December Books 5) Julius Caesar

5) Julius Caesar, by William Shakespeare

I probably know this best of all the Shakespeare plays – I’m pretty sure it was the one I did for O-level. It is very good. It is unusual in that the title character is killed off before the halfway point; the play is really about the fall of Brutus, and his relations with his ally Cassius, his enemy Antony, his wife Portia and of course his victim Caesar.

The dramatic climax is very early, in Act 3, with the murder of Caesar and then Mark Antony’s funeral oration. The rest of the play is really mopping up the aftermath. Brutus’ sense of honour is insufficient to see him through, as he bickers with Cassius and makes a series of strategic and tactical blunders; meanwhile, Antony swallows his dislike of Octavian in order to take power.

Like Henry V, it’s difficult not to read this in the context of what was happening in 1599; in which case this is the more Essex-sceptic play, of people grasping for power and not quite making it (while the righteous dynastic heir, off in the fringes, takes the power which is his due when the time is right). The character of Mark Antony doesn’t fit terribly well into that analysis – which perhaps means that it is not terribly well founded!

Having whined about the Arkangel productions of the last three plays, I was glad to see a return to form here, especially from the three leads – Adrian Lester as Antony, John Bowe as Brutus and Michael Feast as a rather young-sounding Caesar. It’s also good to hear, for once in this series, a black actor cast in a part that is usually “white”. This is solid stuff, and very enjoyable.

Henry VI, Part I | Henry VI, Part II | Henry VI, Part III | Richard III | Comedy of Errors | Titus Andronicus | Taming of the Shrew | Two Gentlemen of Verona | Love’s Labour’s Lost | Romeo and Juliet | Richard II | A Midsummer Night’s Dream | King John | The Merchant of Venice | Henry IV, Part I | Henry IV, Part II | Henry V | Julius Caesar | Much Ado About Nothing | As You Like It | Merry Wives of Windsor | Hamlet | Twelfth Night | Troilus and Cressida | All’s Well That Ends Well | Measure for Measure | Othello | King Lear | Macbeth | Antony and Cleopatra | Coriolanus | Timon of Athens | Pericles | Cymbeline | The Winter’s Tale | The Tempest | Henry VIII | The Two Noble Kinsmen | Edward III | Sir Thomas More (fragment)

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1 Response to December Books 5) Julius Caesar

  1. gareth_rees says:

    There’s nothing wrong with the argument “the book may have the flaws you identify, but it has these other virtues, and they are good enough for me to enjoy it”. It’s the “how dare you”, the suggestion that the critic’s views are illegitimate, that I object to.

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