Thursday 15 March 2012

Devouring Books: Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

So, we're all aware that today is the Ides of March, yes? Obviously I couldn't just let this day go past (again... I definitely did last year, but only because I thought it was the Ides of May, and the less said about that the better, really) without reading, and now reviewing Julius Caesar (Caesar being the hardest ever word to spell, by the way). Obviously Julius Caesar is great because it's Shakespeare, and is not The Taming of the Shrew, but I was feeling fairly subdued about it until I read the introduction to it (I have the RSC complete Shakespeare, and the introductions are just the right length, and give you the perfect amount of context so as not to overshadow the play or bore you) and then I felt all righteous and smart, which is always a good feeling!

So here's how it went down. I read the play, and liked it and all, and I was fairly sure I understood most of it, but I wasn't sure how I felt about all the stuff that happened. Like... there wasn't really enough Caesar-ness to feel really sad about his death, and so I wasn't sure if I was meant to be on the side of Brutus et al, but I felt bad about being on their side because they were all betraying and... stabby. So after the whole dramatic ending (which I won't tell you about, except to say that this is a Shakespearean tragedy, so what do you think the end is like?!) I was like 'woah', but also like 'but was that good or bad?' So, in all my unsureness, I read the introduction, and it said this:
"Julius Caesar doesn't give us any easy answers about the relationship of public duty to private will. Shakespeare was content to dramatise the problem and leave the rest to the audience."
And so, upon knowing that I wasn't supposed to draw any conclusions from the play itself, I decided that I thought Caesar was a fairly good guy after all, and I was basically on his side. Yay for personal decision making!

So, now you know about my personal dilemma, shall I actually talk about the play properly? Yeah, how about that! So basically, Caesar's just been all amazing and won battles and things, and the people of Rome are fairly sure they want him to be like the Roman equivalent of a King, which Cassius and some friends think will be a big problem and will be the end of Rome as they know it. Or do they..? Because the other side of this is that, actually, Cassius is just wildly ambitious, and wants to be in a position of greater power than the one he's currently in, and that means getting rid of poor old Caesar. The most betraying betrayal of all though is that of Brutus, one of Caesar's most trusted friends and advisors, and it's his role that is under the most doubt. Because, like, he thinks long and hard about the right thing to do, and decides that the right thing to do is to kill Caesar ('et tu, Brutus?' HEARTBREAKING) and everyone's like 'oh, well he thought it over and wanted to do what was best for Rome', and I'm like, yeah, but did he? Because the way I see it is, the person who has the most to gain from Rome's leadership being up for grabs is Brutus, since the second Caesar's dead, everyone's all like 'Brutus! What do we do now?!' So, yeah, noble Brutus? Not really.

The only part of Julius Caesar I'd read before this reading is (predictably) Mark Antony's 'Friends, Romans, Countrymen' speech, which I really do think is sublime. It's just so... bitter and kind of sarcastic, and at the same time so persuasive! So, when the nasty men were plotting and Cassius was all like 'maybe we should kill Antony too', and Brutus said 'nah, he's just Caesar's arm, and the arm can't operate without the head' or something good like that, I was just rolling my eyes and thinking, 'well, clearly they've never heard him be a public speaker before!' Because that guy's good! He manages to rile the Romans up into a frenzy, so that they don't even care who they're killing! Sample:
"Cinna: Truly, my name is Cinna
Plebian: Tear him to pieces, he's a conspirator.
Cinna: I am Cinna the poet, I am Cinna the poet!
Plebian: Tear him for his bad verses, tear him for his bad verses!"
It just made me laugh! The mob madness that just wants to see blood, no matter whose it is. Actually, now that I've put it like that, it doesn't sound so funny...

So. I should probably leave things here because I'm definitely going to bore you with Shakespeare worship. And yet I haven't even mentioned the possible romantic relationship between Brutus and Cassius... (The evidence: Brutus is definitely more upset SPOILER about Cassius' death than his own wife's END SPOILER and there's definitely some old married couple-ish bickering between them- I'm tempted to ascribe a Brokeback Mountain style love-that-can-never-be on them, but didn't the Romans just all have sex with each other anyway? Or was that just the Greeks?) But anyway. Julius Caesar is pretty great, and please, Beware the Ides of March! As in, you know, watch out for any daggers coming towards you, held by people that you previously trusted and stuff...


  1. I wish I'd thought to read this today!

    1. I know right! I had been planning to for like 10 months, so I'm glad I actually remembered to do it!

  2. I wonder if Shakespeare was like "there are some poets I'd like to see torn apart for sucking. Let's have a crazy mob guy say that..." Because that would be amazing.

    Very apropos reading choice by the way. I haven't read this play and I really should because I know it's one of the great ones and I only know what the Ides of March are because I'm suppose to beware of them

    1. Oh my GOD, I hope that's what happened! Like 'Cinna' stands for someone in particular and that he had some kind of grudge going... Elizabethan theatre politics, AMAZING!

      It really is pretty great, and if you haven't read the Friends, Romans, Countrymen speech then you really should cause it's the BEST! Although you probably have. Like everyone. But yeah, anyway, I recommend the whole shebang!

  3. My favorite part is when Antony creates the whole mob-mentality fiasco at the funeral. Things were going well for the conspirator until then.

    1. That is clearly the best bit! Little Antony stirring things up! Hehe