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Julius Caesar was almost certainly written in 1600 or 1601; and in character as well as in date it marks a transition from the English historical plays which had preceded it to the great reflective tragedies which were to follow. Its verbal style is at once strong and transparent, as free from the fanciful ingenuity of the poet's earlier manner as from the prodigal and sometimes confusing richness of the later plays. "Here at last," says Mr. Barrett Wendell, “with full mastery, Shakespeare uses his superb, unpassionate style to express a mood which allies Julius Cæsar to what is coming as clearly as that style allies it to what is past. For, far beyond any other play we have as yet considered, Julius Cæsar involves a sense of the lasting irony of history, an understanding of the blind fate which must always seem to make men its sport."

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The central figure in the play is Brutus rather than Cæsar ; and the rest of the characters are, speaking roughly, either complements or foils to Brutus. What sort of man Brutus was had better be learned gradually by marking throughout the drama his words and acts, the play of circumstance upon his temperament and character, and the tragedy of his inevitable failure to achieve what he had risked all but honor to achieve. It should be understood at the outset, however, that while Cassius the cynic and Antony the sentimentalist act from motives of conscious self-seeking, Brutus, whatever ambition may lurk unrecognized in his brave and simple heart, is mainly urged by the love of right and the love of Rome.



One of the hardest things a dramatist has to do is to manage the opening scenes of a play. The theme and the setting must

be suggested without making the audience feel that it is being informed. The present scene, for example, serves merely to prepare the spectator for what is to follow. None of the actors are to appear again; they really perform the function of the "chorus" in the older drama. Yet the scene is full of spirit, and makes one feel as well as imagine the fickleness of the mob, the disaffection of the nobles, and the general instability of the Roman state.

3. mechanical. A word to which Shakespeare habitually attaches a contemptuous meaning. See A Midsummer Night's Dream, III. ii. 9; 2 Henry IV., V. v. 38; Coriolanus, V. iii. 83.

4, 5. without the sign of your profession. There appears to have been no such law in Rome as is here suggested; but it is really a London group of tradesmen whom Shakespeare here presents, and they may have been under some such restriction within his memory.

16. bad soles. A pun was a legitimate figure of speech in Shakespeare's day; it is not unusual to find puns in passages of great seriousness. See I. ii. 156 below; and Macbeth, II. ii. 56, 57.

33. to rejoice in his triumph. Caesar's fifth triumph, celebrating his victories in Spain over the sons of Pompey ("Pompey's blood," 53 below).

69. the feast of Lupercal. The Lupercalia, in honor of Lupercus, the god of fertility, were held on February 15. "After certain sacrifices and other rites, the Luperci (or priests of Lupercus) ran through the city wearing only a cincture of goatskin, and striking with leather thongs all whom they met. This performance was a symbolic purification of the land and the people. The festal day was called dies februata (from februare, to purify), the month in which it occurred Februarius, and the god himself Februus." (Rolfe.)


In this scene the real action begins with the dramatic incident of the soothsayer's warning. All the principal persons of the drama appear, the keynote of the character of each is struck, and the different forces which are to work together toward the tragic goal are set in motion.

Cæsar is from the outset deliberately underrated in order to give greater dignity to the figure of Brutus.

40. passions of some difference strongly conflicting



41. conceptions=subjects for thought.

77. profess myself "give myself away."

215-322. This passage excellently illustrates Shakespeare's method of varying verse and prose. The general principle appears to be that whenever the thought is upon a high plane, or the feeling at high tension, he employs blank verse; elsewhere prose (or, in passages of light sentiment, rhymed couplets). The gruff and crabbed humor of Casca best displays itself in prose. The questions of Brutus and Cassius are in verse; except for the supper invitation, which Cassius gives in abrupt in Casca's own style. prose

243. the rabblement.

Casca's contemptuous speech about the populace is too often paralleled in Shakespeare to leave room for doubt as to the opinion of the poet himself; he had an absolute distrust of democracy.

