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HARVARD COLLEGE LIBRARY
COPYRIGHT, 1883 AND 1894, BY HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & CO.
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JULIUS CÆSAR was first published in the folio of 1623, seven years after Shakespeare's death. It is supposed to have been printed there with noteworthy correctness; but as there is no evidence that Shakespeare ever preof the Play. pared any of his plays for the press, we cannot be so sure that the version of 1623 tallied with any remarkable exactness with the author's own manuscript. In fact, this first folio was arranged from quarto editions of the plays which were published during Shakespeare's life, it is true, but to which he seemed perfectly indifferent. They were probably only pirated copies of the originals, or shorthand copies taken down in the theatre during the performances; and, as such, they must have deviated widely in many passages from what Shakespeare actually wrote. This worthy attempt of 1623 to collect the plays must be credited to two of Shakespeare's fellow actors, who wished to give them a stable version that could not be "maimed and deformed by the frauds and stealthes of injourious impostors." Here were printed twenty plays never published before; and one of these was Julius Cæsar. It is barely possible that this play was printed from the author's own manuscript of a stage copy, in which case we may perhaps have the acting version as it was cut down for stage purposes. The direct quick movement of the play would lend authority to this supposition, as well as the fact that there are but few perplexing passages in the whole of the text.
Julius Caesar was assuredly written between the years 1601 and 1603. Many critics, among them Brandes, believe that it was composed just before Hamlet (entered in the Stationers' Register in 1602), arguing from the
Date of the Play.
similarity between the characters and experiences of the two heroes, Brutus and Hamlet. In such an event,
Brutus would seem to be the first rough draft, as it were, of the more subtle, finished Hamlet. A bit of internal evidence in Hamlet lends weight to this opinion. A Julius Cæsar in Latin, by Richard Eedes, had been played at Oxford in 1582; and it is probable that this is referred to when Polonius says, in Hamlet, Act III, Sc. 2, that he “did enact Julius Cæsar in the University," " and was "killed in the Capitol." Yet possibly in writing this passage Shakespeare may have had in mind his own tragedy; the compo sition of which most external and internal evidences assign to the year 1601.
"Among the plays that bear Shakespeare's name," says Mr. Richard Grant White in his brief introduction to this play, "this is one of the comparatively few which are purely Shakesperean. It is not founded upon Sources of any other, nor is there in it a trace of any hand the Play. but Shakespeare's. The substance of the story is taken from the lives of Cæsar, Brutus, Antony, and Cicero in North's Plutarch," published in 1579. It is interesting to read these chapters of Plutarch's, and note how many passages that have always seemed to us to bear the strongest stamp of Shakespeare's individuality are hardly more than transcribed 'from North's translation. One reads there, "It rejoiceth my heart that not one of my friends hath failed me at my need;" and Shakespeare writes,
"My heart doth joy that yet in all my life
And Shakespeare's "Pluck down benches. Pluck down forms, windows, anything," is in North's version, "Others plucked up forms, tables and stalls." Oftener it is not words but ideas that Shakespeare follows, as in the case of the quarrel scene between Cassius and Brutus and the oration of Mark Antony, both of which were obviously suggested by the dramatic accounts of the same incidents in Plutarch. It is also most profitable to note such points, for such a comparison impresses us still more with the greatness of that genius which knew what material to select from the sources
that came his way, and how to bend and mould it all into a perfect artistic form. The frankness with which Shakespeare adopted whatever could serve his purposes removes his borrowing far from plagiarism. To what had otherwise been only the dead facts and sluggish diction of history his touch gave life and spirit.
Each play of Shakespeare's presents some salient characteristics which dictate at once the lines of study which may be pursued with profit. Thus The Merchant of Venice might be made a study of the masterly way in which Shakespeare could weave several separate stories, - those of Jessica, of the caskets, of the bonds, of the rings, into a unified whole; Macbeth could exemplify the dramatist's power in building up a dramatic action of wonderful symmetry; Lear might be made a study in managing the complexities of an intricate plot. Or we might study As You Like It as simple comedy; Hamlet as unmixed tragedy; and The Merchant of Venice as a combination of comedy and tragedy. In Julius Cæsar, however, we have, strictly speaking, a tragical dramatic history rather than a tragedy pure and simple. Viewed from this point we understand better the directness and obviousness of the plot. Further points of interest are the following: first, the play as a study of character; second, the play as a study of a simple plot presenting in the regular arch form the rise, crisis, and fall of the action; third, the play as a splendid example of Shakespeare's finest rhetori
Perhaps the greatest marvel of Julius Cæsar is the force and vigor with which each character is drawn, and the wonderful dramatic effects that are produced by the grouping of characters. The leading dramatis personæ
Cæsar as a Cæsar, Cassius, Brutus, and Antony-stand out in bold relief, each definitely and strongly an individual, and each a type which is sure to appear in any great social or political uprising. Cæsar is the man of success and power, and hence the natural object