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Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

Julius Caesar (1623)

by William Shakespeare

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Cassius is quickly able to plant the idea of overthrowing Julius Caesar in the mind of Brutus, a man who claims to love Caesar. Cassius and Brutus gather a group of the Caesar's friends, who they join together to murder the leader, then tell each other that they did the man a favor and will be remembered for their courage in removing a tyrant. But then Marcus Antony gives a clever eulogy at the funeral, which causes the public to question the motives of the assassins, the conspirators no longer trust one another and Brutus finds his position threatened.

A good example of how power corrupts, as even the good guy, Antony, tries to manipulate his friends to gain more for himself. ( )
  mstrust | Nov 19, 2014 |
My favourite part of this play is the "Antony is an honest man" speech. Excellent. ( )
  locriian | Oct 27, 2014 |
So dry. What a mistake to cram this down 15-year old throats just because it's short. How many 10th graders have been completely turned off by Shakespeare because this is over their head. I really didn't care much for this. Many of his history plays are far superior. Should've been called "The Rise and Fall of Brutus" because Caesar is such a minor character -- no development either. ( )
  AliceAnna | Oct 21, 2014 |
When I initially attempted to read this, I couldn't understand what was going on, but after careful study and rereading, I was very proud to see I could comprehend it. I found it exciting and dramatic! ( )
  Joy_F | Sep 20, 2014 |
William Shakespeare

Julius Caesar

Wordsworth Classics, Paperback, [2004].

8vo. 139 pp. Edited by Cedric Watts with Introduction [9-22], Notes [109-126] and Glossary [127-139].

This edition first published, 2004.


General Introduction
Further Reading
Note on Shakespeare
Acknowledgements and Textual Matters

Julius Caesar



This is a review of this particular edition. What I have to say about the play I have said it elsewhere.

Much like Antony and Cleopatra, Cedric Watts has done a fine job editing Julius Caesar. This Wordsworth Classics edition has all hallmarks of meticulous scholarship and, especially considering the low price, it is an excellent place to start your exploration of one of Shakespeare’s most fascinating plays.

The 149 endnotes provide clarification of various linguistic and historical obscurities. Unlike the edition of Antony and Cleopatra, where the matter is chiefly dealt with in the introduction, comparisons with the major source, Plutarch’s Lives, are numerous here. As always in such cases, it is greatly revealing to see where, and how, Shakespeare deviated from the “original”, compressing timescales, telescoping events, amplifying minor incidents or altering characters. Some of the notes, intentionally or not, are hilarious. My favourite example is this beautifully technical description of Brutus’ speech (III.2.12-33) during the Forum Scene:

Brutus’ ensuing speech is elaborately patterned, using numerous overlapping rhetorical figures. They include: parison (structural parallelism); antimetabole (phrases repeated in reverse order); epanalepsis (the same word beginning and ending a statement); ploce (systematic repetition of a word within a statement); and anaphora (the same word beginning several clauses). Even a detail, the combination of the word “Censure” with its inverted echo in ‘your senses’, resembles antimetabole.

I reckon it would be fun to see how many of these rhetorical devices – if any – can be found in Antony’s address. Sometimes it pays to do things not by the book.

One thing that impresses me in the notes is the great attention paid to stage directions. This is praiseworthy for at least two reasons. First, it reminds the reader that this is drama, a very special type of fiction written to be spoken and acted in front of a live audience. It’s no use reading it if you don’t stage a complete production inside your head. Second, it shows that the editor has done his homework very well. Except when the action follows naturally from the words (e.g. when Brutus and Cassius embrace in IV.2.), Mr Watts carefully explains his decisions to change the text of the First Folio (1623), the only contemporary source of the play. For example, the stage direction after IV.2.174 reads “Enter a Poet, struggling with Lucillius. Lucius and Titinius help to restrain him.” This is a rather extensive elaboration of the original “Enter a Poet.” Mr Watts defends it thus:

F1’s S. D. is simply ‘Enter a Poet.’, but the dialogue makes clear that he is struggling with Lucilius, and Lucius and Titinius (as guardians of the entrance) should play a part.

In some editions of the play, this incident occurs in the last scene of the fourth act (IV.3.). Mr Watts merges this and the previous scene into IV.2. In an earlier note, he defends this emendation with another reference to the First Folio (in which there is no division to scenes): “Exeunt / Manet Brutus and Cassius.” This indicates that all characters except Brutus and Cassius leave the stage; the action is continuous and there is no reason to start a new scene. In the same note (No. 106), incidentally, Mr Watts also mentions Brutus’ order (IV.2.52) Lucius and Titinius to guard the door (of the tent), an important detail in the poet’s entrance a little later. This order is usually the last line of IV.2., but here it is in the very beginning as there is no IV.3.

