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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: February ::
Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0223  Friday, 7 February 2003

[1]     From:   Steve Sohmer <
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        Date:   Thursday, 6 Feb 2003 09:58:52 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0212 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

[2]     From:   Don Bloom <
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        Date:   Thursday, 6 Feb 2003 09:19:22 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0212 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

[3]     From:   Mike Jensen <
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        Date:   Thursday, 06 Feb 2003 08:36:28 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0212 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

[4]     From:   C. David Frankel <
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        Date:   Thursday, 6 Feb 2003 15:46:54 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 14.0212 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Sohmer <
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Date:           Thursday, 6 Feb 2003 09:58:52 EST
Subject: 14.0212 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0212 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

Dear Friends,

Claude questions Cassius's "eyesight fatally flawed." But recall that
Cassius confesses "my sight was ever thick" and sends Pindarus to
overlook the battle and report. Pindarus' report is bad news (and false)
upon which Cassius becomes a suicide. Shakespeare here alters Plutarch;
in the history Cassius hears the sounds of battle and (erroneously)
deduces for himself that his cause his lost. What's at foot here is
Shakespeare playing on Cassius's name, which was Gaius Cassius Longinus.
I needn't remind you how Longinus's sight was cured by killing a god.

Tony makes a good point: "In JC, Marc Antony's last act pronouncement on
Brutus, beginning 'This was the noblest Roman of them all. . .' fits the
bill clearly and should resolve all doubt." But that is to overlook that
Antony is a great liar; his homily about being with Caesar on the
evening after her overcame the Nervii is a lie; Antony only joined
Caesar's army years after that victory. And, of course, Antony pretends
to know which wound in Caesar's vestment each conspirator made; he could
not know this, having been absent (as he was for the battle with the
Nervii).

I have always suspected JC was written as an ensemble piece because,
among other reasons, it was purpose-written as the premiere presentation
at the new Bankside Globe, and Shakespeare's intention was to showcase
the wide range of talents in the company perhaps as a contrast to the
star-driven company at the Swan. There are hints in the text that
Shakespeare played Caesar -- such as Antony's "when Caesar says 'do
this' it is performed."

Hope this helps.

Steve

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Don Bloom <
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Date:           Thursday, 6 Feb 2003 09:19:22 -0600
Subject: 14.0212 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0212 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

Tony Burton writes

>Shakespeare is in some respects enormously consistent, and one such
>respect is that his tragic closings regularly end with a pronouncement
>on the protagonist by the senior (in rank, knowledge, or other basis for
>authority) survivor.  In JC, Marc Antony's last act pronouncement on
>Brutus, beginning "This was the noblest Roman of them all. . ." fits the
>bill clearly and should resolve all doubt.

Now this is an argument I can understand. It makes sense to me because
it accords with what I know, not only about the drama of Shakespeare,
but about all successful drama. In my usual rebellious way, I concluded
many years ago that the accepted wisdom was wrong and that Caesar was
rightly the eponymous figure because his overpowering greatness ("the
foremost man of all this world," Brutus calls him) so completely
dominates the play -- even after his death.

But now I have to re-think it. Burton's point is real evidence of what
Shakespeare wanted the effect of his play to be. On the one hand, Antony
would hardly deliver a pronouncement on Caesar (again). On the other, if
he wanted our final, and pre-eminent, reaction to be grief over
greatness lost in the death of Caesar, he would have structured the play
to allow (even compel) Antony (or someone) to make that pronouncement.

To me, that's the place start when making judgments.

Cheers,
don

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mike Jensen <
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Date:           Thursday, 06 Feb 2003 08:36:28 -0800
Subject: 14.0212 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0212 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

I'm surprised by this discussion, especially after my pal John Velz and
others pointed the way.  Playing pin the tail on the protagonist is a
fruitless game.  Who is the protagonist in *Comedy of Errors* or *A
Midsummer Night's Dream*?  Some plays are ensemble plays.  True, there
is a tradition of actor managers taking certain parts in these plays,
but that came after the fact.  I accept that some plays have multiple
major parts.  I have also witnessed the protagonist game leading to
folly.  Here is one example.

I actually heard a professor say that *Othello* is a failure because the
play is titled *Othello*, but Iago is the most interesting character.
She concluded that Shakespeare had let down his protagonist.  I pointed
out that Iago has the longer part, and it is probably longer for a
reason, which she somehow felt proved her point.  I then suggested that
Henry IV is clearly not the major role in either of his plays, but that
did not dissuade her.  She was simply silly.

I think that trying to cram Shakespeare, or any writer, into categories
that do not fit them is just as silly.  I believe the fact that there is
no clear and obvious protagonist strongly suggests *JC* is not a good
fit for this category.

All the best,
Mike Jensen

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           C. David Frankel <
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Date:           Thursday, 6 Feb 2003 15:46:54 -0500
Subject: 14.0212 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist
Comment:        RE: SHK 14.0212 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

Perhaps it's my modern (or post-) sensibility, but it is hard for me to
read or hear Antony as speaking what he believes to be the truth.  He's
putting out the "official" story.  His true true view of Brutus, I
think, is uttered earlier -- to Caesar's dead body:  "butchers."  He
goes on to say "Thou [Caesar] art the ruins of the noblest man/That ever
lived in the tide of times."  I see no reason to believe he changes his
mind to think that Brutus was the noblest Roman of them all.

As to Cassius and his vision problem -- Caesar points out that "he sees
quite through the deeds of men," and he certainly sees that Antony is a
threat -- at almost every step of the way he sees things clearly -- and
interprets them correctly.  His one great failure is misreading the
signs reported to him by Pindarus regarding Titinius's end.

I think that the whole problem of interpreting signs is central to the
play for, as Cicero says, "But men may construe things after their
fashion/Clean from the purpose of the things themselves."

cdf

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