Julius Caesar essay features Samuel Taylor Colleridge's famous critique based on his legendary and influential Shakespeare notes and lectures
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Julius Caesar Essay

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Julius Caesar Essay features Samuel Taylor Coleridge's famous critique based on his legendary and influential Shakespeare notes and lectures.

Act i. sc. i.

Mar. What meanest thou by that? Mend me, thou saucy fellow!

THE speeches of Flavius and Manillas are in blank verse. Wherever regular metre can be rendered truly imitative of character, passion, or personal rank, Shakspeare seldom, if ever, neglects it. Hence this line should be read:—

What mean'st by that? mend me, thou saucy fellow!

I say regular metre: for even the prose has in the highest and lowest dramatic personage, a Cobbler or a Hamlet, a rhythm so felicitous and so severally appropriate, as to be a virtual metre.

Ib. sc. 2.

Bru. A soothsayer bids you beware the Ides of March.

If my ear does not deceive me, the metre of this line was meant to express that sort of mild philosophic contempt, characterizing Brutus even in his first casual speech. The line is a trimeter,—each dipobia containing two accented and two unaccented syllables, but variously arranged, as thus;—

u — — u | — u u — | u — u —
A soothsayer | bids you beware | the Ides of March.

Ib. Speech of Brutus:

Set honour m one eye, and death i' the other,
And I will look on both indifferently.

Warburton would read 'death' for 'both'; but I prefer the old text. There are here three things, the public
Good, the individual Brutus' honour, and his death. The latter two so balanced each other, that he could decide for the first by equipoise; nay—the thought growing—that honour had more weight than death. That Cassius understood it as Warburton, is the beauty of Cassius as contrasted with Brutus.

Ib. Cæsar's speech:—

He loves no plays,
As thou dost, Antony; he hears no music, &c.

This is not a trivial observation, nor does our poet mean barely by it, that Cassias was not a merry, sprightly man; bat that he had not a due temperament of harmony in his disposition. Theobald's Note.

O Theobald! what a commentator wast thou, when thou would'st affect to understand Shakspeare, instead of contenting thyself with collating the text! The meaning here is too deep for a line ten-fold the length of thine to fathom.

Ib. sc. 3. Casca's speech:—

Be factious for redress of all these griefs
And I will set this foot of mine as far,
As who goes farthest.

I understand it thus: 'You have spoken as a conspirator; be so in fact, and I will join you. Act on your principles, and realize them in a fact.'

Act ii. sc. i. Speech of Brutus:—

It must be by his death; and, for my part,
I know no personal cause to spurn at him,
But for the general. He would be crown'd:
How that might change his nature, there's the question.
—————And, to speak truth of Cæsar,
I have not known when bis affections sway'd
More than his reason.
—————So Caesar may;
Then, lest he may, prevent.

This speech is singular;—at least, I do not at present see into Shakspeare's motive, his rationale, or in what point of view be meant Brutus' character to appear. For surely— (this, I mean, is what I say to myself, with my present quantum of insight, only modified by my experience in how many instances I have ripened into a perception of beauties, where I had before descried faults;) surely, nothing can seem more discordant with our historical preconceptions of Brutus, or more lowering to the intellect of the Stoico-Platonic tyrannicide, than the tenets here attributed to him—to him, the stem Roman republican; namely,—that he would have no objection to a king, or to Cæsar, a monarch in Rome, would Cæsar but be as good a monarch as he now seems disposed to be! How, too, could Brutus say that he found no personal cause—none in Caesar's past conduct as a man? Had he not passed the Rubicon? Had he not entered Rome as a conqueror? Had he not placed his Gauls in the Senate?—Shakspeare, it may be said, has not brought these things forwards—True;—and this is just the ground of my perplexity. What character did Shakspeare mean his Brutus to be?

Ib. Speech of Brutus:—

For if thou path, thy native semblance on—

Surely, there need be no scruple in treating this 'path' as a mere misprint or mis-script for 'put.' In what place does Shakspeare,—where does any other writer of the same age—use 'path' as a verb for 'walk?'

Ib. sc. 2. Cæsar's speech:—

She dreamt last night, she saw my statue—

No doubt, it should be statua, as in the same age, they more often pronounced 'heroes' as a trisyllable than dissyllable. A modem tragic poet would have written,—

Last night she dreamt, that she my statue saw—

But Shakspeare never avails himself of the supposed license of transposition, merely for the metre. There is always some logic either of thought or passion to justify it.

Act iii. sc. i. Antony's speech:—

Pardon me, Julius—here wast thou bay'd, brave hart;
Here didst thou fall; and here thy hunters stand
Sign'd in thy spoil, and crimson'd in thy death.
O world I thou wast the forest to this hart,
And this, indeed, O world I the heart of thee.

I doubt the genuineness of the last two lines;—not because they are vile; but first, on account of the rhythm, which is not Shakspearian, but just the very tune of some old play, from' which the actor might have interpolated them;— and secondly, because they interrupt, not only the sense and connection, but likewise the flow both of the passion, and, (what is with me still more decisive) of the Shakspearean link of association. As with many another parenthesis or gloss slipt into the text, we have only to read the passage without it, to see that it never was in it. I venture to say there is no instance in Shakspeare fairly like this. Conceits he has; but they not only rise out of some word in the lines before, but also lead to the thought in the lines following. Here the conceit is a mere alien:
Antony forgets an image, when he is even touching it, and then recollects it, when the thought last in his mind must have led him away from it.

Act iv. sc. 3. Speech of Brutus:—

——What, shall one of us,
That struck the foremost man of all this world,
But for supporting robbers.

This seemingly strange assertion of Brutus is unhappily verified in the present day. What is an immense army, in which the lust of plunder has quenched all the duties of the citizen, other than a horde of robbers, or differenced only as fiends are from ordinarily reprobate men? Cæsar supported, and was supported by, such as these;—and even so Buonaparte in our days.

I know no part of Shakspeare that more impresses on me the belief of his genius being superhuman, than this scene between Brutus and Cassius. In the Gnostic heresy it might have been credited with less absurdity than most of their dogmas, that the Supreme had employed him to create, previously; to his function of representing, characters.

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