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
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
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 ; naythe thought
growingthat honour had more weight than death.
That Cassius understood it as Warburton, is the beauty
of Cassius as con-trasted 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
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
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 himto 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 causenone 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 forwardsTrue;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 ageuse '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
Act iii. sc. i. Antony's speech:
Pardon me, Juliushere wast thou bay'd, brave
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 Shakspearian 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,