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by suicide in Egypt, and the ultimate establishment of imperial authority in the person of Octavianus Augustus.
The year of the first production of Shakspeare's "Julius Cæsar,” is very uncertain. Malone assigns it to the year 1607.
that it “can hardly be assigned to a later date than the year 1607,” but that “there is nothing to prove that it may not be of considerably earlier date.” Collier has furnished tolerably conclusive proof that it must have been written before 1603. It is not known to have been published before 1623, when it appeared in what is called the First Folio,—the first printed collection of the Plays of Shakspeare.
The historical authority followed by Shakspeare in this play is the Greek biographer Plutarch, through the medium of North’s translation, the original Greek having been translated into French by Jacques Amyot, Bishop of Auxerre, and Amyot's French version into English by Sir Thomas North, The first publication of North’s translation of “Plutarch's Lives in 1579; and later editions appeared in 1602, 1603, and 1612. It is from the lives of Julius Cæsar, Brutus, and Antony, that the dramatist selected the materials for this play; and the numerous passages which we have quoted from these lives, as they are given in North’s “Plutarch,” will show how closely the poet followed his historical guide, as regards both facts and language, how judiciously he selected such incidents as might form the picture he intended to give of the later days of republican Rome, how in receiving the records and expressions of the history, his mind, “like richest alchemy,” transmuted them into golden poetry, and how, in many instances, even a very slight hint was discerned by him to be a small fossil fragment of an extensive organisation, the whole of which he skilfully conjectured and completed, and reinspired with living energy.
The action of this play begins at the time of the celebration of the festival of the Lupercalia, on the ides of February, B.C. 44, (A.U.C. 709), and terminates with the death of Brutus at the second battle of Philippi, which was fought in the autumn of the
The history thus extends over a period of about two years and a half. Within that brief period, very little of Julius Cæsar himself is presented, Brutus and Cassius
year B.C. 42.
being the chief heroes of the piece. Craik says, “ We have a distinct exhibition of little else beyond Cæsar's vanity and arrogance, relieved and set off by his good nature or affability. He is brought before us only as the spoilt child of victory.' All the grandeur and predominance of his character is kept in the back ground or in the shade,— to be inferred, at most, from what is said by the other dramatis personæ — by Cassius on the one hand, and by Antony on the other, in the expression of their own diametrically opposite natures and aims, and in a very few words by the calmer, milder, and juster Brutus, -nowhere manifested by himself. It might almost be suspected that the complete and full-length Cæsar had been carefully reserved for another drama. Even Antony is only half delineated here, to be brought forward again on another scene ; Cæsar needed such reproduction much more, and was as well entitled to a stage which he should tread without an equal. He is only a subordinate character in the present play ; his death is but an incident in the progress of the plot. The first figures, standing conspicuously out from all the rest, are Brutus and Cassius.” * We would remark, however, that the drama is appropriately enough called the Tragedy of Julius Cæsar, as whatever is tragic in it either consists in, or arises out of, Cæsar's death. It is in the Third Act that the assassination occurs; but in the Fourth Act the ghost of Cæsar visits the republican camp as the evil genius of the chief assassin; in the Fifth we find Brutus exclaiming over the dead body of Cassius ; “O Julius Cæsar, thou art mighty yet !” and in the last scene of all, Brutus, taking leave of life, addresses the avenging spirit in the words“ Cæsar, now be still!” It may be said, therefore, that the death of Cæsar pervades nearly the whole of this dramatic composition.
In the opening scene of Julius Cæsar we behold the lower orders of citizens preparing to rejoice in the triumph that was to celebrate Cæsar's victory over the song of Pompey. His former triumphs had been “followed by most liberal largesses of corn and money to the people and the soldiers, by public banquets, and all kinds of entertainments, amid which the thoughtless • Craik's “ English of Shakspeare," p. 57.
multitude easily forgot the loss of liberty; all they cared for was to be well fed and amused.” *
therefore, they are even ready to “strew flowers in his way that comes in triumph over Pompey's blood.” Cæsar had abstained from any triumphal celebration of his victory over Pompey, but respecting his victory over the sons of Pompey in Spain he was not so scrupulous; and, accordingly, the tribunes, the guardians of the people's rights, are armed by the poet with remonstrances against the citizens, who are unreflectingly disposed to welcome a triumph over their fellow-countrymen. Thus the tenor of the spirit that is to be developed in the play is indicated in the outset.
