Julius Caesar: A Guide to the Play

Julius Caesar: A Guide to the Play

Julius Caesar: A Guide to the Play

Julius Caesar: A Guide to the Play


Perhaps more than any other single work, Shakespeare's Julius Caesar has popularized the image of Brutus as a ruthless and cowardly traitor, Caesar as a noble ruler and sympathetic victim, and the Ides of March as a time of danger and duplicity. On the surface, the play is comparatively simple and straightforward, and thus it has frequently served to introduce generations of students to Shakespeare's works. But the play is deceptive in its superficial simplicity, and scholars continue to probe the murky depths of its timeless tale of conspiracy. Part of the "Greenwood Guides to Shakespeare" series, this reference book is a thorough companion to the play. Included are chapters on the play's textual history and available modern editions, the historical and cultural setting of Shakespeare's England, and the sources that Shakespeare probably utilized. The volume then analyzes Shakespeare's dramatic art, including his characters, language, and imagery. It then explores the various themes that figure prominently in the play and overviews a number of different critical approaches. Finally, it examines the drama's lengthy stage history, including recent film productions.


Julius Caesar: A Guide to the Play is a reference book intended for both long-time Shakespeareans and those who are coming to Julius Caesar, and perhaps to Shakespeare as well, for the first time. Julius Caesar has so often served as an introduction to Shakespeare that the probability of a substantial group of readers belonging to the second category would seem comparatively high. Consequently, I have tried to make few assumptions about readers'prior knowledge, and I have included signposts to scholarly and critical works readers may wish to consult in order to fill in bits of background. I have resisted the urge to get into lengthy comparisons of Julius Caesar with any of Shakespeare's other plays. This kind of excursion can be delightful if one knows both the works under discussion, but deadening if one does not.

For the same reason, I have not emphasized analytical approaches that cannot easily be understood unless the reader has a general grasp of all Shakespeare's plays--all the tragedies, all the Roman dramas, or any other category of previous detailed experience; and I have not cited at length critical works that discuss Julius Caesar but seem to mention two or three other plays in every sentence. (I have listed some of these works in the annotated bibliography, however.) The focus here is on Julius Caesar.

Julius Caesar: A Guide to the Play is organized so that its chapters may be read independently of one another. Readers may start at any point, guided perhaps by the contents or the index. Since many passages in this play lend themselves to analysis from many angles, the reader moving from one chapter to another may experience a certain sense of déjà vu. I have tried to vary the examples as much as possible, but from time to time the same lines do recur.

Chapter 1, "Textual History," discusses the text of Julius Caesar, a simple matter in comparison to some of Shakespeare's other plays. In addition, this chapter goes into the development of Shakespearean reading texts since the seventeenth century, answering some of the questions my students have asked when they no-

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