William Shakespeare: The Critical Heritage - Vol. 6

By Brian Vickers | Go to book overview

295.

Unsigned essay, on Julius Caesar

1789

From the Lounger’s Miscellany, nos 12 (10 January 1789) and 13 (17 January).

This generous appreciation of the play follows the lead of Capell (Vol. 5, No. 220, and No. 263 above) and Badcock (No. 262 above) in stressing Shakespeare’s independent reshaping of his sources.

There are no characters of our immortal Shakespeare in which dramatic excellence and historical truth are more powerfully combined than in those which constitute his play of Julius Cæsar. This drama is remarkable for containing a greater variety of beautiful sentiments than any composition that ever came from the pen of man; and that frigid critic will deservedly meet our indignation who, upon hearing it read or seeing it exhibited, shall be so little transported with its excellence as to remind us that it is deficient in the unities of time and place.

This play has been censured, but certainly without justice, for the conversation which takes place at its opening between Flavius, Marullus, and certain holiday-making Plebeians. This, say some delicate critics, is low humour, ill suited to the grandeur of the business which follows, and unlikely to have passed between the Commons and their Tribunes. They who make such observations must be told that the lower class of an hardy and free people (and the Romans were not then quite reduced to slavery) are distinguished by a certain degree of saucy wit and a fondness for joking with their superiors, particularly when a festival (as this was of the Lupercal) gives a kind of licence to such indulgences. The Englishman’s observation must have been strangely limited who has not noticed such a tendency in the commonalty of his own country. Upon the whole, I cannot but consider this as happy an introduction of a good play as can be met with in the works of the most artful dramatist. (67-8)

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