JULIUS CAESAR. #
A SHAKESPEAREAN PLAY
Horace’s The Ars lays down literary laws observed by writers for centuries: modern editions divide Shakespeare’s plays into five acts, for instance, because that’s how many Horace said a play should have. It canonized critical ideas, like the concept of artistic unity, that we now take as self-evident.
Aristotle’s (384 – 322 BCE) Poetics had already laid some of the ground rules of what good literature should look like. He has become an authority of literary theory. Aristotle appears to be the first to articulate that:
“the aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inwards significance”.
Tragedy leads to self-knowledge - The hero’s suffering leads to Disclosure, (Anagnorisis) or self-recognition as they become aware of their true predicament, puncturing all their illusions of themselves. Self- knowledge leads to understanding - an apotheosis.
Tragedy is an imitation of characters above the level of the world; high action, sad and catastrophic.
Comedy, the action of lower characters, light and flippant.
Tragedy makes you feel; Comedy makes you think.
Aristotle defines Tragedy as:
“an imitation of an action that is serious, complete and of a certain magnitude involving the affliction of a good character who makes a bad mistake. The good character suffers from harmatia - a tragic flaw.
The bare facts of alone should make us shudder so the dramatist must elevate the audience’s fear, terror and pity into a higher level of creating
Katharsis, transforming and cleansing us so that we feel emotionally purged.
Pain is inherent in the human condition, leading man to a noble form of dignity. Suffering is depicted as ennobling.
To live is to suffer; to survive is to find meaning in your suffering. Nietzsche
At the end, order is restored, god is on his throne and all is right with the world. Fate is controlled by Nemesis; divine retribution – poetic justice.
Aristotelian plots are linear, progressing from a beginning, a middle and an end with various techniques of
Action Drama is based on the theatre of illusion where the characters imitate real life and the audience experiences the predicaments of the characters vicariously. By identifying emotionally and psychologically, we are seduced by the actors to identify, empathise with the characters and aroused by their terror to pity and fear (Pathos) to a state of Catharsis, releasing our tension, soothing, cleansing or purging our souls. This can be ephemeral with no lasting consequences.
Shakespeare’s plays are classified as Comedies, Tragedies, and Histories and differ greatly as to subject matter. So far as form is concerned, they are much alike. Notice the following common points;
(1) Each consists of five acts. (Not designed by Shakespeare)
(2) each has climax or turning point.
(3) Usually there is a short introductory area which tells you the time and place of the play and something of the state of affairs in that place.
(4) In most of the plays there is one particular important character.
Shakespeare set most of his plays outside of England, perhaps to avoid the impression that he ws commenting on affairs at home. He has four Roman plays, Titus Andronicus, Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus.
The Egyptian Empire lasted some 4000 years, while the Roman Empire lasted 1000 years in the West and continued another 1000 years in the East - Constantinople. Many historieans credit this to the fact that both empires had sound, just laws and treated their citizens fairly. Though they had classes, the Plebians were respected.
TIME AND PLACE OF THE PLAY
THE HISTORICAL BACKROUND OF THE PLAY. #
For almost 500 years there had been two great political parties in Rome; —the senatorial party, which was made up of the nobles, (patricians) and. the democratic people (plebeians). The utterly corrupt senatorial party was hated by the people. Julius Caesar became head of the democratic party. He was resolved to take the government of Rome out of the hands of the nobles and rule as King, representing the people..
In 60 B.C. Caesar united with Pompey and Crassus, the two greatest leaders in Rome to form the First Triumvirate. They divided the Roman empire between them. Caesar was governor of Gaul and was given a large army. Pompey stayed in Rome. In 58 B.C. Crassus was killed in a battle against the Persian, and then Caesar and Pompey became rivals for the control of the whole empire. Pompey joined the senatorial or aristocratic party and began to rule autocratically.
After five years of establishing Roman hegemony over Gaul by conquering invading Goths from Germany, Caesar was keen to return to Rome
Defying orders not to return with his legions, Caesar (crossed the Rubicon), marched to Rome and drove Pompey out, and later followed him to Spain and then the East and defeated him in battle. Shortly afterwards Pompey was assassinated. Pompey’s sons kept up the fight for a while in Spain but Caesar crushed them also.
Caesar now wished to establish a monarchy instead of a republic. He was to be ruler for life but regarded himself as the people’s representative. The other leaders of the democratic party were strongly opposed to having a king. A plot was formed by Cassius and Brutus; Caesar was assassinated in 44 B.C.
After Caesar’s death the strife became worse than ever. Mark Anthony turned the people against Cassius and Brutus, —so that they had to flee from the city. Caesar’s nephew and heir, Octavius Caesar, united with Antony and a general called Lepidus to form a new triumvirate. These three leaders then led an army against Cassius and Brutus and defeated them at Philippi in 42 B.C. Cassius was killed in the battle and Brutus committed suicide just after. After a few years Octavius got rid of Anthony and Lepidus and became sole emperor of Rome, So Caesar’s plan was carried out after all.
[The Historical Caesar]
The Romans #
(excerpted from Luke Slattery)
The Romans made significant contributions to our Western Civilisation.
They gave us the institutions of government – the senate, republicanism, empires – virtues such as dignity, humanity, honesty. Their imperialism demonstrates our most enduring urges of dominance – power, greed ambition, desire and love. We are linked to them through a great chain of human experience. They give us a continuity of cultural constants in the experiences of life.
Much of what we know of ancient civilisations is very recent. Most records were wantonly vandalised and destroyed by misguided religious vandals. Byzantine and the Moorish cultures managed to preserve and transmit some to future generations. More and more we rely on archaeological excavations for reliable artefacts to base our assumptions.
Half of Washington’s monumental architecture is inspired by Rome. The British Museum itself is Greek in style and Roman in scale.
The Roman Empire lasted some 500+ years giving us some salutary lessons on enduring cohesion and good governance. It gave us the model of integrating diverse people through tolerance and co-opting talent from across the empire. Even people at the periphery of the empire felt they were at the heart of the empire. Most young men from conquered territories were conscripted into the army to serve 25 years after which they became full Roman citizens with lifelong pensions.
The Emperor Caracella in 212 made all free men citizens, simply so he could broaden the tax base.
The Emperor Claudius maintained the senate should “transfer to this city all conspicuous merit, wherever found”.
The Roman Empire eventually became composed of an enormously diverse base of people from different racial and ethnic groups. They developed a system of naturalisation that allowed citizens to maintain
Dual allegiance to their original tribe or ancestral place – Spain or Britain.
The Roman Empire succeeded because it was ethnically heterogenous – not homogeneous. Greece had a different approach.
The time covered by the action extends over more than two and. a half years, from the festival of Luprical on February 15th, 44 to the battle of Philippi in October, 42 B.C. The place is Rome, for Act 1, Act 11, Act 111, Act 1V, Scene 1. Then comes the famous quarrel scene at the Brutus camp at Sardis in Asia Minor. All the rest of the play takes place on the plains of Philippi in Macedonia.