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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: February ::
Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0189  Tuesday, 4 February 2003

[1]     From:   Himadri Chatterjee <
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        Date:   Monday, 3 Feb 2003 18:30:36 +0000 (GMT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0179 Julius Caesar's Protagonist

[2]     From:   James J. Hill <
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        Date:   Monday, 3 Feb 2003 17:32:47 -0500
        Subj:   Protagonist in "Julius Caesar"

[3]     From:   John Velz <
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        Date:   Monday, 03 Feb 2003 21:04:53 -0600
        Subj:   Protagonist in JC

[4]     From:   Alan Pierpoint <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 4 Feb 2003 05:26:53 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0179 Julius Caesar's Protagonist


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Himadri Chatterjee <
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Date:           Monday, 3 Feb 2003 18:30:36 +0000 (GMT)
Subject: 14.0179 Julius Caesar's Protagonist
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0179 Julius Caesar's Protagonist

Caesar is, indeed, a likely choice for protagonist, even though he
appears in - as I remember - only 3 or so scenes in the whole play, and
is killed off half way through. But even when he is not on stage - and
even after his death - his personality dominates the proceedings.

One can also make a case for Antony, or even for Cassius. But my vote
will go to Brutus, who comes closest to being a tragic hero. His death
forms the final climax of the work, and Mark Antony's eulogy in the
closing lines I've always found touching: now that his enemy is dead,
Antony feels free to express openly his admiration for the man. (One
also thinks in this context of the unexpected sorrow Octavius feels for
Antony after Antony's death in "Antony and Cleopatra".)

In "Hamlet", III,ii, there is a passage where Polonius says that he had
played Caesar, and that he had been killed by Brutus. I imagine this was
a sort of in-joke: the actor playing Polonius would, most probably, have
played Caesar in "Julius Caesar", and the audience is reminded of a
recent hit. The joke is more effective if the actor playing Hamlet -
Burbage - had played Brutus in the earlier production. The in-joke
becomes all too real a few scenes later as Brutus/Hamlet kills
Caesar/Polonius all over again. If Burbage had, indeed, played both
Brutus and Hamlet, then this seems to confirm the importance of Brutus'
role in "Julius Caesar".

Regards,
Himadri

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           James J. Hill <
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Date:           Monday, 3 Feb 2003 17:32:47 -0500
Subject:        Protagonist in "Julius Caesar"

Jeff Barker asked who is the protagonist in "Julius Caesar."  Caesar? Or
Brutus?

How to answer?   "Julius Caesar" is a tragedy--i.e. a drama that shows
the fall of
the main character.  Who falls?  Caesar falls in the first half of the
play, while Brutus falls in the second half of the play--two separate
but linked tragedies.

Brutus is the antagonist in Caesar's fall, while Caesar's surrogate
(Antony with the aid of Caesar's ghost) is the antagonist in Brutus's
fall.  Who is the protagonist?

Both are in their separate but linked tragedies.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Velz <
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Date:           Monday, 03 Feb 2003 21:04:53 -0600
Subject:        Protagonist in JC

Jeff Barker (14.0179)  asks about the protagonist in JC and invites
arguments in favor of Brutus.

One reason for choosing Brutus as the protagonist is that he has a major
role to play in each of the two plots.  The main plot is of course the
assassination and its aftermath and the subplot is the struggle for
power between Brutus and Cassius in the conspiracy and beyond to the
battle of Philippi..  So Brutus no doubt has more lines than any other
character in the play.  It is his death that ends the play, but note
that Caesar is not forgotten in the death lines "Caesar now be still. /
I killed not thee with half so good a will."

One point worth reflecting on is that all the principals, those five who
appear both before and after the assassination, are interesting people.
They are, of course, Brutus, Cassius, Antony, and (oddly) little Lucius,
and Caesar if you count his re-appearance as his own ghost.  The
Houseman / Mankiewicz film of JC capitalized on this fact about the
characterization by casting a galaxy of talent at MGM.  Mason as Brutus,
Brando as Mark Antony, Calherne as Caesar, and Gielgud as Cassius.
Greer Garson as Calphurnia and Deborah Kerr as Portia were also
available as under contract to MGM at the time.  It is not Mason's play,
this film, nor is it Brando's or even Calherne's.  The protagonist of
the film is Rome and the process by which it moved from Republic toward
Empire.

Yours for plays and films,
John

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Alan Pierpoint <
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Date:           Tuesday, 4 Feb 2003 05:26:53 EST
Subject: 14.0179 Julius Caesar's Protagonist
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0179 Julius Caesar's Protagonist

Jeff-My students are having this debate now, and it's fun on several
levels.  Personally, I'm "for" Brutus, and my higher-achieving students
tend to agree.  Those with an authoritarian bent admire Caesar; the ones
who like to party all weekend and sleep in the back row and invent
creative excuses for not getting their homework done identify with
Antony.  Nobody chooses Cassius.  Maybe the point is that there isn't a
single protagonist.  We're dealing with human beings here.  It would be
great to have a leader that combined Antony's political acumen and
rhetorical skill with Brutus' principled commitment to the idea that men
should be citizens and not subjects, and the military genius of a Caesar
to defend that commitment.  But with Antony comes a swollen ego and lack
of principle, unless it be personal loyalty; with Brutus you get a
stubborn inability to see things as they are; with Caesar, a megalomania
that seems both weird and dangerous.  Perhaps Shakespeare's point, and
Plutarch's, is that "Rome" will never see the leader that combines the
good qualities and leaves out the bad.  That being true, I'd take my
chances with Brutus and his stoic republican virtues, the worst
alternative except for all the rest.

Alan Pierpoint / Southwestern Academy

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