Friday, May 16, 2014

Review: Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

Julius CaesarJulius Caesar by William Shakespeare
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Somehow, I got through high school and two college Shakespeare courses without ever reading Julius Caesar. I'm only just correcting this oversight now.

This is one of Shakespeare's histories. It tells of the assassination of Julius Caesar in ancient Rome. Though Caesar is the title character, we get a lot more lines from Brutus, Caesar's good friend, and Cassius, Brutus's brother. Cassius is the main instigator, and seems driven by jealousy to get everyone in on killing Caesar. He appeals to Brutus's loyalty to Rome, itself, convincing him that Caesar is motivated by power.

The death of Caesar happens early in the narrative. The first half is a lot of omens and conspiring. The second half is the funeral, then the political fallout. Brutus manages to convince the populace the senators were right to kill Caesar, but then Caesar's best friend, Antony, speaks, and turns public sentiment against the conspirators. The Roman citizenry rages about, burning the homes of the conspirators and killing the ones involved who didn't escape in time, The ones who get away muster their armies. In the end, the people who killed Caesar wind up dead, killed at their own hands rather than fall prisoner to their political rivals.

There are similarities to Macbeth, in the ominous signs and the political machinations. Brutus's guilt has some echo in Macbeth's. Julius Caesar came first, so apparently Shakespeare was warming up to the "greed as the worst reason to kill a ruler" theme.

I'll want to revisit this play at some point in the near future. This run-through was a surface reading, and I didn't capture a fraction of the themes or imagery.

I listened to this play as an audio performance, which is the next best thing to watching it performed. I'm convinced that Shakespeare's plays can only be fully captured through performance. Reading them on a page sucks the life out of them. It was a good performance, though it was hard to keep track of the characters.


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