Page images
PDF
EPUB

43 ‘But I forewarnèd was by Capis' tombe

His Epiteph my death did long before foreshow,
Cornelius Balbus sawe mine horses heedlesse runne

Without a guide, forsaking food for woe.
Spurinna warn'd mee, that sooth of things doth knowe,-III, i.
A wrenne, in beak with laurell greene, that flewe
From woods to Pompey's court, whomme birdes there slewe,

Foreshowde my doleful deathe, as all men after knew. 44 ‘The night before my slaughter I did dreame

I carriede was, and flew the clouds above;
And sometimes, hand in hand, with Love supreme,

I walkte meethought, which might suspitions move;
My wife Calphurnia, Cæsar's only love,

-11, ii.
Did dreame she sawe her crest of house to falle,
Her husband thruste through with a sword withal;

Eke, that same night her chamber doors themselves flew open alle. 45 These thynges did make me doubt that morning much,

And I'accrazed was and thought at home to stay.
But who is he can voyde of Destyny such

Where so greate number seeks hope to betray?
The traytore Brutus bade me not delay,

-II, iii.
Nor yet to frustrate these, so greate assembly sate,
On which to heare the publicke pleas I gate,

This hasting broughte mine ende and fatal fate. 46 ‘There met mee by the way a Romayne good,

Presenting mee a scrole of every name,
And all their whole devise, that sought my bloud
That presently would execute the same;
I heedlesse bare this scrole in my lefte hande, -III, i.
And others more, till leasure, left unscande,

Which in my pocket afterwards they fande. 47 'Spurinna, as I came at sacrifices was

Near to the place where I was after slayne,
Of whose divinings I did little passe;

My hau[gh]ty harte these warnings all disdayne.
Quoth I, "The Ides of March are come, yet harme is none,
Quoth hee, “The Ides of March are come, but th’ar' not gone!”

And reckelesse so, to court I went and tooke my throne. 48 “As soone as I was sate the traytores all arose,

And one approached neere as to demande something,
To whome as I layd eare, at once my foes

Mee compasst round, their weapons low they bring,
Then I too late perceivede their fatal sting;
"O this, " quoth I, "is violence;" then Cassius perst my brest,
“And Brutus, thou, my sonne,” whom erst I lovèd best,
Hee stabde mee in, and so, with daggers did the rest. - III, i.

49 “You, princes alle and noblemen, beware of pride,

And careful will to warre for kingdom's sake.
By mee, who set myself aloft the world to guide,

Beware what bloodshed ye do undertake.
Ere three and twenty wounds my heart had causede to quake,
What thousands fell for Pompey's pride and mine,
Of Pompey's life, that cut the fatal line,

Myself have told what fate I fand in fine.'
In the foregoing stanzas, as we have seen, the story of
Julius Cæsar takes pretty nearly the form in which it appears
in the tragedy, and hence, as Thomas Campbell observed, it

possibly suggested to Shakespeare the idea of this remarkable play, in which the English dramatist links his intellectual lineage with Lydgate, Boccaccio, and Petrarch, among the restorers of letters, and with Appian, Suetonius, Plutarch, Livy, and even with the commentaries Cæsar writ,' among the continuators of the literary vitality of the languages of Greece and Rome; so making us who read his fascinating pages, 'the heirs of all the ages' between those of the dictator of the ancient Roman world, and the golden days of England's Elizabeth.

THE HISTORICAL SOURCES OF THE PLOT OF JULIUS

CÆSAR.'

SECTION I.-INTRODUCTORY REMARKS. Shakespeare founded the play of Julius Cæsar principally on Plutarch's Life of Cæsar, and

the Lives of Brutus and Antonius, by the same author. The first edition of [Sir] Thomas North's Plutarch was issued in 1579. The English in which this version is written is vigorous, easy, and wellchosen. As J. P. Collier has remarked, “the value of the volume in relation to the Roman plays of] Shakespeare cannot be over-estimated. From it the dramatist drew not only the plot of this piece, but many phrases, characteristic expressions, and felicities of nervous and idiomatic diction. The first edition, which is now usually spoken of as Shakespeare's Plutarch, is a fine specimen of printing, ‘by Thomas Vautroullier, dwelling in the Blackfriars, near Ludgate.' The extracts given below will show that Shakespeare has selected his incidents and materials with judicious skill, has followed his authority pretty closely, and organised the fragments chosen, with a fine perception of unity, and with a singular power of vital co-operation and effectiveness. As Dr Nathan Drake has said, “In the conduct and action of this drama, though pursuing closely the occurrences and characters as detailed by Plutarch, : : : there is a great display of ingenuity, and much [exercise of intellectual] mechanism in the concentration of the events, producing that integrity and unity which, without any modification of the truth of history, moulds a small portion of an immense chain of incidents into a perfect and satisfactory whole. The formation of the conspiracy, the death of the dictator, the harangue of Antony and its effects, the flight of Brutus and Cassius, their quarrel and reconcilement, and finally their noble stand for Iiberty against the sanguinary

triumvirate, are concatenated with the most happy art; and though, after the fall of Cæsar, nothing but the patriotic heroism of Brutus and Cassius is left to occupy the stage, the apprehensions and the interest which have been awakened in their fate, are sustained and even augmented to the last scene of the tragedy.'*

