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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: February ::
Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonis
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0336  Friday, 21 February 2003

[1]     From:   Himadri Chatterjee <
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        Date:   Thursday, 20 Feb 2003 13:29:41 +0000 (GMT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0326 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

[2]     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Thursday, 20 Feb 2003 12:39:25 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0326 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Himadri Chatterjee <
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Date:           Thursday, 20 Feb 2003 13:29:41 +0000 (GMT)
Subject: 14.0326 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0326 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

To recap on previous conversation:

Me: As for Brutus' pretending that he had not heard of his wife's death:
<snip>.  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?

Larry Weiss: The admiration of Messala and Titinius for his steadfast
stoicism.  Note that Cassius has told Brutus: "Of your philosophy you
make no use / If you give place to accidental evils" and Brutus then
tells him "No man bears sorrow better -- Portia is dead.

Me again: Cassius' lines quoted above were spoken before he knew of
Portia death, i.e. before he knew of the nature of the "accidental evil"
to which Brutus is reacting. Note also that in the later scene with
Messala and Titinius, Cassius praises Brutus' stoicism. If Brutus was,
indeed, being dishonest to make a show of his stoicism, Cassius' lines
are inexplicable.

****

Me: nothing he did was in self-interest

Larry Weiss: Oh?  Who would have been elected first consul, dictator, or
whatever, if the Second Triumvirate had been defeated?

Me again: If this had been an important factor in Brutus' motivation, it
is curious indeed that he had never mentioned it - not even in his
soliloquy in II,i.

Regards, Himadri

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Thursday, 20 Feb 2003 12:39:25 -0500
Subject: 14.0326 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0326 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

To adapt a line from Robert Frost, something there is that does not love
a hero.

I have only a philosophical quarrel with Hawkesish in-your-face
presentism, such as might produce a reading of Brutus as a familiar kind
of self-satisfied aristocratic prig who, having been kowtowed to all his
life for his ancestry, education at the classical equivalent of Eton and
Cambridge, socially important marriage, and modest success in some
modest military and civic posts, is persuaded that his understanding of
the way things ought to be is Right (in more ways than one), and joins a
murderous cabal whose botched coup not only leads to exactly the kind of
autocratic rather than oligarchic government it was supposed to
forestall, but does so at the cost of some hundreds or thousands of
lives that might have been spared.

But trying to debunk the understanding of Brutus that has dominated
criticism of *JC* since Johnson, as a type of the man whose idealist
philosophy is savagely rebuked by the actualities of power politics, by
adducing extratextual elements such as the possibility of his being
Caesar's bastard son seems to me merely irrational.  The irrationality
is only amplified by arguments such as the following: "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."  I've just read Harold Jenkins two-page note on this famous crux in
*Ham* (1.4.36-48, Arden 449-52); it proposes that the root of the crux
is the compositor's failure to understand the manuscript text he was
working from, surveys dozens of analyses and proposed emendations, but
says nothing to connect these lines with a dramatic strategy by which an
author excludes from explicit mention in the text a fact (in Steve
Sohmer's construction of *JC*, Brutus' true paternity) that is crucial
to the critic's reading of the play.  If the issue is that important, it
will not usually appear once only, in a single speech of two or three
lines, in a phrasing so ambiguous that it might confuse the typesetter,
any more than the illegitimacy of Falconbridge or Don John or Edmund, or
Cassius' jealousy, or Octavius' cold-blooded ambition, or Antony's
oratorical gifts are conveyed to the audience by hints only.  The only
argument I can imagine for a procedure such as Sohmer proposes would
involve some late Tudor political situation such that introducing
questions of legitimacy into discussions of the transference of power
(James VI of Scotland as Elizabeth's bastard son?) would bring down the
censor's wrath.  If Steve Sohmer knows about something like this, I want
him to tell me.

David Evett

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