« ZurückWeiter »
of suspicion or envy; Brutus is the devoted, consistent idealist; Cassius typifies the more practical political schemer of a lower plane; and Mark Antony is the intellectual statesman who knows well how to gain his own ends by means which are seemingly fair and open to the public eye. The minor characters, also, are lined with equally sure touches: Casca of the blunt wit; Portia, most womanly in her combined strength and weakness; the lovable boy Lucius; the loyal Titinius; and the unmanageable, independent Cicero. There is no lay figure in the whole play, as indeed there seldom is in Shakespeare, and no one whom we suspect to have been "lugged " in for a purpose: each one is there as if by right of creation, alive, individual, significant. Moreover, out of the Roman mob itself Shakespeare seems to have made a living personality which plays no small part in the drama. Further character study must inevitably fix itself upon Brutus, his perfectly rounded manhood as it is portrayed in what he himself says and does, in what others say of him, and most of all as it is thrown into contrast with the coarser texture of Cassius's personality. Then our interest focuses itself upon the discrepancies and contradictions in Cæsar's character, which are to be adjusted with one another, and tallied with the traits of the Cæsar of history; upon the curious failure of Cæsar and Cassius to understand each other; and upon Antony's power over men. Nor are the characters of Portia and Lucius unproductive of interesting discussion. And finally, there is always the interest of appreciating the ideals of all these people and their separate devotion to those ideals which made the fall of each one glorious.
Although Julius Cæsar is usually spoken of as lacking in plot in contrast with so intricate a play as Lear, for example, this does not mean that Shakespeare did not plan carefully that this tragedy should present a rise, crisis, and fall in its action. He was
Cæsar as a
equally careful to concentrate the dramatic effect Form. at certain points, and to relieve the tension at others. All
this was, of course, necessary to the making of a drama out of mere historical narrative. There is no doubt in our minds that Shakespeare carefully planned his crisis and his dénouement from the very beginning, and based his play upon a symmetrical form which, like an arch, should divide itself. into two halves meeting at the crisis or keystone. The interest which covers the whole of this dramatic action centres, not in the career of Cæsar, but in the career of the conspirators. They initiate the action and carry it through to its climax in the assassination of Cæsar; and the falling action and dénouement are concerned entirely with the results of their deed. The justification of their cause strengthens from the beginning to the crisis; and there their condemnation begins, to end in their complete downfall. Viewed thus, the play divides itself into distinct stages as follows:—
Sc. i. The conspiracy is forming and is made to seem reasonable by the expressed opposition to Cæsar.
Sc. ii. The conspiracy, through the passion of Cassius, strengthens; Brutus yields; Casca's report of the offering of the crown to Cæsar seems to justify the conspirators.
Sc. iii. The conspiracy advances further, and the suspense and agitation of its perpetrators is heightened by the terrible portents that appear in nature.
Sc. i. Brutus, resolved apart upon the death of Cæsar, plans with the conspirators, and his control and temperance seem to ennoble their cause.
Sc. ii. Cæsar is purposely made to appear at his worst; insolently bold in the face of danger, autocratic in sending his wilful message to the Senate, and finally susceptible to the flattery of Decius.
Sc. iii. The suspense is increased by the message of Artemi dorus which may save Cæsar's life.
Sc. iv. Portia's anxiety increases the strain of the uncertainty of the outcome of the plot, and almost forces us to sympathize with the conspirators.
Sc. i. The assassination, with the preceding suspense and the subsequent dedication of the conspirators to the holiness of their cause, appears almost justifiable. The turning point, the keystone of the arch, is the entrance of the servant who introduces the personality of Antony, whom the conspirators now must face.
Sc. ii. The falling action begins here where Antony's speeches overbear Brutus's words, and the mob look upon Cæsar as a martyr.
Sc. iii. The fury of the mob upon an innocent man presages what may be the end of the conspirators.
Sc. i. Antony's position at the head of the Roman worid makes sure the downfall of the conspirators.
