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dramas rather than with the great tragedies of what is called the third period of the development of Shakespeare's dramatic art. This conclusion is further supported by the internal evidence afforded by the allusions to Caesar in plays written before 16oo. As Portia is a Roman character, whose heroism would not be likely to be known to other than classical scholars, the reference to her in the Merchant of Venice, I. i. 166, makes it probable that Shakespeare had already begun to study Plutarch when he was writing that play. Further interest in Plutarch is indicated by the references in the Second Part of Henry IV. (1597–1598) and in As You Like It (1599–16oo) to striking events recorded in Plutarch's Life of Caesar, by the mention of Alexander and Pompey in Henry V. (1599), and still more by the prologue to the fifth act, in which it is related how the mayor, the aldermen, and the citizens of London, Like to the senators of the antique Rome, With the plebeians swarming at their heels, Go forth and fetch their conquering Caesar in. As Mark Hunter points out, this historical parallel drawn from an unimportant episode of Caesar's life recorded in Plutarch's Life of Antony may well be due to the fact that “when the prologue in question was composed, Shakespeare had recently been studying Plutarch, and probably with a view to a play on the subject of Julius Caesar.” Thus the internal evidence afforded by the study of Julius Caesar and other plays is in harmony with or even directly supports Percy Simpson's inference from the external evidence in the Dedication to the Mirror of
Martyrs, that Julius Cæsar was composed not later than the year 1599.
Julius Cæsar is one of the plays of which Moulton gives an elaborate analysis to illustrate the principles of Shakespeare's dramatic art. As he points out, the distinguishing characteristic in the construction of the play is that the climax is in the centre and not at the end. In this feature it closely resembles the Ajax of Sophocles. In that play the tragic interest is maintained at a high pitch until the death of Ajax puts an end to the hopes and fears of the spectators. Yet after that great catastrophe the play runs on for some hundreds of lines, which to modern readers at any rate appear to be a tedious and unnecessary continuation. In Shakespeare's Julius Cæsar, too, it would appear to be inevitable that the interest of the play must fall off after the successful accomplishment of the plot and the death of the great man, whose life and death have so long been trembling in the balance. This natural result of the disappearance from the stage of the great and imposing personality of Cæsar is, however, prevented, or at any rate postponed for a while, by the rich resources of the poet's genius. Immediately after Cæsar's death comes the dramatic meeting of the conspirators with Antony, the destined avenger, who immediately comes forward as the peopos of his dead friend and patron. In this interview Antony obtains permission to deliver his famous funeral speech, by the oratorical power of which the feelings of the spectators are more powerfully moved to pity and sympathy than they were at the scene of the actual assassination. After the subsidence of the effect produced by Antony's eloquence our interest is allowed to
flag for a while during the end of the third and the beginning of the fourth act. We begin once more to think that the wine of life is at the lees, and that our feelings cannot again be powerfully excited by the drama. However, a surprise is in store for us. A new source of interest is provided in the quarrel and reconciliation of Brutus and Cassius, which is not only of surpassing beauty and a splendid specimen of dramatic art, but also revives our sympathy with the two chief conspirators, who had somewhat fallen in our estimation, owing to the vivid portrayal of their victim's greatness and goodness in Antony's speech. That this scene was as much appreciated by Elizabethan audiences as it is at the present day, is shown by the eulogistic lines contributed to the Folio edition by Leonard Digges:
So have I seen when Caesar would appear, And on the stage at half-sword parley were Brutus and Cassius, O, how the audience Were ravish'd : With what wonder they went hence : When some new day they would not brook a line Of tedious, though well-laboured, Catiline. It must be admitted that in the fifth act the interest of the play is not sustained at such a high pitch as in the preceding acts. It begins with a parley, in which the leaders of the opposing armies indulge in mutual taunts and recriminations, a scene which is not suggested by anything in Plutarch, and which reminds us of the bandying of abuse between Warwick on the one side and Edward IV. and Gloucester on the other before the battle of Barnet (3 Henry VI.V. i.), and several other passages in Shakespeare's earlier historical plays, e.g., 1 Henry VI. III. ii. and King John, II. i. The battle piece which follows is an impressive scene of dreary desolation, with its long-drawn farewells and monotonous repetition of evil omens, deaths, and suicides. Like De Quincey in his Opium Eater, we have a vision of “sudden alarms, hurryings to and fro, trepidations of innumerable fugitives, darkness and light, tempest and human faces, and at last with a sense that all was lost . . . clasped hands with heart-breaking partings, and then—everlasting farewells.” When all is over and the battle is lost and won, Shakespeare, according to the practice that he usually follows at the end of his tragedies, sets about restoring our strained feelings to peace and contentment. The concluding speeches of Octavius and Antony give us the satisfaction of knowing that the virtue of Brutus is recognised even by his enemies, and that his dead body is to receive honourable treatment, so that he too, like Duncan, after the fitful fever of life, may sleep well.
As already indicated, the central point of interest in the drama is also the central point in the order of the events represented, namely, the assassination of Julius Caesar. The artistic unity and symmetry of the play is mainly secured by the fact that everything in the first two acts leads up to this great historical event, that the death of Caesar and its immediate consequences form the subject-matter of the third act, and that the last two acts narrate the necessary but more remote consequences of Caesar's death down to their natural conclusion in the death and defeat of the two conspirators at the battle of Philippi. The play is further bound into one whole by the chain of Nemesis, which links together the principal incidents and connects them with what went before in Roman history. Just as in the story of the Iliad the death of Patroclus leads to that of Hector, and Hector's death requires the death of his conqueror, which he foretells with his last breath, so we are led to regard the assassination of Caesar at the foot of the statue of Pompey the Great as an appropriate sequel to Pharsalia, and Philippi as retribution for the assassination of Caesar. And as the unseemly exultation of Hector and Achilles over their fallen enemies provokes Nemesis more than their success on the field of battle, so Shakespeare makes Caesar provoke Nemesis by his imperial pride, and still more by daring to triumph over the conquered at Munda, although they were not only Roman citizens, but also the sons of the great adversary through whose overthrow he had risen so high. His slayers in their turn provoke Nemesis by washing their hands in their victim's blood, and by their triumphant anticipation of the admiration of posterity. Thus the unity of action is doubly provided for. On the other hand, at first sight the unity of the action seems to be impaired in the middle of the play by the overthrow of the great man, whose fate is in the beginning of the play the main centre of interest. This apparent breach of continuity is, however, repaired by the art of the poet, inasmuch as the dead Caesar is represented as still acting with tremendous efficacy in the spirit, which ranges far and wide on its mission of vengeance, haunts Brutus, and makes the conspirators turn their swords against themselves, while his bodily presence is, as it were, continued in his avenger Mark Antony, and still more in