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The Academy Series of English Classics
Copyright, 1895, by
NORWOOD, MASS, 1.8.A.
This edition of Julius Cæsar offers itself simply as a beginner's book in Shakespeare. The young student of literature reads not merely for the pleasure of the hour, but also, and mainly, for the purpose of forming habits of self-reliance, of acquiring skill in an art, of enlarging his acquaintance with books, of coming into deeper relation with human life. It is chiefly important for the beginner that he should learn to solve his own difficulties.
The mature reader, to whom the difficulties appear trivial, is often too ready to hand over the solution of them at the instant of their appearance; and if the object of the recitation is simply to move as rapidly as possible through the play, or to let the class listen to voluble exposition by the teacher, then such a method is fitting. But this procedure deprives the learner of his opportunity to learn. The process through which the ripe scholar has passed to attain his ripeness is the type of the course which the beginner must follow to achieve the object of his study.
To what sort of activity shall the task of getting his Shakespeare lesson introduce the young pupil ? If he has a body of notes that make everything plain, he will have merely to con first the text and then the notes,
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making some effort of memory to keep himself primed for recitation tests. This process does him almost no good at all. As new plays are taken in hand, he still continues to con notes if he can get at them, and is helpless if he cannot. This helplessness, however, is better than a crammed memory, because it leaves the learner free to undertake a reasonable course of work, unhindered by the conceit that he knows already all there is to be known.
Into this reasonable course of work I have tried to initiate the pupil by giving him in the form of notes little tasks of search, comparison, and inference. Wherever obscurity of word or phrase could be cleared up by reference to other passages in the plays, I have referred to those passages. Pupils should look up these references, report their observations, and infer from comparison the meaning that was not clear in the single instance.
The difficulties of Shakespeare's diction are to be conquered only by persistent struggle with each difficulty as it arises. A conquest thus made, by exercise of the judgment rather than of the memory, is a conquest made for good.
The resolute student soon finds his task growing easy. If a crucial trouble presents itself, he knows how to go to work, and will soon ascertain, by profitable ranging in the fields of commentary, how the point in question has been dealt with by generations of scholars.
I have made references to the plays at large, and occasionally to other books that are sure to be in every secondary school library. No one ought to attempt scholarly study of one play without having all the plays at hand. Single-volume Shakespeares, like the Globe edition, are exceedingly cheap, and the class-room should be liberally furnished with them.
On questions concerned with the interpretation of the poet's thought and the proper understanding of his dramatic intention, I have given hints and suggestions, with occasional queries that may lead to discussion, rather than disquisitions of my own. Elaborate essays on literary topics are wholly out of place in a book for young people.
Shakespeare's dependence for his facts on his historical sources being especially clear and interesting in the Roman plays, and peculiarly so in the Julius Cæsar, I have given frequent quotations from North’s translation of Amyot’s Plutarch. The young reader will perhaps from these citations get some idea of the difference there is between excellent drama and excellent narrative. To observe the poet's transmutation of story into play is to take a lesson in literature of the utmost value.
In studying Julius Cæsar, the class should have access to Plutarch's lives of Brutus, Cæsar, and Antony. The modern translations will serve to give the historical facts, but it was Sir Thomas North’s that Shakespeare used, and North's very language so often appears in the play that it is far more instructive to read the very words that the poet read himself. The lives from which he drew the main events of his Roman plots are easily accessible in Hazlitt's Shakespeare's Library, and in Skeat’s Shakespeare's Plutarch.
Other books desirable in the study of Shakespeare generally are: Bartlett's Concordance to Shakespeare, - a book of untold value to the Shakespeare student;