There is a special necessity for a New Casebook on Julius Caesar because by the year 1999 this play of 1599 had become one of the most quoted texts in debates about critical theory. And this prominence was intriguing because Shakespeare’s tragedy was no longer a favourite of actors, as it had been for most of the twentieth century. Less staged than studied, the Roman play had become an ironic instance of its own theme of the gap between ideas and action. But one reason why it had become so influential in theorising the relation of the word to the world was that its imaging of the moment ‘Between the acting of a dreadful thing’/ And the first motion’ (II.i.63) appeared to anticipate so much of postmodernism.1 Here was a text that dreamed the past as a museum, the present as a market, and the future as a kind of movie, in which there would be no telling ‘How many ages hence’ its plot would be ‘acted over,/In states unborn and accents yet unknown’ (III.i.11). From museum, to market, to movie: it was because Julius Caesar seemed sure of the power of representations to pre-programme reality that it invited such close attention from critics themselves convinced that the present was the incomplete project of Shakespeare’s era. Whether dramatising controversy about mass culture in the Colosseum; conflict over public information in the Senate; contest for audience ratings in the Forum; or war conducted by surveillance and misinformation, this drama spoke directly to poststructuralist anxiety that there was nothing outside of texts and simulation. As Barbara Freedman wrote in her 1991 book, Staging the Gaze, when Brutus admits that ‘The eye sees not itself/But by reflection’ (I.ii.53) Julius Caesar comes very close to our own videomania, and a play which consists of ‘the continual posing and reposing of the interplay of regards … confirms the power of theatre as theory’.2 Shakespeare’s tragedy emerged as such a prime site for theorists, then, because it was itself so virtually theorised.
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