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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: February ::
Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0313  Wednesday, 19 February 2003

[1]     From:   C. David Frankel <
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        Date:   Monday, 17 Feb 2003 10:29:20 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 14.0296 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

[2]     From:   Himadri Chatterjee <
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        Date:   Monday, 17 Feb 2003 22:14:34 +0000 (GMT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0296 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

[3]     From:   Cliff Ronan <
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        Date:   Monday, 17 Feb 2003 17:45:49 -0600
        Subj:   The Protagonist in Julius Caesar

[4]     From:   Steve Sohmer <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 18 Feb 2003 10:07:49 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0296 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           C. David Frankel <
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Date:           Monday, 17 Feb 2003 10:29:20 -0500
Subject: 14.0296 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist
Comment:        RE: SHK 14.0296 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

Although I find the argument and information about Brutus's possible
relationship with Caesar interesting, I don't think it bears much on the
play -- although I agree with Steve Sohmer's larger point that Antony's
lines about Brutus at the play's end do not reflect his "actual"
feelings.

As to David Evett's challenge:

>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.

one might point out that numerous characters in the play call other
character's noble (or synonyms) and that Antony makes mincemeat out of
that appellation in the funeral oration:  "The noble Brutus" being just
as ironic as "Brutus is an honorable man."

cdf

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Himadri Chatterjee <
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Date:           Monday, 17 Feb 2003 22:14:34 +0000 (GMT)
Subject: 14.0296 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0296 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

I think much of the disagreement between Dr Sohmer and myself regarding
the character of Brutus stems from our very different approaches. Dr
Sohmer makes use of much external evidence regarding the character of
Brutus. Interesting though these are in themselves, I find it hard to
see what bearing such evidence can have on the Brutus as presented by
Shakespeare in the play. Shakespeare was rarely averse to rewriting
history, as plays such as "Richard III" or "Macbeth" testify. How many
in Shakespeare's audience - or, for that matter, a modern audience -
would have been familiar with the writings of Plutarch, or of Cicero?
While Shakespeare may well have dropped a few learned references for
those who were, it really doesn't seem to me credible that he would base
important aspects of characterisation on relatively esoteric learning.
He would surely have wanted at least the salient points of the play to
be intelligible to the bulk of his audience. The important aspects of
Brutus, as he appears in the play, must be found in the text of the
play. If this were not so, we may well declare, based on what we know of
the historic Macbeth, that Shakespeare's Macbeth wasn't particularly
evil after all.

That the historic Brutus was Caesar's illegitimate son is currently
being disputed here by those more qualified to do so than I. But even if
the historic Brutus were to be Caesar's illegitimate son, I see no hard
evidence in the text of the play that Shakespeare's Brutus was. The
lines from the play adduced in favour of the illegitimacy argument are
far from explicit. Once again, I do not find it credible that
Shakespeare, having intended so important a relationship between Caesar
and Brutus, should communicate it only by hints.

It is not mere "Casuist flattery" that brings Brutus into the
conspiracy. Brutus is already troubled:
"Vexed I am/ of late with passions of some difference". Brutus would not
have Caesar king, though he loves him well. True, he is fond of
declaring that he loves honour -  "set honour in one eye and death
'th'other", he would look on both indifferently - and that he loves the
name of honour more than he fears death: but this self-regard does not
negate the sincerity of his words.

True, a wise man would have rejected anonymous letters: but lack of
wisdom does not denote lack of sincerity. As he makes clear in his
soliloquy in II,i, he genuinely fears for Rome, and for its citizens:
unlike Cassius, he is not motivated by envy. It is hard to dismiss
Antony's final eulogy precisely because Antony is so right in what he
says: the other conspirators may have been motivated by envy, but "he
only, in a general and honest thought and common good to all, made one
of them". We may question Brutus' judgement in this respect, but not his
sincerity or his integrity.

As for Brutus not knowing that this was the eve of the Ides of March, I
don't see what it demonstrates other than the extremely disturbed state
of Brutus' mind.

As Dr Sohmer demonstrates, Brutus' lack of judgement is disastrous, and
his speech to the public is poor.  But once again, this does not cast
doubt on his integrity. As for Brutus' lending money at exorbitant rate,
this does not appear in the text of the play. If Shakespeare had
considered this important to his characterisation of Brutus, one wonders
why he didn't mention it.

