The enthusiasm of Thomas Platter and Leonard Digges for early performances of Julius Caesar (see pp. 2, 7) was countered at the end of the seventeenth century by Thomas Rymer and John Dennis, who criticized Shakespeare’s failure to live up to neoclassical rules of how to write tragedy. Both felt that the grandeur of Rome and neoclassical purity of tragedy were insuf ciently respected: ‘Caesar and Brutus … put in Fools Coats, and [made] Jack-puddens’ (Rymer, 1693), and the depiction of ‘the Rabble in Julius Caesar’ of ending against ‘the Dignity of that noble Poem’ (Dennis, 1711). Dennis also wondered how Shakespeare ‘could have made so very little of the first and greatest of Men, as that Caesar should be but a Fourth-rate Actor in his own Tragedy?’ The answer was that throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Brutus was regarded as the hero. And eighteenth-century heavyweights such as Pope and Johnson defended Shakespeare’s accuracy in delineating ancient Rome: ‘In … Julius Caesar, not only the Spirit, but Manners, of the Romans are exactly drawn’ (Pope, 1725). Already some of the major critical issues were being identified: the relationship of the play to Roman history, Shakespeare’s treatment of leading characters, and the structure of a play named after a character who is killed early in Act III.
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