“Acknowledgements and Textual Matters” is dedicated to the various editions Mr Watts consulted in the preparation of his version and some general principles of textual editing. He spends much space on the notorious repetition of the news about Portia’s death (IV.2.197-208, 231-45), widely believed to be a later revision wrongly retained by the publishers. The editor seems to favour this hypothesis, although he patiently considers alternative interpretations (e.g. revealing Brutus’ hypocrisy). He outlines four staging versions – omitting either of the two passages, both, or neither – and generously leaves the readers to make their own choice. Mr Watts keeps both passages with the proviso that “their preservation here does not necessarily imply that I would stage them both.”

The introduction is an erudite and scholarly essay, adorned with 18 endnotes in which Mr Watts manages to bring into the discussion Shaw, Brecht, Coleridge and Saddam Hussein – among others. He accentuates the profound moral ambiguity of the play, a nice dress rehearsal for Hamlet indeed, and quotes one Ernest Schanzer who classifies Julius Caesar as one of Shakespeare’s “problem” and “most controversial plays”. Why? Because it is hard to decide whom you should sympathise with and whom you should condemn. Mr Watts appears to think, and I agree with him, that this very uncertainty is Shakespeare’s greatest achievement in this play. It’s an exercise in suspension of judgement. There is no clear-cut tragic protagonist, but each and every character – “including, touchingly, Cinna the poet” – contributes to a greater tragedy that transcends personal misfortunes. Again as pointed out by the editor, the long history of political assassinations in modern times, from Jean Paul Marat to Indira Gandhi, may only show that the relevance of Julius Caesar has not diminished.

It is a pity that the introduction, despite its short length, should contain some irrelevant passages. A fine example is the editor’s discussion of Caesar’s character quite outside the play. This is a common mistake among reviewers, too. It leads to very learned and very ridiculous reviews, such as this one. It cannot be repeated too often that the purpose of historical fiction is not – or at least should not be – to keep close to the historical facts and personalities (such as they are, however little and imperfect our knowledge of them may be). This is why it is called “historical fiction”. Shakespeare used Roman history merely as raw material. He took what he needed from Plutarch and proceeded to tell his own story with his own characters. Last but not least, historical fiction, like every other form of fiction, must be self-sufficient. If it requires external references, it is poor fiction. It’s nice to compare Shakespeare with Plutarch, but only insofar as to gain insight into the Bard’s creative process, not to judge his entirely different and independent creation.

That said, Mr Watts has some interesting things to say about the Caesar in the play. He is not convincing that Caesar may pass for the protagonist, much as he controls the action in his absence and after his death. To my mind, “The Tragedie of Ivlivs Cæsar”, the title from the First Folio, is one of Shakespeare’s finest achievements in pure sarcasm. The claim that Caesar “performs superbly as a public figure” is equally open to debate. In fact, the legendary dictator appears in exactly two public scenes (I.2. in the street, III.1. in the senate) and in both cases he speaks precious little, nearly all of it self-adulation in the third person singular. I think this meagre fare as far as Caesar’s character is concerned is one of the most serious problems of the play. I am under the impression that Shakespeare kept the old man just because it gave him the opportunity for a murder onstage and Antony’s “Cry havoc” soliloquy over the dead body.

Mr Watts is more stimulating about Caesar’s personal side. This is revealed by subtle hints, easy to miss but, once noticed, easily made too much of. The divine emperor is humanized by certain weaknesses, physical (deaf ear, epilepsy, limited physical endurance) as well as mental (indecision when Calpurnia wants to prevent him from going to the Senate). The reader’s sympathy is further coaxed by certain positive qualities, for instance Caesar’s keen insight into his fellow men, most notably the “lean” Cassius, his hospitality when he meets the conspirators on the morning of the fatal day, or even his modesty (?!), apparently expressed in the words “What touches us ourself shall be last served.” (III.1.7, but note the royal plural). Only the first of these strikes me as significant enough to attach some importance to Caesar’s elusive character.

Strangely, Mr Watts does not mention some strange inconsistencies. For a man who claims to be as “constant as the northern star” (III.1.60), Caesar is annoyingly vacillating. Evidently a deeply superstitious man, he wants to know what the augurers and the soothsayer prophesy, but he breezily disregards both warnings (II.2.41-45 and I.2.24, respectively). First he humours his wife and promises he won’t go to the Senate (II.2.55-56), but a few minutes later he is convinced by the preposterous interpretation of Decius Brutus who turns Calpurnia’s horrible nightmares into the sweetest dreams and the best omens in the world (II.2.83-90). In this context, Brutus’ words that he has never known a case where Caesar’s “affections swayed / More than his reason” (II.1.20-21) acquire ironical overtones. They only show how obtuse Brutus really is.