As for Brutus' pretending that he had not heard of his wife's death:
according to the notes in my Arden edition, many scholars feel that
there were two versions of Portia's death, and that both were included
in the Folio text by mistake. But even supposing that this were not so,
this scene could be interpreted in several ways. The report Brutus had
previously heard of his wife's death may have been not entirely
reliable, and he later wants to ascertain the truth beyond reasonable
doubt. Or, perhaps, he did not want to depict his emotions openly before
the others.  There are several ways of interpreting this scene, none of
them injurious to Brutus' character. After all, what could Brutus have
hoped to gain by lying on this point?

I agree that Titinius and Messala pronounce a "truly felt encomium" over
the body of Cassius. But the horror felt by Dardanius and by Clitus when
Brutus asks them to kill him is no less impressive: even in defeat,
Brutus is loved and respected.

If Caesar knew Antony to be a liar, one wonders why he kept him so close
as a trusted friend. Yes, he does say "tell me truly what thou think'st
of him". This could mean: "Tell me truly, and don't lie like you
normally do." But it is more likely, I think, that Caesar merely means:
"Tell me truly, and don't be too polite and tactful about him."

Brutus, is certainly a flawed character: no argument there. As Dr Sohmer
notes, his judgement is poor indeed. To this, one may add an intolerable
self-regard and self-righteousness. But he was also selfless: nothing he
did was in self-interest. He had the interests of Rome at heart. He was
a man of integrity, and well-respected for being so. The decision to
kill Caesar was a painful one for him: it is possibly the wrong
decision, but his motives were entirely selfless and honorable. Whatever
the historic Brutus may have been, the Brutus in Shakespeare' play was,
I submit, an admirable man despite his many flaws.

Best regards,
Himadri

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Cliff Ronan <
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Date:           Monday, 17 Feb 2003 17:45:49 -0600
Subject:        The Protagonist in Julius Caesar

In Roman history, the Ides of March were officially denoted the
Parricidium, the day when the Father of the Country was slain. But did
Shakespeare want to let Brutus appear as a literal parricide, no matter
how unwilling a one?

Shakespeare's Caesar treats Brutus tenderly--in almost a fatherly
manner.  Yet despite a character's claim in *Henry VI* that Brutus was
Caesar's illegitimate son, Shakespeare made no clear allusion to the
idea in *Julius Caesar*. The latter play's sole reference to coining, a
code word for bastardy, occurs several scenes later than the
assassination, in a context where money, not Caesarian bloodlines, is
paramount.

Furies enforce fractures in the law of parricide. If the playwright had
wanted the audience to sense a literal familial tie between Caesar and
Brutus, Shakespeare could have had Brutus' "evil spirit" spell it out.
Or the text could have repeated or imitated the last words of Suetonius'
Caesar: "kai su, teknon?"--'And you too, my son!" The 1587 *Mirror for
Magistrates*, for instance, has Caesar exclaim, "And Brutus thou my
sonne (quoth I) whom erst I loved best?" (Dorsch ed., Arden 1955, p.67).
Instead, Shakespeare chooses to repeat the phrase "Et tu, Brute," used
in *The True Tragedie of Richard Duke of Yorke"  (printed 1595). An
Englished version of this phrase appears also in the anonymous *Caesar's
Revenge*, which was published after the mounting of  *Julius Caesar* but
was composed about the same time as *The True Tragedie*--that is to say,
four or five years before Shakespeare's *Caesar.*

For whatever reason, Shakespeare does not want this Roman play to
resonate with literal parricide in the conspirators' camp, only in the
Triumvirs'.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Sohmer <
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Date:           Tuesday, 18 Feb 2003 10:07:49 EST
Subject: 14.0296 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0296 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

Dear Friends,

First, a mea culpa ... for allowing my spell-checker to turn Cassius
into a casuist with an affinity for cassias.

Sean Lawrence has touched upon two important points; one, JC is a play
many Shakespeareans read in middle school and not since; two, "Not only
does Shakespeare not always follow his sources, he sometimes alters them
deliberately ...." He certainly did this in JC; the spectre I'm raising
is that Shakespeare did so knowing that "the wiser sort" would recognize
these alterations and draw from them certain inferences about the play
on the brand new Globe stage before them. Let me cite one easy example:
Plutarch wrote that Caesar had 23 wounds. But in Act Five Octavius
refers to the "three and thirtie" wounds of divus Julius. Now, there are
scholars who believe this is a typo. I don't.

Note to Dave Evett: Shakespeare doesn't refer directly to Brutus'
bastardy in JC for the same reason that Hamlet's "dram of eale" speech
is present in Q2 but not in Q1 or F.

All the best,
Steve

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