Page images


Synopsis of Introduction.-Determination of date of play. Compared with the Ajax of Sophocles as a play with the climax in the middle. How far the interest is sustained after the climax. Symmetry and unity due to the chain of Nemesis. How unity is maintained in spite of the death of Cæsar in the middle of the play. Neither Cæsar nor Brutus the hero. It is a drama without a hero, but with several heroic characters. The representation of Cæsar seems at first almost a travesty. Not, however, devoid of noble characteristics, when the whole play is regarded. Why Shakespeare did not adequately represent Cæsar's greatness. From a historical point of view the picture given is rather onesided than untrue, and this one-sided representation is justifiable on dramatic grounds. Brutus resembles Hamlet in being called upon to undertake a task which he was ill fitted to perform. Though politically a failure, from a moral point of view he deserves all honour. Though morally admirable, his great deed was wrong. How then was this morally excellent man induced to commit such a crime? His soliloquy shows that he did it for the general good, though his reasoning is inconclusive. The virtue of Brutus, consisting in the cultivation of his own honour, which was the great object of his life, would deprive him of our sympathy, were it not tempered by gentler and more engaging characteristics. Contrast between Brutus and Cassius in Plutarch and Shakespeare. Cassius superior to Brutus in practical foresight, but weaker in will-power and less calm at the moment of action. Cassius, though morally inferior to Brutus, far from a villain and not entirely actuated by selfish motives. Contrast


between Brutus and Antony illustrated by their speeches. Rhetorical dexterity of Antony. Character of Casca-why introduced. Portia the ideal Roman wife. Her resemblance to Lady Macbeth. Mob in Shakespeare compared to Greek chorus. Shakespeare's contempt for the mob rather social than political. He was not keenly interested in abstract political principles. Duration of action much shorter than historical chronology. Few indications of long time. Shakespeare's readiness to borrow especially manifested in plays based on Plutarch. His close adherence to Plutarch. Alterations due to idealisation of character and of justice. Amplification for poetical embellishment. Object of bringing into closer combination events separated by long intervals in Plutarch's narrative. Chief passages in Plutarch that supplied materials for Julius Cæsar.

Although there is no record of Julius Cæsar having been printed before the first Folio edition of Shakespeare's works published in 1623, the date of the first appearance of the play may be determined within very narrow limits by external evidence of a fairly convincing character. The play is not mentioned in Meres's Palladis Tamia, Wit's Treasury, published on 7th September 1598, and may therefore be assumed to be posterior to that date. In John Weever's Mirror of Martyrs are found the following lines:

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?

This passage must he regarded as a distinct reference to Shakespeare's play. The antithesis gives very exactly the effects of the speeches of Brutus and Antony in the second scene of the third act, and such a contrast is not found in Plutarch or in any other of the historians, who

gave an account of Cæsar's death and the events that followed. The Mirror of Martyrs was published in 1601, but, as is pointed out by Mr. Percy Simpson in Notes and Queries (Feb. 1899), the author in his Dedication asserts that the work " some two years ago was made fit for the print." We may therefore conclude with some confidence that Shakespeare's Julius Cæsar was not brought out later than 1599. This conclusion is strongly supported by a passage quoted by Mr. Percy Simpson from Every Man out of His Humour, a play of Ben Jonson's belonging to the year 1599, in which Clove, who talks fustian, begins a speech by saying, "Then coming to the pretty animal, as Reason long since is fled to animals, you know," which is evidently a jibing reference to Julius Cæsar, III. ii. 112. In the same play the words "Et tu, Brute," taken by themselves, might have been derived, not from Shakespeare, but from the same source as that from which Shakespeare derived them. But coming, as they do, in the works of a dramatist prompted by mingled feelings of jealousy and admiration to lose no opportunity of parodying or criticising the first play in which his great rival, meeting him on his own ground, took his plot from Roman history, and in a play in which there is at least one distinct reference to Julius Cæsar, they indicate that they also are a reference to that play, the popularity of which had evidently given the last words of Cæsar much the same vogue as the last words of Marmion have enjoyed since the beginning of the nineteenth century.

So much evidence to show that Julius Cæsar was brought out as early as the year 1599 is too strong to be shaken by Wright's argument based on the use of the

word "eternal" in I. ii. 158. "For some reason or other," he urges, "whereas in three plays which were all printed in 1600, Shakespeare uses the word 'infernal,' he substitutes 'eternal' for it in Julius Cæsar, Hamlet, and Othello, and my inference is that he did so in obedience to the popular objections which were urged against the profanity of the stage, and that the plays in which 'eternal' occurs as the equivalent of 'infernal' were produced after 1600." In answer to this, it may be pointed out that "infernal" was never a favourite word of Shakespeare's, and is only thrice found in his dramas, and that "eternal" in I. ii. 158 can hardly be regarded as a substitute for "infernal," which would be an extremely weak epithet for the devil, while eternity is quite as naturally attributed to the devil as to his bonfire in Macbeth, II. iii. 22. Therefore Wright's argument cannot be regarded as giving even a slight presumption in favour of the date that it is supposed to indicate, and, even if it had some weight, must yield to the strong proof of an earlier date brought forward by Percy Simpson.

The earlier date is also supported by the evidence of the most trustworthy of those metrical tests, by which the chronological order of Shakespeare's plays is determined. It has been found by experiment that in Shakespeare's later plays there are more lines with double endings, that is, with extra syllables added at the end of the five regular feet, as in

Well, honour is the subject of my story,

than in his earlier plays. Now in Julius Cæsar there are fewer of these weak endings than in Henry V., brought

out in 1599, and not many more than in the Merchant of Venice, which was composed before 1598. With the exception of Pericles and Timon, which, as being to a large extent the work of other dramatists, cannot be taken into account, all the other plays of Shakespeare attributed to 1600 and later dates have a larger proportion of double endings than Julius Cæsar.

Lastly, we come to the chronological evidence afforded by the style. Dowden has shown how in Shakespeare's later plays the language is overburdened with the weight of thought and becomes obscure, while in the middle period of his dramatic workmanship thought and language are commensurate, so that the latter can easily and clearly express the former. This contrast may be readily illustrated by comparing Julius Cæsar with Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus, the Roman tragedies that were composed after an interval of at least eight or nine years. But as, in considering the evidence of style, the subjective element may pervert our judgment, and we may be suspected of exaggerating the comparative clearness of the language of Julius Cæsar, owing to our preconceived opinion of the date of the authorship, it is well to be able to appeal to impartial evidence on the subject. This is afforded in his Shakespeare and his Predecessors by Boas, who, although he thinks that " 1600-1601 may be confidently accepted as the date" of the play, nevertheless points out that "the style of the drama is similar to that of the best comedies and English history-plays," thus bringing us back to the time of the composition of the Merchant of Venice and Henry V., and connecting our play chronologically with those

« PreviousContinue »