Understanding Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents

By Thomas Derrick | Go to book overview

3
Elizabethan Legacies

Two Julius Caesars emerge from the history of the Western world: the sainted conqueror who brought civilization to barbarians, and the ambitious tyrant who subjugated people for his own glory. In the first interpretation, Brutusis a damned traitor, and in the second Brutusbecomes a patriot. In literary and historical interpretation both characters mirror one another. At the moment of their deaths, Caesar and Brutusare represented according to the writer's cultural values. If Caesar's talents for organization and mental toughness are appreciated, his passing from human defeat to divine fame is a celebration of honor; if his capacities for ruthlessness and self-regard predominate, then his death brings relief. So with Brutus' demise: he is either shown as a Judas who betrayed his divine friend, or as a staunch defender of the many against the threats of the mighty.

This chapter will present some of the interpretations that influenced Shakespeare. It will trace some of the legacies that Elizabethan historians passed on to later writers. Although this material is sometimes difficult in style, it is important to a thorough understanding of the literary legends about Caesar. It is worth the interpretive challenge. One reason Caesar concerns the twentiethcentury world is the extraordinary attention paid to his achievements and his mind. If his life meant anything to the heirs of Roman civilization, and if there are ideas worth preserving for the future, we should study the documents that preceded and followed Shakespeare's famous re-creation.

Shakespeare's major source for his dramatic portrait of Julius Caesar was the biography by Plutarch ( A.D. 46-120). The version

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Understanding Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Copyright Acknowledgments v
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction ix
  • 1 - Interpreting Julius Caesar 1
  • 2 - Caesar on the Elizabethan Stage 25
  • 3 - Elizabethan Legacies 43
  • 4 - Julius Caesar and the Lincoln Assassination 107
  • 5 - Teaching Julius Caesar 133
  • 6 - Julius Caesar: Popular Culture and High Art 195
  • Index 239
  • About the Author *
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