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About this book

Julius Caesar is possibly the play that opened The Globe theatre. Certainly it was one of the first to be performed there, using the acting resources of the company and the new stage space with dramatic confidence. The first of Shakespeare's mature tragedies, Julius Caesar is also stirring history. The great political debates between Republic and Empire, democracy and dictatorship, mob rule and tyranny are as applicable today as they were in Elizabethan England, and to the Romans themselves in 44 BC. Highlights of this Handbook include:
• a commentary at the heart of the book which guides the reader through the play as it unfolds moment by moment in performance, with special attention to the theatrical choices facing actors and directors
• an account of the play's sources and its cultural context
• analysis of influential performances on stage and screen, and of changes in the play's critical reception.

Lively and stimulating, this invaluable guide offers a unique investigation of the theatrical life of one of Shakespeare's great tragedies.

Table of Contents

1. The Text and Early Performances

Abstract
This response by Cassius to Brutus’ injunction to ‘bathe our hands in Caesar’s blood/Up to the elbows’ (ll. 106–7) is remarkable in its invitation to the audience to respond not just to the death of Julius Caesar seconds earlier, and to the deliberate glorification of the assassination by the conspirators, but also to the self-conscious theatricality of an actor invoking an image of future actors re-staging the scene for centuries to come to other audiences in other countries and languages. We are invited to respond emotionally, even viscerally, to the bloody moment, but at the same time to admire the intellectual double focus: Shakespeare, through Cassius, is using his own craft of the theatre (the ‘lofty scene’) to point out the momentous reverberations of an action that is as true when re-staged as when first performed. For actors to draw audience attention to the fact that it is only a play requires audacity; to do so in a way that deepens our response to the play is masterful.
David Carnegie

2. Commentary

Abstract
Although Julius Caesar is traditionally divided into five acts, Shakespeare did not write it in acts, but in scenes, probably pretty much as the scene divisions appear in modern editions of the play. These are ‘English scenes’ — scenes that continue until all characters exit, leaving the stage clear for a new scene to begin. Although some disagreement is possible over scene division, especially for the rapid shifts of the battle in Act V, generally speaking an English scene, long or short, contains a complete episode. Yet for purposes of analysis (and probably for Shakespeare when writing), it is useful to consider what we now call ‘French scenes’ — scenes that continue only until any character leaves the stage, or a new character enters. Act I, scene i, for instance, is a single English scene but contains at least two French scenes (three if the commoners enter prior to Flavius and Marullus). The diference in stage activity, mood, rhythm, and content between the final French scene, with just the two anxious tribunes talking alone, and the preceding confrontation with the commoners, gives a clear sense of the importance of French scenes as units of playmaking and analysis. They are also usually the basic units of rehearsal of a play.
David Carnegie

3. The Play’s Sources and Cultural Context

Abstract
When Shakespeare was composing Julius Caesar for its first performance in 1599 he was rapidly maturing as a playwright. With Henry V he had just completed his second tetralogy of English history plays, and Hamlet, his next tragedy, was probably already in his mind even before he finished Julius Caesar. The twin golden comedies, As You Like It and Twelfth Night, were also written about this time. As an artist, Shakespeare was developing his ability to explore the interior workings of psychology, emotions, and complex personal relations.
David Carnegie

4. Key Productions and Performances

Abstract
When Edwin Booth opened his famous long run in New York on Christmas Day, 1871, both he and the play were well known and popular. Julius Caesar had been a staple of the American stage since the American Revolution, its content well suited to republican sympathies. And Edwin Booth was the most famous actor of a notable theatrical family. ‘The three sons of the great Booth’ gathered to perform Julius Caesar as a fundraiser in 1864 (‘the great Booth’, by then dead, was their barnstorming father Junius Brutus Booth, named after the founder of the Roman Republic; see I.ii.158–61): Edwin played Brutus, Junius Brutus Jr. played Cassius, and Antony was played by John Wilkes. Ironically, John Wilkes Booth would only a few months later carry out the real-life assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.
David Carnegie

5. The Play on Screen

Abstract
Shakespeare Writing ‘Julius Caesar’ (1907), by the pioneer French filmmaker Georges Méliès, which includes in its ten-minute duration the assassination scene from the play, is one of the earliest screen versions of any Shakespeare; and the 1938 BBC Julius Caesar was the first full-length Shakespeare play ever broadcast on television. (The latter does not survive, of course, because television recording technology had not yet been invented.) Kenneth Rothwell lists fifteen screen versions of adaptations of the play altogether (Rothwell, pp. 342–3), of which the four most significant, all available on DVD or cassette, will be discussed here.
David Carnegie

6. Critical Assessments

Abstract
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.
David Carnegie
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