manipulating whom and when, and how
those manipulations and sympathies shift from scene to scene, whether it
is Cassius playing upon Casca's superstition and Brutus's honor to win
them into the conspiracy, or Shakespeare's use of Antony to make us
believe Brutus is (not) an "honorable" man only to declare him the
noblest Roman of them all at the end of the play.

Brian Willis

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