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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: February ::
Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0255  Wednesday, 12 February 2003

[1]     From:   Steve Sohmer <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 11 Feb 2003 10:10:30 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0244 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

[2]     From:   C. David Frankel <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 11 Feb 2003 22:28:54 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 14.0244 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Sohmer <
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Date:           Tuesday, 11 Feb 2003 10:10:30 EST
Subject: 14.0244 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0244 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

Dear Friends,

Dr. Chatterjee asks why with Brutus dead (in JC 5.5) would Antony lie
when he declares his late rival the noblest Roman of them all?

Shakespeare wrote JC for two audiences: those who didn't know their
Plutarch and those who did. For those who didn't, Antony's speech seems
a generous encomium. For those who knew Plutarch, it was hilarious.

Brutus was Caesar's bastard. Anyone who doesn't think Shakespeare and
"the wiser sort" were aware of this should remember Suffolk's dying
declaration in 2H6: "Brutus' bastard hand Stabbed Julius Caesar" (2H6
4.1.138-9).  Shakespeare's Cassius and Antony combine to remind us of
Brutus ignoble birth; after Brutus leaves the stage in 1.2 Cassius
rambles on about Brutus being "noble" but his "honorable mettle can be
wrought." Then in his funeral oration, Antony describes Brutus as
"Caesar's angel." The noble-angel was a coin of metal -- these coining
puns are Shakespeare's standard metaphor for bastardizing. So when
Antony declares Brutus's life "gentle," and calls him "the noblest Roman
of them all," that's funny.

Brutus's illegitimacy also adds tremendous poignancy to his line to
Portia: "O ye gods render me worthy of this noble wife." Portia was
Cato's daughter, the very cream of Roman aristocracy. And Cato really
was the noblest Roman of them all. Young Cato reminds us of Brutus's
sullied birth during the battle. Brutus says, "Yet Country-men: O yet,
hold up your heads." To which Young Cato replies: "What Bastard doth
not?"

Hope this helps.

Steve

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           C. David Frankel <
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 >
Date:           Tuesday, 11 Feb 2003 22:28:54 -0500
Subject: 14.0244 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist
Comment:        RE: SHK 14.0244 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

Antony has more reason to speak the truth when he is alone with the dead
Julius -- he certainly doesn't need to pump himself up.  As to why he
would lie at the play's end -- well, there's a need to have a way to
unite Rome after the civil war (compare Creon's decision to bury
Eteocles and not Polynikes in Antigone).  He also is positioning himself
for the coming struggle with Octavius.  It is, perhaps, worth noting
that Octavius takes control of Brutus's body and has the last word:

So call the field to rest, and let's away,/To part the glories of this
happy day.

Of course, lots of folks just think I'm too cynical.

cdf

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