« PreviousContinue »
Julius CÆSAR was one of the three principal plays, hy different authors, pitched upon by the celebrated Earl of Halifax to be brought out in a splendid manner by subscription, in the year 1707. The other two were the King and No King of Fletcher, and Dryden's Mailen Queen. There perhaps might be political reasons for this selection, as far as regards our author. Otherwise, Shakspeare's JULIUS Cæsar is not equal, as a whole, to either of his other plays taken from the Roman history. It is inferiour in interest to Coriolanus, and both in interest and power to Antony and Cleopatra. It however abounds in admirable and affecting passages, and is remarkable for the profound knowledge of character, in which Shakspeare could scarcely fail. If there is any exception to this remark, it is in the hero of the piece himself. We do not much admire the representation here given of Julius Cæsar, nor do we think it answers to the portrait given of him in his Commentaries. He makes several vapouring and rather pedantick speeches, and does nothing. Indeed, he has nothing to do. So far, the fault of the character might be the fault of the plot.
The spirit with which the poet has entered at once into the manners of the common people, and the jealousies and heart-burnings of the different factions, is shewn in the first scene, when Flavius and Marullus, tribunes of the people, and some citizens of Rome, appear upon the stage.
" Flavius. Thou art a cobbler, art thou !
Cobbler. Truly, Sir, all that I live by, is the awl : I meddle with no tradesman's matters, nor woman's matters, but with al, I am indeed, Sir, a surgeon to old shoes; when they are in great danger, I recover them.
Flavius. But wherefore art not in thy shop to day? Why do'st thou lead these men about the streets ?
Cobbler. Truly, Sir, to wear out their shoes, to get myself into mure work. But indeed, Sir, we make holiday to see Cæsar, and rejoice in his triumph."
To this specimen of quaint low humour immediately follows that unexpected and animated burst of indignant eloquence, put into the mouth of one of the angry tribunes.
* Marullus. Wherefore rejoice !-What conquest brings
To hear the replication of your sounds,
The well known dialogue between Brutus and Cassius, in which the latter breaks the design of the conspiracy to the former, and partly gains him over to it, is a noble piece of high minded declamation. Cassius's insisting on the pretended effeminacy of Cæsar's character, and his description of their swimming across the Tiber together, “ once upon a · raw and gusty day,” are among the finest strokes in it. But perhaps the whole is not equal to the short scene which follows when Cæsar enters with his train.
“ Brutus. The games are done, and Cæsar is returning.
Cassius. As they pass by, pluck Casca by the sleeve,
Brutus. I will do so ; but look you, Cassius-
Cæsar. Let me have men about me that are fat,
Antony. Fear him not, Cæsar, he's not dangerous :
Cæsar. Would he were fatter; but I fear hiin not :
We know hardly any passage more expressive of the genius of Shakspeare than this. It is as if he had been actually present, had known the different characters and what they thought of one another, and had taken down what he heard and saw, their looks, words, and gestures, just as they happened.
The character of Mark Antony is farther speculated upon where the conspirators deliberate whether he shall fall with Cæsar. Brutus is against it
" And for Mark Antony, think not of himn :
Cassius. Yet do I fear him :
Brutus. Alas, good Cassius, do not think of hint :
Trebonius. There is no fear in him; let him not die :
They were in the wrong; and Cassius was right.
The honest manliness of Brutus is however suffi. cient to find out the unfitness of Cicero to be included in their enterprise, from his affected egotism and literary vanity.
“O, name him not : let us not break with him;
His skepticism as to prodigies and his moralizing on the weather- This disturbed sky is not to walk in"--are in the same spirit of refined imbecility.
Shakspeare has in this play and elsewhere, shewn the same penetration into political character, and the springs of publick events, as into those of every-day life. For instance, the whole design to liberate their country fails from the generous temper and overweening confidence of Brutus in the goodbess of their cause and the assistance of others. Thus it has always been. Those who mean well themselves think well of others, and fall a prey to their security. That humanity and sincerity which dispose men to resist injustice and tyranny render them unfit to cope with the cupping and power of those