Let’s Get Literal: Julius Caesar

List Item: Read the complete works of Shakespeare
Progress: 7/37

After reading two leviathans of novels (one amazing and one soporific) I thought it would be good to take a week off from reading to listen to some podcasts and then get back into the whole reading thing. The thing is… a week later I still could not stomach a novel so I think I will be doing a few Shakespeare plays on the way into work.

julius-caesar

Despite my previous assertion that I was going to read a lesser known play along the lines of Timon of Athens or Comedy of Errors I, instead, thought I would just read the first play in the collection that I had not read before. Thus, I was lead to the door of Julius Caesar.

One thing I never quite realised about this play is just how little he is actually in it because (spoiler alert) he dies in the beginning of the third act. The central characters in this play are Brutus and Mark Antony, rather than Caesar himself. Instead, Caesar becomes more of the idea of patriotism and honour and whether there was ever any honour in killing a man who people believed could become despotic.

‘Could’ being the operative word. There is no real hint, as presented by Shakespeare, that this would have been the natural cause of things. A pivotal scene actually has Caesar refusing the crown presented to him on multiple occasions. As such you question the motives of all the conspirators… accept for Brutus, for he appears to be the only one who is backed by ideals rather than personal gain.

In a way, Mark Antony would have to be the antagonist due to his role as being against Brutus, who could be argued as the protagonist. Then again, despite being at war with each other these men are both essentially honourable; they just found themselves at different ends of the plot. The way that Mark Antony addresses the corpse of Brutus at the end of the play cements this idea.

Of course, a big thing to mention is the sheer number of quotable lines. Phrases like ‘et tu, Brute’, ‘Greek to me’ and ‘friends, Romans, countrymen’ are so well known that to read them here it feels like cliché only to be reminded that this is their origin. I also enjoyed the use of prophecy and forshadowing in the dreams of Caesar’s wife Calpurnia, a sign that people going to this play probably knew what was going to happen since this is really obvious stuff.

There is more to say, such as a discussion on whether Cassius was a manipulative arsehole or actually worried about the state of affairs and used really backhanded methods to solve things, but I’ll leave it here since I have written nearly 500 words in about 20 minutes and my knuckles are getting sore. Good play, may start the British histories soon.

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