In the next scene is announced the festival of the Lupercalia as about to be celebrated, and the dictator, who has all the reality of regal dominion, but is secretly desirous of being formally declared kir of Rome, that he may transmit the sovereign power to a successor of his own choice, is ingeniously repres sented by the poet as being anxious to have an heir more nearly allied to him than young Octavius, the grandson of his sister Julia. When Cæsar, thus solicitous about the future, gives order that no part of the ceremony of the “holy chase” be omitted, a voice of prophecy calls to him from amidst the throng, and bids him “beware the ides of March.” Fate wills that he shall not heed the premonition, and he passes on to the scene of festival, leaving Brutus and Cassius to converse respecting “thoughts of great value, worthy cogitations,” which have hitherto been secretly concealed in the bosom of the latter. (See note 1, p. 12.)
Marcus Brutus and Caius Cassius Longinus had been chiefs in the Pompeian army, and fought against Cæsar in the battle of Pharsalia ; after that battle,–North, in the life of Brutus, says,
."Cæsar sent for Brutus and pardoned him, and also kept him always about him, and did as much honour and esteem him as any man he had in his company; furthermore, Brutus obtained pardon of Cæsar for Cassius.” And now we find these men expressing their indignation at the thought of Cæsar's supremacy.
It is the suspected approach of tyranny, however, which Brutus hates, and not the tyrant himself; he
* Dr. Schmitz's “ History of Rome," chap. xxxv.
sees" no personal cause to spurn” at Cæsar, as a triumvir or as a dictator, but when Cassius mentions the name of king all the speculative republicanism of Brutus is stirred with energy. Cassius, on the other hand, is actuated by personal animosity, as well as political sentiment, in his dislike of Cæsar's greatness. In the first scene between these two important “personages of the drama," Shakspeare, with great art, makes them manifest those distinguishing features of character out of which coming events of great consequence are to arise.
At the period to which the play refers," the higher classes had adopted a sort of Epicurean system, because it did not oppose their luxurious and licentious mode of life ; while the better and nobler minds sought and found comfort in the purer and loftier doctrines of the Stoics, which, at the same time, were a kind of compensation for the religious wants of the age; the religion of ancient Rome having become a subject of ridi.cule with the more enlightened class of Romans.' Cassius was a follower of Epicurus, and Brutus, though really a man of powerful passions and tender sensibility, professed himself a Stoic. The two friends are well contrasted by Mr. Knight, who, in his Pictorial Shakspeare, says t, “ Brutus acts wholly upon principle ; Cassius partly upon impulse. Brutus acts only when he has reconciled the contemplation of action with his speculative opinions; Cassius allows the necessity of some action to run before and govern his opinions. Brutus is a philosopher; Cassius is a partisan. Brutus, therefore, deliberates and spares; Cassius precipitates and denounces. Brutus is the nobler instructor; Cassius the better politician.”
The poet having engaged us in observing the mental characteristics of Brutus and Cassius, until “ the games are done,' introduces Casca to report what has “ proceeded worthy note” at the festival. Publius Servilius Casca had been attached to the party of Pompey, and afterwards tendered his submission to Cæsar, who pardoned him. The dramatist invests him with a blunt manner well fitted to give effective colouring to the
* Dr. Schmitz's “ History of Rome," chap. xxxix. † “ Supplementary Notice to the Roman Plays."
statement about Antony presenting the crown to the dictator, but lets us know also that the same blunt man will be found a Valiant and faithful partisan in the conspiracy which is about to be formed, and in which Cassius, the chief instigator, soon induces him to join.
Meanwhile the representations of Cassius and Casca have given Brutus material for grave reflection. He goes home to “think of the world,” to meditate on the “hard conditions” which the “time is like to lay upon ” the men of Rome; and at the commencement of the Second Act, he is in his orchard arguing, with reference to the possibility of Cæsar becoming king, the application of the maxim, that prevention is often easier than cure. The writings that have been thrown in at his window are now brought under his notice, and his patriotism is roused by the appeals thus made to him respecting the endangered liberties of Rome. The visit of “the faction” follows, the conspiracy is organised, and the time, place, and manner of executing the great act of deliverance from tyranny are discussed and resolved upon. In this scene the power of the dramatist is remarkably exhibited. The speech of Brutus, founded on Plutarch's simple statement that the conspirators took no oaths of mutual fidelity, and his other speech, just as slightly prompted by the biographer's assertion that Brutus would not consent to the proposal respecting the expediency of killing Antony as well as Cæsar, are made wonderfully expressive of that noble honesty which reigned in the heart of the philosophic tyrannicide. And when Porcia enters, after the conspirators have withdrawn, the dialogue that ensues, maintaining throughout the greater portion of it a close adherence to the narrative of Plutarch, shows how felicitously Shakspeare's genius could discern and elicit the poetry that may be latent in the plainly reported incidents of biography.
Towards the conclusion of the Second Act and at the beginning of the Third, we find Cæsar characterised chiefly by that imperious will which, while he really desired the welfare of his country, and possessed many estimable and useful qualities, he considered it necessary to exert for the preservation of the commonwealth from anarchy. Here, of course, Shakspeare