The Tragedy of Julius Caesar was an amazing read. I found it engaging and I understood 99% of the things that were happening. Yes, those are the two measures I have for Shakespeare now: (1) how interesting is this? and (2) do I understand what’s going on? Julius Caesar scored big points on both scales.
First, the themes were clearly identified and reinforced throughout the play. It is obvious that Shakespeare is dealing with some interesting philosophical questions here (big shocker there, that’s so unlike him! — that’s sarcasm, in case you can’t tell). I mean, it’s not “to be or not to be” meaning of life meta crisis, but there are some poignant ideas presented here nonetheless.
For example, the relationship between folly and courage, which I briefly discussed earlier, is fascinating. Does one genuinely need to be a little bit crazy in order to be brave? I personally think that, yes, one does. In order to do something truly courageous, I think you need to be able to tell logic to STFU for a little while. Otherwise, logic will make good points and will talk you out of it.
Another element of Julius Caesar which I thoroughly enjoyed was the reoccurring juxtaposition of private vs. public selves. The separation which exists between the two, for most characters, appeared to be complete. This is not uncommon in today’s society: there’s work-me and private-me. The characters here seem to understand that there is a different between their public personas and their private selves, however that’s where their awareness seems to get blocked. They enter this mystical world where somehow their corporeal selves are imbued with superhuman strength and mythical protection. They believe that the celebrity of their public selves is ambrosia for their private selves: you can’t kill me, people like me too much! Caesar and Brutus both do this.
Lastly, the power of pathos in this play is awesome. Literally – it fills me with awe. Entire populations moved by speech! I can barely win an argument with my partner relying only on words. That’s one person. Meanwhile Brutus, Marc Antony, and Cassius can bend entire swarms of plebeians to their will. The outcome of this play, and the deaths of many characters, are determined by moving speeches and deliberate confessions.
In closing, I want to mention that Julius Caesar is a special play for me, which warranted some special attention. Making my way through this List has resulted in a lot of Shakespeare (a full quarter of my remaining reads are Shakespeare) and not all of it is good. I have to read all of it, and that means the flops too. There is some Shakespeare that is just a grind. As long as I’ve read more words I’ve made progress and that’s good enough for me!
I couldn’t do that with Julius Caesar. With this one, I promised myself to make the extra effort for a deeper reading. You see, my partner and I had our first date at a production of Julius Caesar and our first kiss along the river after that play. That particular production included roller blades, machine guns, and that we both fell asleep somewhere around Act III or IV. It was a magical night.
To honour my commitment, I am not ashamed to say I relied heavily on SparkNotes. I will not apologize for this. I am not a Shakespearean scholar, nor am I an expert in Olde English, or Roman history or mythology. In light of that, I adopted a three-step approach to Julius Caesar which I think worked really well for me:
Step 1) Read a scene, try to figure it out on my own.
Step 2) Read SparkNotes summary and analysis of the scene.
Step 3) Compare & contrast.
Doing it this was was actually a lot of fun, and a huge boost of confidence, as I saw how much I caught on my own. It also helped to correct any misunderstandings before I got too far in the play, and called my attention to things I would have otherwise missed.
Until next time, plebes!