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WITHOUT entering minutely into the arguments put Date of Play. forward upon this point, it may be enough to state that the most probable date of the composition of Julius Cæsar is 1600 or 1601. Almost the only external evidence we have is contained in a passage, first cited by Halliwell-Philipps, from Weever's Mirror of Martyrs, published in 1601. That passage is as follows:
"The many-headed multitude were drawn
By Brutus' speech, that Cæsar was ambitious;
When eloquent Mark Antony had shown
His virtues, who but Brutus then was vicious?"
Now, in Plutarch's Lives of Caesar, Brutus, and Antony,
therefore safely assume that in date of composition there
was no wide interval between the two plays.
Source of In the matter of history Shakespeare has throughout
followed North's translation of Plutarch's Lives, and the component parts of the drama are borrowed, remarks Gervinus, "in such a manner that not only the historical action in its ordinary course, but also single characteristic traits in incidents and speeches, nay, even single expressions and words, are taken from Plutarch, even such as are not anecdotal or of an epigrammatic nature, and which any one not unacquainted with Plutarch would consider in form and matter to be quite Shakespearian, being not unfrequently quoted as his peculiar property, and as evidencing the poet's deep knowledge of human nature. From the triumph over Pompey or rather over his sons-the silencing of the two tribunes, and the crown offered at the Lupercalean feast, until Cæsar's murder, and from thence to the battle of Philippi and the closing words of Antony, which are in part exactly as they were delivered, all in this play is essentially Plutarch. The omens of Cæsar's death, the warnings of the augur and of Artemidorus, the absence of the heart in the animal sacrificed, Calphurnia's dream, the peculiar traits of Cæsar's character, his superstition regarding the touch of barren women in the course, and his remarks about thin persons like Cassius; all the circumstances about the conspiracy where no oath was taken, the character of Ligarius, the withdrawal of Cicero, the whole relation of Portia to Brutus, her temptation, her words, his reply, her subsequent anxiety and death; the circumstances of Cæsar's death, the very arts and means of Decius Brutus to
induce him to leave home, all the minutest particulars of his murder, the behaviour of Antony and its result, the murder of the poet Cinna; further on, the contention between the republican friends respecting Lucius Pella and the refusal of the money, the dissension of the two concerning the decisive battle, their conversation about suicide, the appearance of Brutus' evil genius, the mistakes in the battle, its double issue, its repetition, the suicide of both friends and Cassius' death by the same sword with which he killed Cæsar-all is taken from Plutarch's narrative, from which the poet had only to omit whatever destroyed the unity of action "...
"This fidelity of Shakespeare to his source justifies us in saying that he has but copied the historical text. It is at the same time wonderful with what hidden and almost undiscernible power he has converted the text into a drama, and made one of the most effective plays possible. Nowhere else has Shakespeare executed his task with such simple skill, combining his dependence on history with the greatest freedom of a poetic plan, and making the truest history at once the freest drama. The parts seem to be only put together with the utmost ease, a few links taken out of the great chain of historical events, and the remainder united into a closer and more compact unity; but let any one, following this model work, attempt to take any other subject out of Plutarch, and to arrange even a dramatic sketch from it, and he will become fully aware of the difficulty of this apparently easy task. He will become aware what it is to concentrate his mind strictly upon one theme (as is here the case), to refer persons and actions to one idea, to seek this idea out of the most general truths laid down
Shakespeare's Presentation of Julius
in history, to employ, moreover, for the dramatic representation of this idea, none but the actual historical personages, and so at length to arrange this for the stage with practised skill or innate ability, that with an apparently artless transcript of history such an ingenious independent theatrical effect can be obtained as that which this play has at no time failed to produce... Separate scenes, like that between Casca and Cassius during the storm, produce an effect which can scarcely be imagined from merely reading them; the speech of Antony, heightened by the effect of external arrangement and the artifices of conversation, by proper pauses and interruptions, even with inferior acting, carries away the spectator as well as the populace represented; the quarrel between Brutus and Cassius is a trial piece for great actors, which, according to Leonard Digges, created even in his lifetime the most rapturous applause; and even the last act, which has often been objected to, is capable of exciting the liveliest emotion when well managed and acted with spirit."
Before giving an outline of the play, it will be well to consider the point of view from which Shakespeare intended to show us Julius Cæsar. For, as here shown, he is in no wise the Julius Cæsar of the poet's conception in others of his plays, in no wise the Julius Cæsar of history or tradition when in the fulness of his splendid achievements he dazzled the world. It is his littleness, not his grandeur; his personal defects; his moral weaknesses; his superstition; his boastful language, not his stern simplicity; his doubts and fears, not his calm decision and unflinching courage; which are here brought out with persistent and consistent emphasis. Moreover,