The date of Julius Caesar may, with a fair amount of assurance, be fixed as 1601. The

argument against an earlier date,

apart from the general relation of the play to Shakspere's tragic period, is based by Mr. Aldis Wright on the use of the word “eternal,” in I. ii. 160. In 1600 Shakspere was still using "infernal” in such passages, but after that date he substituted "eternal," apparently out of deference to the Puritan agitation which culminated in legislation against profanity and other abuses on the stage. Other examples of this substitution occur in Hamlet, I. v. 21, and Othello, IV. ii. 130.

The later limit is fixed by the following passage in Weever's Mirror of Martyrs (published 1601), first noted by Halliwell-Phillipps:

The many headed multitude were drawn

By Brutus speech, that Caesar was ambitious,
When eloquent Mark Antonie had showne

His vertues, who but Brutus then was vicious?

As the speech put into the mouth of Antony in the play is Shakspere's invention, and as the argument of that speech is referred to here, it is evident that the play cannot be later than 1601. It is thus the first of the series of great tragedies which constituted the chief production of Shaks.

Source of the

pere's third period, and which were written when he had achieved complete mastery of all the instruments of expression, when his verse, his diction, and his powers of characterization and dramatic construction were at their best, and when he was using them to deal with the problems of life seriously and profoundly.

This play, like many others of Shakspere's, seems to have remained unpublished during his

lifetime, and to have appeared in
print first in the earliest collected

edition of his works issued in 1623 by the two actors, Heminge and Condell. This volume is usually known as the “First Folio," and from it the present text is taken, with a few alterations drawn from the later Folios and from the suggestions of modern editors.

The history of Julius Caesar had been treated on the Elizabethan stage before Shakspere wrote

his tragedy, but there is no trace
of his having made use of any

earlier play. He took his subjectmatter entirely from Plutarch's lives of Caesar, Brutus, and Antony. These formed part of the admirable series of biographies of the great men of antiquity which Plutarch wrote in the first century A.D., and which were translated from Greek into French by Jacques Amyot, Bishop of Auxerre, in 1559. This French version was in tạrn put into English by Sir Thomas

Source of the

[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

North and published in 1579, and North's version was that used by Shakspere.

The structure of the play is entirely Shaks. pere's, and many of the finest passages, from the points of view of both characterization and style, are purely the product of his imagination. But there remains an astonishingly large portion of the play in which the language of North is merely turned into blank verse; and much that has puzzled critics in the unheroic character of Caesar himself finds its explanation in the text of Plutarch.

Shakspere's general method of handling his source may be gathered frcm a comparison of the following extract with the corresponding passages in the drama:

For, touching the fires in thu element, and spirits running up and down in the night, and also the solitary birds to be seen at noondays sitting in the great marketplace, are not all these signs perhaps worth the noting, in such a wonderful chance as happened? But Strabo the philosopher writeth, that divers men were seen going up and down in fire: and furthermore, that there was a slave of the soldiers that did cast a marvellous burning flame out of his hand, insomuch as they thai saw it thought he had been burnt; but when the firo was out, it was found he had no hurt. Caesar self also doing sacrifice unto the gods, found that one of the beasts which was sacrificed had no heart: and that was a strange thing in nature, how a beast could live with. out a heart. Furthermore there was a certain sooth. sayer that had given Caesar warning long time afore,


to take heed of the day of the Ides of March, (which is the fifteenth of the month), for on that day he should be in great danger. That day being come, Caesar going unto the Senate-house, and speaking merrily unto the soothsayer, told him, “the Ides of March be come": "so they be," softly answered the soothsayer, “but yet are they not past.

It will be observed that this material is used by Shakspere in four distinct places. The first-mentioned omens are described by Casca in I. iii. 9ff. The omen of the sacrificial beast without a heart is reported to Caesar by a servant in II. ii. 39, 40. The soothsayer appears in I. ii. 12-24 and III. i. 1, 2. In each case the narrative is thrown into drama, and the style is made more vivid.

How closely at times Shakspere follows his original may be gathered from a comparison such as this:

So Brutus boldly asked what he was, a god or a man, and what cause brought him thither? The spirit answered him, “I am thy evil spirit, Brutus: and thou shalt see me by the city of Philippes. Brutus being no otherwise afraid, replied again unto it: “Well, then I shall see thee again.”Shakespeare's Plutarch, p. 136. Bru.

Art thou anything?
Art thou some god, some angel, or some devil,
That makest my blood cold and my hair to stare?

Speak to me what thou art.
Ghost. Thy evil spirit, Brutus.

Why comest thou?

Shakespeare's Plutarch, edited by W. W. Skeat, London and New York, 1892, pp. 97, 98.

Ghost. To tell thee thou shalt see me at Philippi
Bru. Well; then I shall see thee again?
Ghost. Ay, at Philippi.
Bru. Why, I will see thee at Philippi, then.

-Julius Caesar, IV. iii. 279-287

The translation of prose into blank verse dialogue could hardly be made with less change.

From the table of comparisons between the play and the corresponding passages in North's Plutarch which will be found on pp. 42-44, one can see at a glance the method of selection and rearrangement, and can note the passages which are entirely of Shakspere's invention. Thus the characters of Casca and Lepidus are hardly hinted at by Plutarch, while the boy Lucius, the soliloquy in which the workings of the mind of Brutus are laid bare, the scene in his orchard, the scene in which the conspirators bathe their arms in Caesar's blood, and the soliloquy of Antony over Caesar's dead body, are all wholly Shakspere's. Further, the speeches of Antony and Brutus at Caesar's funeral are elaborated from the slightest hints.

Julius Caesar is written in the blank verse which, since Marlowe, had been the standard

metre of the English drama. The Metre.

few prose passages in the play occur in pieces of homely dialogue and in the laconic speech of Brutus to the citizens. The normal type of the blank verse has five iambic feet, that is, ten syllables with the accent falling

« VorigeDoorgaan »