Shakespeare and Voltaire

By Thomas R. Lounsbury | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
'THE DEATH OF CÆSAR.'

IF Voltaire had been careful to refrain from expressing obligation to Shakespeare in the case of Zaïre, he was at first eager to avow it in the next of his plays that comes here under consideration. This was the one entitled La Mort de Cæsar. It professed to be written in the English style. That was the defence set up for its deviation from the character of the plays to which his countrymen were accustomed. One innovation there was which would hardly recommend it to the fastidious critics of that nation, who conceived that the limits of theatrical progress had been reached by the time Horace had laid down rules for the government of the stage. It consisted of but three acts instead of the conventional five. But if this was certain to dissatisfy the French critic, there was one thing it lacked that was still less calculated to please a French audience. In it there was not the slightest trace of a love-story. So far indeed was the repression of this element carried that there was not even a female character.

Such a treatment of his subject was supposed by Voltaire to represent the sort of feeling which prevailed among the people with whom for nearly three years he had made his home. He had constructed in his own

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