The other characters are rather neglected, perhaps understandable considering the limited space of the introduction, but nevertheless regrettable as Brutus, Cassius and Antony are so much more prominent and well-developed. The little Mr Watts does say about them is pedestrian rather than perceptive. I agree that Brutus’ “logic is poor”, namely his reflections (II.1.10-34) that Caesar must be killed for what he may become, not for what he is. I wish he’d told us the reasons for this. Is Brutus merely stupid, or is he harbouring, deep inside himself, the pathological jealousy of Cassius? I think the first reason is closer to the truth; but a good case can be made for the second, too, for example starting with Brutus’ passionate desire for single-handed leadership. And then he says Caesar was ambitious! Shakespearean sarcasm par excellence!

The editor’s claim that Cassius is revealed to be “physically and intellectually myopic” is extremely controversial. The physical part we may accept on Cassius’ own confession that his eyesight “was ever thick” (V.3.21). But “intellectually myopic”? Nope, not even close. Cassius is by far the most far-sighted individual in the whole play. He knows perfectly well that his conspiracy cannot succeed without Brutus’ authority, he sees clearly the danger in Antony long before anybody else, and he twists around his little finger Brutus, Casca and the other conspirators. In personal, political and military matters, Cassius is far and away the most astute character of all.

Even though I disagree with quite a few things in this introduction, and find it less compelling than the one to Antony and Cleopatra, on the whole this is an excellent edition. It contains the complete text of the play, painstakingly edited and annotated, and at this price you have no right to ask for more. But in fact you do get more. As a special bonus, you may enjoy, as I do, arguing with the editor about the ever-fascinating complexity of every major character in Julius Caesar. You never know to what wondrous and mysterious lands these arguments may lead you. ( )
1 vote Waldstein | Jul 2, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (179 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
William Shakespeareprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Andrews, John FEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Atwan, RobertEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Baldini, GabrieleEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Barnett, SlyvanEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bevington, David M.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bloom, HaroldContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Books, PennyEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Braunmuller, Albert R.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Brooke, TuckerEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Daniell, DavidEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dreyfuss, RichardNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Elloway, David ReginaldEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Furness, Horace Howard, JrEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gill, RomaEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Grammer, KelseyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hadfield, Andrew DavidEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hampden, PhilipEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Harrison, George B.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hawinkels, PéTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Horsley, E. F.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hulme, H. M.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jones, Pei te HurinuiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kastan, David ScottEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Keach, StacyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kittredge, George LymanEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
LaMar, Virginia A.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lambert, Daniel HenryTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mason, LawrenceEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mowat, Barbara A.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Orgel, StephenEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Quiller-Couch, ArthurEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Raffel, BurtonEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rolfe, William J.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rosen, BarbaraEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rosen, WilliamEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Seward, TimothyEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thurber, SamuelEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Westine, PaulEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
White, Richard GrantEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Williams, JoBethNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wilson, John DoverEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wright, Louis B.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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First words
Hence! Home, you idle creatures get you home!

First Witch:
When shall we three meet again?
Beware the ides of March.
Cowards die many times before their deaths;

The valiant never taste of death but once.

Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,

It seems to me most strange that men should fear;

Seeing that death, a necessary end,

Will come when it will come.
Et tu, Brute!
For Brutus is an honourable man;

So are they all, all honourable men.
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;

I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.

The evil that men do lives after them;

The good is oft interred with their bones.
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Wikipedia in English (4)

Book description
"BEWARE THE IDES OF MARCH." Julius Caesar is one of Shakespeare's most popular plays. It is about how Caesar is plotted against and eventually murdered and overthrown by some of his closest friends. Brutus, the closest friend and main plotter of the murder, ends up murdering himself and his conscious gets the better of him. This book is the epitome of betrayal and is referred to and alluded to all throughout literature.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0743482743, Mass Market Paperback)

Folger Shakespeare Library

The world's leading center for Shakespeare studies

Each edition includes:

• Freshly edited text based on the best early printed version of the play

• Full explanatory notes conveniently placed on pages facing the text of the play

• Scene-by-scene plot summaries

• A key to famous lines and phrases

• An introduction to reading Shakespeare's language

• An essay by an outstanding scholar providing a modern perspective on the play

• Illustrations from the Folger Shakespeare Library's vast holdings of rare books

Essay by Coppélia Kahn

The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., is home to the world's largest collection of Shakespeare's printed works, and a magnet for Shakespeare scholars from around the globe. In addition to exhibitions open to the public throughout the year, the Folger offers a full calendar of performances and programs.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:35:43 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

Contains an introduction to the play, the text of the play, and notes.

» see all 26 descriptions

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Two editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0140714685, 0141012390

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