The play opens with the jealousy on the part of the tribunes, at the marks of favour shown by the populace to Cæsar; this, down to the smallest details, is from Plutarch; so, too, is that which follows, the repeated offering by Antony of a crown to Cæsar at the Lupercalia, with his reluctant refusal of it; this blended indeed into one, with an earlier tendering to him of special honours on the part of the senate; Cæsar's early suspicions in regard of “the lean and wrinkled Cassius," with his desire to have about him men fat and wellliking; the goading on of Brutus by Cassius, and the gradual drawing of him into the conspiracy, with the devices to this end; the deliberation whether Antony shall not share in Cæsar's doom, and the fatal false estimate of him which Brutus makes; so, too, whether Cicero shall be admitted to the plot, with the reasons for excluding him; the remonstrance of Portia that she is shut out from her husband's counsels, and the proof of courage which she gives; then, too, all the prodigies which precede the murder,-as the sacrifice without a heart; fires in the element; men walking about clothed in flame, and unscorched by it; the ill-omened bird sitting at noonday in the market-place; Calphurnia's warning dream, and Cæsar's consequent resolution not to go to the senate house; the talking of him over by Decius Brutus; the vain attempt of Artemidorus to warn him of his danger; the Ides of March; the misapprehension at the last moment that all has been discovered, with the hasty purpose of Cassius, only

Shakespeare and his Times, Vol. II, p. 492.

hindered by Brutus, to kill himself thereupon; the luring away of Antony from the senate house by Trebonius; the importunate pleading of Metellus Cimber for his brother, taken up by the other conspirators; the striking of the first blow from behind by Casca; Cæsar's ceasing to defend himself when he recognises Brutus among his murderers; his falling down at the base of Pompey's statue, which ran blood; the deceitful reconciliation of Antony with the conspirators,--nothing of all this is absent. All, too, which follows is from Plutarch: the funeral oration of Brutus over Cæsar's body, and then that which Antony has obtained leave to deliver; the displaying of the rent and bloody mantle; the reading of the will; the rousing of the fury of the populace; the tearing in pieces of Cinna the 'poet, mistaken for the conspirator of the same name; the precipitate flight of the conspirators; their reappearance in arms in the East; the meeting of Brutus and Cassius; their quarrel, and Lucius Pella the cause; the reconciliation; the division of opinion as to military operations; the giving way of Cassius, with his subsequent protest to Messala that he had only unwillingly done this; the apparition of Cæsar's ghost to Brutus, with the announcement that he would see him again at Philippi; the leave-taking of Brutus and Cassius, with the conversation on the Stoic doctrine of suicide between them; the double issue of the battle; the disastrous mistakes; the death of Cassius by the sword which had slain Cæsar; the ineffectual appeal of Brutus to three of his followers to kill him, a fourth at length consenting, -all this, with minor details innumerable, has been borrowed by Shakespeare from the Lives of Cæsar, of Brutus, and of Mark Antony; which all have evidently been most carefully studied by him.'*

SECTION II.-SIR THOMAS NORTH'S VERSION OF PLUTARCH's

*LIVES' OF CÆSAR, BRUTUS, AND ANTONY. The following passages from North’s Plutarch are those from which the main elements of the play of Julius Cæsar have been derived. The spelling, as in W. W. Skeat's valuable Shakespeare's Plutarch, has been modernised except where antique forms of peculiar interest occur.

1. Extracts from Plutarch's ' Life of Julius Cæsar.' 'The chiefest cause that made him[Cæsar]somortally hated,

* Plutarch: Five Lectures by R. C. Trench, D.D., 2d edition, 1874, pp. 67-69.

[ocr errors]

was the covetous desire he had to be called king; which first gave the people just cause, and next his secret enemies honest colour, to bear him ill-will. This, notwithstanding they that procured him this honour and dignity, gave it out among the people that it was written in the Sibylline prophecies, how the Romans might overcome the Parthians, if they made war with them, and were led by a king, but otherwise that they were unconquerable. And furthermore, they were so bold besides, that, Cæsar returning from Rome to the city of Alba, when they came to salute him, they called him king. But the people being offended, and Cæsar also angry, he said he was not called king, but Cæsar. Then every man keeping silence, he went his way heavy and sorrowful. When they had decreed divers honours for him in the senate, the consuls and prætors, with the whole assembly of the senate, went unto him in the market-place, where he was set by the pulpit for orations, to tell him what honours they had decreed for him in his absence. But he, sitting still in his majesty, answered them, that his honours had more need to be cut off than enlarged. This did not only offend the senate, but the common people also, to see that he should so lightly esteem of the magistrates of the commonwealth; insomuch as every man that might lawfully go his way departed thence very sorrowfully. Thereupon also Cæsar rising departed home to his house, and, tearing open his doublet collar, making his neck bare, he cried out aloud to his friends, that his throat was ready to offer to any man that would come and cut it (I, ii, 262). Notwithstanding it is reported, that afterwards, to excuse his folly, he imputed it to his disease, saying, that their wits are not perfect which have this disease of the falling evil (I, ii, 254), when standing on their feet they speak to the common people, but are soon troubled with a trembling of their body, and a sudden dimness and giddiness'—40. * At that time the feast Lupercalia (I, i, 68) was celebrated.

Cæsar sat to behold that sport upon the pulpit for orations, in a chair of gold, apparelled in triumphant manner. Antonius, who was consul at that time, was one of them that ran this holy course. So when he came into the market. place, the people made a lane for him to run at liberty, and he came to Cæsar and presented him a diadem wreathed about with laurel. Whereupon there rose a certain cry of rejoicing, not very great, done only by a few appointed for the purpose. But when Cæsar refused the diadem, then all the people together made an outcry of joy. Then Antonius

« PreviousContinue »