Sc. ii, iii. The quarrel scene weakens our sympathy with the conspirators; the death of Portia and the apparition of Cæsar seem to foreshadow the doom of Brutus.
Sc. i, ii, iii, iv. These succeeding scenes show the fast failing hopes of the conspirators. The end of the justification of their cause comes when Cassius, dying, says, "Cæsar, thou art revenged, even with the sword that killed thee;" and when Brutus exclaims, as he falls upon his sword, "Cæsar, now be still."
Even so crude an outline as this serves to show the rise of the action through Acts I and II, the crisis in Act III, and the falling action in Acts IV and V. It bears witness to these points of significance: first, the play is given a perfectly symmetrical form; second, the conspirators are the
controlling characters in the play; third, the great enduring character is Brutus; fourth, the dramatic effect of the play depends upon the portrayal of the powerful passions which actuate the leading characters, and not upon any intrinsic interest in the plot.
The Title of the Play.
The third point cited above lends authority to the opinion that Shakespeare made a mistake in naming this play, and that it should rather have been called Brutus. The question is a debatable one. There are a few considerations, however, in favor of Shakespeare's choice. Although Brutus draws all attention to himself throughout the play, still the personality of Cæsar persists too, even after his death. As Brutus says, "Oh Julius Cæsar, thou art mighty yet." Furthermore, we find no proof that Shakespeare always named his plays for the leading characters. Then would The Merchant of Venice have become Shylock, or Henry the Fourth, Falstaf. If Cæsar is belittled in the play, it must be so that he may appear to us as he did to the conspirators; but his name was surely a fairer one than Brutus's to "conjure with." Shakespeare, as does the writer of to-day, felt the necessity of selecting a suggestive title for his work. None could have connoted more or appealed more to the popular imagination than Julius Cæsar.
One of the many qualities which make Julius Cæsar so well adapted for class-room study is the rhetorical quality of its verse. There is hardly a speech from the beginning to the end which we can read without a quickening ical Quality of the blood. Almost every character in the play of the Play. is an orator, with the power of swaying those who listen. If Antony overpowers all others, it is not because they are deficient in eloquence. A page opened almost anywhere will present splendid material for declamation, but the following passages ought surely to be memorized or delivered: :
Marullus's Speech, Act I, Sc. i, 11. 34-57.
Brutus's Soliloquy, Act II, Sc. i, ll. 10-34 and 44–58. Brutus's Speech to the Conspirators, Act II, Sc. i, ll 114-140.
Cæsar's Speech, Act II, Sc. iii, 11. 32-37 and 11. 71–82. Cæsar's Speech, Act III, Sc. i, 11. 58–73.
Antony's Speech, Act III, Sc. i, ll. 148-163 and 11. 254276.
Brutus's Speech, Act III, Sc. ii, ll. 12–48.
Antony's Speech, Act III, Sc. ii, ll. 74–109, 11. 119–137, 11. 170-198, and 11. 209-330.
The Quarrel Scene, Act IV, Sc. iii, Il. 1-123.
Mr. Richard Grant White was a masterly editor of Shakespeare; he had an equipment by nature in a fine ear and delicate power of discrimination, and his Shakespearean studies began early and continued through a lifetime with concomitant studies in music, language, and history, which constantly reënforced these. One of the latest labors of his mature years was the careful preparation of the Riverside Edition of Shakespeare, and he showed his judgment, not only in the great care with which he sought to establish the text, but in the reserve with which he annotated it. He desired to produce an edition of Shakespeare which would be read by an intelligent reader, and his aim therefore was gently to part the bushes when the way was not perfectly clear, not to raise an ingenious thicket of comment about the dramas.
His edition therefore affords an admirable one for those who are making their first acquaintance with Shakespeare, since such readers are impatient to get at Shakespeare himself by the most direct approach, and are not yet ready to make his works an exercise in criticism. It may be added that the spirit in which Mr. White edited Shakespeare in the Riverside Edition is precisely that which has been followed in the numbers of the Riverside Literature Series, so that the editor of that series finds himself reënforced by