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1. Cicero is introduced here to play a brief part, and vanish from the drama. To concern him with the action would be to distract the attention of the audience from Brutus and the tragedy of his undoing.

3-32. It is interesting that it should be the bluff and jesting Casca who is stirred to terror and eloquence by these portents. Omens in Shakespeare play as prominent a part as ghosts. See, for example, Macbeth, II. iii. and iv.

30. These are their reasons. These" such and such." 35. clean from the purpose= entirely contrary to the real meaning.

54-56. It is the part of men to fear and tremble, etc. The speech shows Casca's simplicity, and prepares us to see Cassius manage him easily.

68. monstrous prodigious, line 77 below. Neither word has kept its distinctness of meaning in modern use.

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126. Pompey's porch. The theatre and Curia of Pompey, where his statue was, in the Campus Martius. In the murder scene, the poet represents the statue as standing in the Capitol.

146. old Brutus. Lucius Junius Brutus, alluded to in I. ü 159-161.

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5. When, Lucius, when? It is impossible for Brutus, under his present mental tension, not to be irritated for a moment at his servant's drowsiness; but his affectionate consideration of the boy is evident in later passages, and, like his tenderness for Portia, is one of the signs of his wholesome and manly character.

12. the general. See Hamlet, II. ii. 457.

26. degrees. Used in its literal meaning of steps, or rounds. 31. these and these such and such. (The phrase is probably accompanied by gestures.) "To Cassius, the practical, it is Cæsar's power that is unendurable ; to Brutus, the sentimental, it is the form or title of royalty. But his argument has a practical side, in the fear that the form of royalty may also lead to Cæsar's using his power in a different way, though no different powers would be conferred by it." (Innes.)

101-111. This passage is mere small-talk, of a kind not uncommon in Shakespeare at serious moments, vitally intensifying the preoccupation of the audience with something vitally important—as, here, with the inaudible dialogue of Brutus and Cassius. See Macbeth, I. vi. 1–9; II. i. 1–9.

107. a great way growing on the south. That is, considerably south of east.

150. O, name him not. Metellus is anxious to enlist Cicero in the conspiracy from motives of policy, but Brutus (and this is his fatal weakness as well as his great virtue) is incapable of such motives. He not only despises on moral grounds “a shrewd contriver" like Antony, but underrates his power to lead men (see 181-183 below).

257. I am not well in health, and that is all. Brutus is clumsy in deception; but he thinks it a point of honor not to reveal the conspiracy to Portia, and must put her off in some


299. constancy firmness of mind.


Notice the difference between Calpurnia's relation to Cæsa and Portia's to Brutus.

56. humour. See II. i. 250, above.

107. Give me my robe, for I will go. It must be confessed that the part here assigned to Cæsar is a contemptible one. That he should be so easily persuaded, at different moments, by his fears, by his pride, by his wife, and by the first chance visitor, is widely enough at variance with the mighty Cæsar as we know him in history; but it is essential to the dramatist's purpose that the sympathies of the audience be extended very sparingly to the object of Brutus's sacrificial offering to the good of Rome.


40. The heart of woman is! O Brutus.

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The pause evidently takes the place of a whole foot — perhaps filled in with a sigh or a gesture.


23. Popílius Léna speáks not óf our púrposes. last two syllables in "purposes" do not affect the metre.


38, 39. and turn pre-ordinance, etc. That is, make one too readily change a verdict already given.

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105. Stoop, Romans, stoop, etc. At the moment Brutus is experiencing the exaltation of spirit which comes to one whe has made a great sacrifice in a holy cause. Cæsar has ceased to be to him the man who was his friend. The bathing in Cæsar's blood is therefore a symbolical rite, not an act of brutality.

At this supreme moment Brutus's duty seems to him simple enough; he is now to learn how inadequate mere right purpose, without adroitness, is to effect reform. The first lesson he is to learn at once of the subtle Antony.

145, 146. my misgiving still falls shrewdly to the purpose my intuitions are always accurately to be depended


165. Though nów we múst appéar bloódy and crúel.

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