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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: February ::
Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0279  Friday, 14 February 2003

[1]     From:   Himadri Chatterjee <
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        Date:   Thursday, 13 Feb 2003 16:01:43 +0000 (GMT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0255 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

[2]     From:   Steve Sohmer <
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        Date:   Thursday, 13 Feb 2003 11:20:17 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0267 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

[3]     From:   Michael B. Luskin <
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        Date:   Thursday, 13 Feb 2003 14:14:18 EST
        Subj:   Fwd: SHK 14.0267 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Himadri Chatterjee <
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Date:           Thursday, 13 Feb 2003 16:01:43 +0000 (GMT)
Subject: 14.0255 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0255 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

I do not doubt that Antony was speaking the truth when alone with
Caesar's body. But, as with everyone, his perception of what is the
"truth" is not an absolute quantity: it changes over time, and in
different circumstances.

Presented with the killing of Caesar, it is only natural that he should
think of his friend's killers as "butchers". But when Brutus is defeated
and no longer a threat, he is free to take a more generous view of his
enemy.

There are other parallels in Shakespeare. Prince Hal pokes fun at
Hotspur early in the play, but having killed him, I think he gives
expression to a genuine sense of loss. In both instances, he is true to
what he feels at the time. And in "Antony and Cleopatra", after the
death of Antony, Octavius can feel genuine grief for the man he had
previously referred to as a "ruffian".

In reality, uniting the country after a civil war would certainly have
been a pressing issue; but it is not mentioned at any point in the play
itself. In view of this, it would, I think, have been poor stagecraft to
have introduced so important a theme in so indirect a manner only in the
last few lines. On the other hand, if we take Antony's lines at face
value, we find the play ending with a eulogy to a flawed but nonetheless
admirable character. This eulogy is all the more touching because it
comes from his professed enemy, and provides a satisfactory dramatic
ending.

Regards, Himadri

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Sohmer <
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Date:           Thursday, 13 Feb 2003 11:20:17 EST
Subject: 14.0267 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0267 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

Dear Friends,

I don't see how anyone can find ambiguity in "Brutus' bastard hand /
Stabbed Julius Caesar" (4.1.138-39) ... unless Shakespeare meant it was
the hand and not Brutus which is the bastard. Here, in brief, is the
case for Brutus being Julius Caesar's illegitimate son.

First, let's look at Shakespeare's boldest statement of this fact in 2H6
and consider whether the context suggests that Shakespeare was being
literal or metaphorical about "Brutus' bastard hand." Suffolk's dying
declaration goes:

Great men oft die by vile Besonians;
A Roman sworder and banditto slave
Murdered sweet Tully; Brutus' bastard hand
Stabbed Julius Caesar; savage islanders
Pompey the Great; and Suffolk dies by pirates.
                                                       (2H6 4.1.136-40)

Is Shakespeare being literal or figurative? Well, the playwright
certainly causes Suffolk to pronounce a precise epitome of Cicero's
death as Plutarch reported it:

"So Ciceroes gate being shut, they [his murderers] entred the house by
force, and missing him, they asked them of the house what was become of
him. They aunswered, they could not tell. Howbeit there was a young boy
in the house called Philologus, a slave . . . [and] he told this
Herennius, [a Centurion] that his [Cicero's] servauntes caried him in a
liter towards the sea, through darke narrowe lanes, shad-owed with wodde
on either side . . .  Herennius did cruelly murder him."

Literally, a Roman sworder and banditto slave.

Indeed, Shakespeare's epitome of the death of Pompey is also precisely
accurate to his sources. Suffolk's "savage islanders" derives from
Plutarch's description of the villianous duo of "Theophanes Lesbian,"
who persuaded Pompey to land in Egypt, and the rhetorician "Theodotus of
Chio," who persuaded the Egyptian court Pompey should be murdered.

Contextualized this way, I don't see how anyone can make the argument
that Shakespeare's reference to "Brutus' bastard hand" was figurative or
metaphorical.

There's also a wealth of evidence in Shakespeare's sources that testify
to the bastardy of Brutus. Seutonius, who revels in retailing Caesar's
peccadillos, writes:

"But above the rest [of Caesar's 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: and
also unto whom during the civill warre [with Pompey], over and above
other free gifts, hee sold in open sale, faire Lands and most goodly
Manors at a very low price ..."

Shakespeare certainly knew Seutonius; his joke about what Cicero said
when Caesar swooned -- which Cassius wouldn't repeat -- is drawn from
this source.

Appian also shared the view that Brutus was illegitimate:

"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."

In his Life of Caesar, Plutarch records the same occasion, with emphasis
on Caesar's agitation until Brutus was found:

"and it is reported, that Caesar was very sory for him [Brutus], when he
could not immediately be founde after the battell, and that he rejoyced
againe, when he knewe he was alyve ...."

In his Life of Brutus, Plutarch reiterates and amplifies the occasion:

"It is reported that Caesar did not forgette him [Brutus], and that he
gave his Captaines charge before the battell, that they shoulde beware
they killed not Brutus in fight, and if he yeelded willinglie unto them,
that then they shoude bring him unto him: but if he resisted, and woulde
not be taken, then that they shoulde lette him goe, and doe him no
hurte."

Plutarch suggests Caesar's motive for sparing and honoring the young
man:

"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."

Plutarch is unequivocal that Caesar believed unequivocally that Brutus
was his natural son. 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 . . . ."

Now, who are you going to believe? The naysayers or Julius Caesar?

Steve

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Michael B. Luskin <
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Date:           Thursday, 13 Feb 2003 14:14:18 EST
Subject: 14.0267 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist
Comment:        Fwd: SHK 14.0267 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

Yesterday I posted to the effect that Brutus was Caesar's son, period.
Today I learn it ain't necessarily so, and now so do you.

Mbl

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