This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress & Blogspot by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: Julius Caesar
Author: William Shakespeare
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
The play opens with two tribunes (appointed leaders/officials of Rome) discovering the commoners of Rome celebrating Julius Caesar’s triumphant return from defeating the sons of his military rival, Pompey. The tribunes, insulting the crowd for their change in loyalty from Pompey to Caesar, attempt to end the festivities and break up the commoners, who return the insults. During the feast of Lupercal, Caesar holds a victory parade and a soothsayer warns him to “Beware the ides of March,” which he ignores. Meanwhile, Cassius attempts to convince Brutus to join his conspiracy to kill Caesar. Although Brutus, friendly towards Caesar, is hesitant to kill him, he agrees that Caesar may be abusing his power. They then hear from Casca that Mark Antony has offered Caesar the crown of Rome three times. Casca tells them that each time Caesar refused it with increasing reluctance, hoping that the crowd watching would insist that he accept the crown. He describes how the crowd applauded Caesar for denying the crown, and how this upset Caesar. On the eve of the ides of March, the conspirators meet and reveal that they have forged letters of support from the Roman people to tempt Brutus into joining. Brutus reads the letters and, after much moral debate, decides to join the conspiracy, thinking that Caesar should be killed to prevent him from doing anything against the people of Rome if he were ever to be crowned.
After ignoring the soothsayer, as well as his wife Calpurnia’s own premonitions, Caesar goes to the Senate. The conspirators approach him with a fake petition pleading on behalf of Metellus Cimber’s banished brother. As Caesar predictably rejects the petition, Casca and the others suddenly stab him; Brutus is last. At this point, Caesar utters the famous line “Et tu, Brute?” (“And you, Brutus?”, i.e. “You too, Brutus?”), concluding with “Then fall, Caesar!”
The conspirators make clear that they committed this killing for the good of Rome, to prevent an autocrat. They prove this by not attempting to flee the scene. Brutus delivers an oration defending his actions, and for the moment, the crowd is on his side. However, Antony makes a subtle and eloquent speech over Caesar’s corpse, beginning with the much-quoted “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!” In this way, he deftly turns public opinion against the assassins by manipulating the emotions of the common people, in contrast to the rational tone of Brutus’s speech, yet there is a method in his rhetorical speech and gestures: he reminds them of the good Caesar had done for Rome, his sympathy with the poor, and his refusal of the crown at the Lupercal, thus questioning Brutus’s claim of Caesar’s ambition; he shows Caesar’s bloody, lifeless body to the crowd to have them shed tears and gain sympathy for their fallen hero; and he reads Caesar’s will, in which every Roman citizen would receive 75 drachmas. Antony, even as he states his intentions against it, rouses the mob to drive the conspirators from Rome. Amid the violence, an innocent poet, Cinna, is confused with the conspirator Lucius Cinna and is taken by the mob, which kills him for such “offenses” as his bad verses.
Brutus next attacks Cassius for supposedly soiling the noble act of regicide by having accepted bribes. (“Did not great Julius bleed for justice’ sake? / What villain touched his body, that did stab, / And not for justice?”) The two are reconciled, especially after Brutus reveals that his beloved wife committed suicide under the stress of his absence from Rome; they prepare for a civil war against Antony and Caesar’s adopted son, Octavius, who have formed a triumvirate in Rome with Lepidus. That night, Caesar’s ghost appears to Brutus with a warning of defeat. (He informs Brutus, “Thou shalt see me at Philippi.”)
At the battle, Cassius and Brutus, knowing that they will probably both die, smile their last smiles to each other and hold hands. During the battle, Cassius has his servant kill him after hearing of the capture of his best friend, Titinius. After Titinius, who was not captured, sees Cassius’s corpse, he commits suicide. However, Brutus wins that stage of the battle, but his victory is not conclusive. With a heavy heart, Brutus battles again the next day. He asks his friends to kill him, but the friends refuse. He loses and commits suicide by running on his sword, held for him by a loyal soldier.
The play ends with a tribute to Brutus by Antony, who proclaims that Brutus has remained “the noblest Roman of them all” because he was the only conspirator who acted, in his mind, for the good of Rome. There is then a small hint at the friction between Antony and Octavius which characterizes another of Shakespeare’s Roman plays, Antony and Cleopatra.
This was the most enjoyable play of ol’ Shakes that I’ve read in quite some time. I don’t know if it’s because I can appreciate Brutus and his reasoning about why he had to assassinate Caesar or having a group of more mature characters helped, but whatever the reason, I found myself quite enjoying this.
My only issue with Brutus and his actions was that he had decided Caesar was going to take power even though he had declined it three times previously. What gave him that idea? What had Caesar done? Nothing as far as I could tell. But Brutus had the idea stuck in his head and so he murdered a man over something he hadn’t done yet. I’m all for preventative action but that’s taking it a titchy bit too far.
Bad form, old chap, bad form I say!