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Home :: Archive :: 2009 :: July ::
Julius Caesar, 4.3
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0367  Thursday, 9 July 2009

[1] From:   Lynn Brenner <
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     Date:   Friday, 3 Jul 2009 13:32:46 EDT
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0348 Julius Caesar, 4.3

[2] From:   Joseph Egert <
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     Date:   Thursday, 9 Jul 2009 11:42:45 -0700 (PDT)
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0348 Julius Caesar, 4.3


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Lynn Brenner <
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Date:       Friday, 3 Jul 2009 13:32:46 EDT
Subject: 20.0348 Julius Caesar, 4.3
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0348 Julius Caesar, 4.3

Louis Swilley writes that he has never seen a production of 'Julius 
Caesar' in which actor and director emphasize Brutus 'realizing his 
terrible mistake' in Act 4, Scene 3.

("In this scene, Brutus is made to realize that although Cassius has 
certainly worked against the interests of the country Brutus loves, he 
is spared the fate Brutus provided Caesar.")

I'm not surprised. I can't imagine how the scene could be staged or 
played to convey this interpretation, which I've never heard before.

In a brilliant analysis, 'Political Characters of Shakespeare' 
(originally published in 1945) John Palmer writes that this scene "has 
been almost universally admired . . . Shakespeare's contemporary 
audience received it with so much applause that it is specially 
mentioned in the commendatory verses by Digges printed in the first 
folio and with a modern audience it has never been known to miss its mark.."

Palmer then quotes Dr. Johnson, Coleridge, and Bradley, who praise the 
scene for the moving power of its humanity, and continues,

"Why is it that audiences, from generation to generation, have left the 
theatre with this particular passage so vivid in their minds? Why does 
this episode of the two men quarrelling like children in the tent of 
Brutus stand out so brightly? [...] The essential business of 
Shakespeare's political plays is to show how the private person comes to 
terms with his political duties, offices or ambitions, and the dramatic 
climax is always to be found when the protagonists come before us 
stripped of their public pretentions. So far we have had to do with 
Brutus and Cassius as noble Romans committed to a political enterprise. 
In this [intimate] scene, the two leaders put off their public characters...

"Brutus, the stoic moralist and man of preconceived ideas, is to unmask. 
We are to see him deeply moved by the simplest of human feelings. He is 
to quarrel with his friend and make it up under the stress of an emotion 
which compels him in the end even to overlook the cause of his 
displeasure and bury all unkindness is a cup of wine. Cassius, the 
political leader who drove Brutus to the killing of Caesar and would 
have killed Antony as well, is to be revealed in a mood which levels him 
to the least sophisticated of men, to appear simply as one who loves his 
friend, acknowledges his rash humour and cannot drink too much of 
Brutus' love.

"The effect of this abrupt descent from the political to the human plane 
of experience is poignant in the extreme. . . . It secures for Brutus 
and Casius, despite the pitiful ruin of their enterprise and the yet 
more pitiful collapse of their integrity of mind and purpose, a sympathy 
which illumines all the concluding scenes of the tragedy."

In this scene, writes Palmer:  "Brutus reveals himself as a moralist who 
shrinks from the sordid expedients of political life but who is 
nevertheless driven to claim the advantages derived from them . . . He 
lectures Cassius for raising money and delivers a speech expressing high 
distaste for the methods by which such money is obtained. He then hotly 
complains that Cassius has refused to send him part of the proceeds, 
coupling this complaint with a statement that he could never descend so 
low as to collect it for himself:

        `I did send to you
        For certain sums of gold, which you denied me;
        For I can raise no money by vile means:
        By heaven, I had rather coin my heart,
        And drop my blood for drachmas, than to wring
        From the hard hands of peasants their vile trash
        By any indirection.'

"Brutus is still the political moralist who recoils from the realities 
of political leadership. He is likewise, here as always, the gentle 
Brutus. He maintains his attitude of conscious rectitude to the last; 
but, once tempers are cooled, his natural generosity of mind and his 
genuine personal affection for Cassius disarms him completely... The 
quarrel ends on both sides in a reconciliation of two friends, the 
dearer for having fallen out."

Lynn Brenner

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Joseph Egert <
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Date:       Thursday, 9 Jul 2009 11:42:45 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 20.0348 Julius Caesar, 4.3
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0348 Julius Caesar, 4.3

On the Brutus-Cassius spat in JULIUS CAESAR (IV:2), Louis Swilley asks:

"Does Brutus realize his terrible mistake at this point? If it is 
interpreted that he does not, doesn't that make him look a bit too 
stupid for the dignity of the character?"

Elsewhere, Felix DeVilliers writes:

"When Ophelia is described as the Virgin Mary, she loses her 
fascination, she loses herself."

Not only does Ophelia not lose her fascination, she becomes infinitely 
more fascinating. It is the density and intricacy of figure and 
metaphor, extending to allegory, which makes Shakespeare endlessly 
intriguing to scholars and critics alike. In Shakespeare, a cigar is 
never just a cigar. Never!

Nor is a knife merely a blade.

To illustrate from JULIUS CAESAR, itself a type of John's APOCALYPSE, 
Casca voices disgust at the tearful indulgence shown Caesar after his 
falling fit:

   "If Caesar had stabbed their mothers, they would have done no less." 
(I:2)

A creative film director would have his Brutus in close-up wince at 
these words. Shakespeare alerts us through Antony's conju-ring funeral 
speech of the "private griefs" (III.2) behind the conspirators' 
professed idealism. In repayment for lusty Caesar's 'stabbing' their 
wives and mothers (Servilia?) with his fleshy awl, their metal awls have 
pierced new bleeding wombs in Caesar's flesh. The assassins believe they 
are made whole by pricking these new holes. He who has bewhored their 
womenfolk is himself now turned into the Great Whore of Babylon, 
gang-raped unto death. The absorbing question that remains is whether 
and to what extent Shakespeare's Brutus is himself conscious of his own 
parricidal impulse and Caesarist ambition (that 'evil spirit')?

For more, see:

     http://www.shaksper.net/archives/2005/1702.html

Joe Egert

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