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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: February ::
Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0296  Monday, 17 February 2003

[1]     From:   Steve Sohmer <
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        Date:   Friday, 14 Feb 2003 11:11:32 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0279 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

[2]     From:   Tom Pendleton <
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        Date:   Friday, 14 Feb 2003 22:05:12 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 14.0279 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonis

[3]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Friday, 14 Feb 2003 13:30:17 -0400
        Subj:   RE: SHK 14.0279 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

[4]     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Friday, 14 Feb 2003 22:46:19 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0279 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Sohmer <
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Date:           Friday, 14 Feb 2003 11:11:32 EST
Subject: 14.0279 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0279 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

Dear Friends,

Dr. Chatterjee suggests that "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." With respect, I believe this is wishful thinking coupled with a
misreading of the character of Brutus.

Brutus, Caesar's illegitimate son, is brought into the conspiracy by
Casuist's flattery, e.g., "there was a Brutus once, etc." Brutus is
moved to action by anonymous letters written by Cassias and pitched at
his window -- items a wise man would reject out of hand. And Brutus
can't remember the date when the whole playhouse knows it's the eve of
the Ides of March.  Brutus hasn't given a thought to the chaos likely to
ensue after the assassination of a head of government -- indeed, Cicero
criticizes this stupidity in one of his letters to Atticus. From the
pulpit Brutus makes a truly bad speech which tees-up the ball for Antony
(who knocks the crowd for six). Before Philippi, Brutus accuses Cassius
of greed ... which is very funny, since Brutus was notorious for lending
money at exorbitant interest. Brutus pretends not to have heard of
Portia's death -- an egregious and unmanly lie. And his mistimed attack
loses the battle of Philippi.

In JC Shakespeare does give us a truly felt encomium: Titinius and
Messala pronounce it over the body of Cassius. But Shakespeare gives
Brutus's encomium to Antony, the liar. By the way, Julius Caesar knew
Antony for a liar. Remember their exchange when Caesar said,

"Yond Cassius has a leane and hungry looke,
He thinkes too much: such men are dangerous."

To this, Antony replied

"Feare him not Caesar, he's not dangerous,
He is a Noble Roman, and well given."

Antony's remark seems innocent enough, and Caesar appears to take it at
face value. But, a moment later, when Caesar turns to leave the stage,
he instructs Antony

"Come on my right hand, for this eare is deafe,
And tell me truely, what thou think'st of him."

Hope this helps.

Steve

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tom Pendleton <
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Date:           Friday, 14 Feb 2003 22:05:12 -0500
Subject: 14.0279 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist
Comment:        RE: SHK 14.0279 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

The reference in 2H6 shows that Shakespeare knew the story about Brutus
being Caesar's illegitimate son, but in Julius Caesar, he left it out.
I'd guess he left it out because he didn't want it in.

Tom Pendleton

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Friday, 14 Feb 2003 13:30:17 -0400
Subject: 14.0279 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist
Comment:        RE: SHK 14.0279 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

Steve Sohmer notes that references to Brutus's bastardy occur in Henry
VI.  However, if we take biographical details from Henry VI to apply to
other plays in which the same characters are mentioned, then we have to
imagine Falstaff rising from the dead after Henry V in order to disgrace
himself.  Or maybe he only faked his death, like Elvis.

References to Shakespeare's historical sources hardly prove the
relationship between the fictive characters.  Not only does Shakespeare
not always follow his sources, he sometimes alters them deliberately, as
in the removal of Cordelia's suicide from King Lear.

It's been a while since I read JC, but it strikes me that the question
which should be asked is not whether Shakespeare intended Brutus to be
understood as Caesar's illegitimate child, but less is made of this
blood relationship, especially if it's as clear in the sources as Dr.
Sohmer alleges.

Yours sincerely,
Sean Lawrence.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Friday, 14 Feb 2003 22:46:19 -0500
Subject: 14.0279 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0279 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

Once more, dear friends. . . .

>Plutarch is unequivocal that Caesar believed unequivocally that Brutus
>was his natural son. This sorts well with Seutonius' report . . .

The question is not whether Caesar believed that Brutus was his son, or
Suetonius (whom to claim as a "source" of *JC* requires more than the
repetition of one anecdote), or indeed whether Shakespeare believed it
when he wrote *2H6*.

The question, as initially stated by Steve Sohmer, is (a) whether some
large fraction of Shakespeare's audience took Brutus' bastardy for
granted to the point where Shakespeare could use it to ironize crucial
speeches of *Julius Caesar*-  ironize the entire proposition that Brutus
is noble - without explicitly invoking it and (b) whether Plutarch
established the point: "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".

(b)  Plutarch does NOT state that Brutus was Caesar's bastard son.  He
does identify Brutus as a descendant of Junius Brutus - not a forebear
either of Caesar or of Brutus' mother, Servilia; later, he reports that
Caesar THOUGHT Brutus his child.

(a)  Shakespeare passes up several dozen opportunities to refresh his
audience's memories concerning the possibility that Brutus is Caesar's
son, both before and after the assassination.  I can imagine no
situation more inherently dramatic than that of a son, legitimate or
illegitimate, called by his political beliefs to oppose his father to
the point of stabbing him in the Senate house.  But such a conflict is
precisely what Shakespeare chooses NOT to dramatize.  Perhaps Mr. Sohmer
can tell us why--and why not only Cassius but others (including, most
notably, Plutarch, and presumably those members of the audience not in
on the secret of Brutus' illegitimacy) view Brutus as noble.

David Evett

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