Shakespeare the Playwright: A Companion to the Complete Tragedies, Histories, Comedies, and Romances

By Victor L. Cahn | Go to book overview

JULIUS CAESAR

Of Shakespeare's ten tragic plays, four are set in ancient Rome: Titus Andronicus, Antony and Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, and Coriolanus. All, but in particular the last two, have a bond with Shakespeare's history plays, for in these tragedies Shakespeare explores political issues that bear closely on those raised in his two tetralogies based on the internal and external conflicts of England during the fifteenth century. Thus the "Roman tragedies" may be interpreted in part as revealing Shakespeare's view of political life.

Historically, Julius Caesar was, in 60 B.C., a member of the ruling triumvirate in Rome, along with Pompey and Crassus. Crassus died in battle in 53 B.C., and in 49 B.C., in an attempt to gain absolute authority over Rome, Caesar flouted the Roman Senate by leading his forces across the Rubicon and against the armies of Pompey. In 47 B.C. at Pharsalia, Caesar defeated Pompey, then pursued him to Egypt, where Pompey was killed, and where Caesar enjoyed a dalliance with Cleopatra. The civil war continued for two more years, and when Caesar returned to Rome, he ruled with the support of the populace until his assassination in 44 B.C.

The primary source of Julius Caesar is Plutarch Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, translated into English by Thomas North in 1579, and the play borrows most from the essays on the lives of Brutus, Caesar, and Antony. The events covered actually took place over several years, which Shakespeare condenses into six days. As does Plutarch, Shakespeare dramatizes Caesar's physical weaknesses, but Shakespeare omits incidents from Plutarch that depict Caesar as far more dictatorial than the play suggests. Here Caesar is arrogant, but he is clearly a great man, a world conqueror, and respected by virtually all.

Yet who is the central character of the play? Some might claim that Caesar is at its heart, for he towers over the rest, and even in death holds a powerful influence. Other critics might say Brutus, who undergoes the crucial ethical quandary. Others might answer Cassius, the prime mover in the conspiracy, or Antony, who turns the conspiracy and Rome upside down.

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Shakespeare the Playwright: A Companion to the Complete Tragedies, Histories, Comedies, and Romances
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • The Tragedies 1
  • Titus Andronicus 5
  • Romeo and Juliet 23
  • Julius Caesar 47
  • Hamlet 69
  • Othello 105
  • King Lear 137
  • Macbeth 179
  • Antony and Cleopatra 209
  • Coriolanus 241
  • Timon of Athens 267
  • The Histories 283
  • The First Tetralogy 287
  • King John 381
  • The Second Tetralogy 399
  • The Comedies 525
  • The Comedy of Errors 529
  • The Taming of the Shrew 541
  • Two - Gentlemen of Verona 555
  • Love''s Labor''s Lost 569
  • A Midsummer Night''s Dream 583
  • The Merchant of Venice 599
  • The Merry Wives of Windsor 619
  • Much Ado about Nothing 629
  • As You like It 647
  • Twelfth Night, or What You Will 665
  • Troilus and Cressida 683
  • All''s Well That Ends Well 703
  • Measure for Measure 721
  • The Romances 743
  • Pericles 745
  • Cymbeline 757
  • The Winter''s Tale 779
  • The Tempest 803
  • Appendix 1 - The Two Noble Kinsmen 823
  • Suggestions for Further Reading 826
  • Appendix 2 - The Royal Figures from the History Tetralogies 827
  • Select Bibliography 831
  • Character Index 833
  • Index 847
  • About the Author *
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