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review 2017-09-25 18:13
Julius Caesar / William Shakespeare
Julius Caesar - William Shakespeare
  Politics. Power. Ambition. Backstabbing (Literally).

Shakespeare knew human behaviour well. I thoroughly enjoyed the production that I attended on Sunday. So many lines of this play are still used today! “The fault … is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” “Cowards die many times before their deaths.” “Constant as the northern star.” “Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war!”

And of course, I cannot think of this play without remembering the Canadian comedy team, Wayne & Shuster and their still funny sketch, Rinse the Blood Off My Toga. (Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rR_5h... )

Now, join me for a martinus (wait, we’ll need more than one: martini) and we’ll “Beware the Ides of March.”


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review 2016-01-05 00:00
Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar - William Shakespeare
“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

Wow. Being a history major and just all around history nerd I know a lot of Julius Caesar and what caused everyone and their mother to turn against him which led to his assassination by some accounts believe is at least 60 men. I always read that in history books and wondered at the men who decided to go forth with this and how did the conspirators think things would go for them afterwards. Shakespeare takes this event and writes this play showcasing many of the names most of us are familiar with from history class, we have Julius Caesar, Octavius Caesar (who would become Emperor Augustus, the first Roman Emperor), Marc Antony, and dumb Brutus.

The setup of the play is really those around Brutus trying their best to turn him against Caesar who up until that moment hadn't done one thing (in the play mind you) to have everyone turn against him and have so many people out for his blood. Reading how Brutus slowly but surely gets turned against Caesar was sad. Especially because part of me believes that he didn't really believe in what he was doing, but was doing it because everyone else was down for it.

In the end Caesar is assassinated, and throws a really girl line of shade at Brutus and then things fall apart. Which if I had been part of this little group I would have pointed out, of course this was going to end badly for all of you.

I love the dialogue in this play. The best part of the play is the speech that Brutus gives trying to explain why he and others did what he did and Marc Antony's response to it.

"Be patient till the last.
Romans, countrymen, and lovers! hear me for my
cause, and be silent, that you may hear: believe me
for mine honour, and have respect to mine honour, that
you may believe: censure me in your wisdom, and
awake your senses, that you may the better judge.
If there be any in this assembly, any dear friend of
Caesar's, to him I say, that Brutus' love to Caesar
was no less than his. If then that friend demand
why Brutus rose against Caesar, this is my answer:
--Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved
Rome more. Had you rather Caesar were living and
die all slaves, than that Caesar were dead, to live
all free men? As Caesar loved me, I weep for him;
as he was fortunate, I rejoice at it; as he was
valiant, I honour him: but, as he was ambitious, I
slew him. There is tears for his love; joy for his
fortune; honour for his valour; and death for his
ambition. Who is here so base that would be a
bondman? If any, speak; for him have I offended.
Who is here so rude that would not be a Roman? If
any, speak; for him have I offended. Who is here so
vile that will not love his country? If any, speak;
for him have I offended. I pause for a reply.

Marc Antony's speech:
“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him;
The evil that men do lives after them,
The good is oft interred with their bones,
So let it be with Caesar ... The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Caesar answered it ...
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest,
(For Brutus is an honourable man;
So are they all; all honourable men)
Come I to speak in Caesar's funeral ...
He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
But Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man….
He hath brought many captives home to Rome,
Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill:
Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And, sure, he is an honourable man.
I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause:
What cause withholds you then to mourn for him?
O judgement! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason…. Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.”

Yeah Brutus, you done messed up. Antony's little speech was enough to get people to say hmmm.

The flow of the play is very good. And as I have said for all of Shakepeare's plays, the setting of his plays does not really come into play so to speak while you are reading the play. For most of these plays I would say watching them on stage or in a movie would be the best part in order to see how people are dressed, carry themselves, interact with each other and their surroundings.

The play comes to an end with the ghost of Caesar haunting Brutus with Brutus and Cassius deciding they will challenge Marc Antony and Octavius Casear in battle. Of course they lose to Marc Antony and in the end Brutus is the only one left that is praised by them for doing what he did for Rome and not because he was jealous of Caesar like the others were.
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review 2015-07-15 14:13
A Manga Shakespeare
Julius Caesar - Richard Appignanesi,Mustashrik,Mustashrik Mahbab,William Shakespeare

Don't you just hate it when you finish writing a commentary on something and you are just about to save your work when your computer crashes. Okay, I have been brought up around computers and it has been drummed into me since I was a kid that we always have to save our work, but unfortunately there is only so many times that we can save our work and still get work done (though I notice that at my actual workplace our work is constantly being saved, and backedup, and so on and so forth).


Anyway, when I came to write up on this particular graphic novel I was under the impression that I had already written a commentary on the actual play only to discover that despite the fact that I have read it something like five times I have not actually got around to writing a commentary on it. This is something that I am going to have to rectify, but once again since it is one of Shakespeare's plays, and that it is actually one of my favourite plays, then I am going to have to read it again before I go and write a commentary on it. I don't believe that I have written one on [book:Romeo and Juliet] either, but that is beside the point considering it is one that I will get around to sometime but am in no rush to do so.


Anyway, I think I will comment on this particular book first and then write a few thoughts about the play as a whole, though I will leave a fuller commentary for when I get around to the actual play. Now, this is a part of a series called 'The Manga Shakespeare' and I have noticed that there are two series in this vein. I have not seen the other series yet, though I do note that some are available at the various lending libraries here in Melbourne (though they tend to be Macbeth and Hamlet, even though a lot of the other plays have been published as well). The idea behind the novel was to present Shakespeare in an accessible way and that I believe is a good thing. I have pondered the idea of translating Shakespeare into a graphic novel format and it seems that it has been done already. However, I must say that even though I love the play I found that the art work in this particular version was not the best. Okay, it did have a modern theme, and also involved gunships and tanks, but I felt that the graphic novel itself was quite rushed and that it was not really all that presentable. I would be interested in reading one from the other series, though I have no real intention of running out and actually purchasing any of them.


As for the play itself, it is based upon the Life of Ceaser by the Greco-Roman author Plutarch. Plutarch actually wrote a huge work (which I have in my book collection) called The Lives of Eminent Greeks and Romans, and he goes through a whole collection of ancient Greek and Roman statesmen, looking at their lives, their achievements, and the legacy that they left behind. Shakespeare only wrote from three of these lives: Ceaser, Mark Antony, and Coriolanus. He also only selected specific events from their lives to work into a tragedy, and a tragedy this play definitely is.


The interesting thing with this particular play is that we will automatically think that it is the tragedy of Julius Ceaser when in fact it is not – the tragic hero in this play is actually Marcus Brutus of the 'et tu Brutai' fame. The reason I suggest this (and I am not going back on my belief that the whole concept of the tragic flaw of the Shakespearian tragic hero is a load of bunk) is that Brutus is facing a lot of pressures to turn and betray his friend. Now we will notice in the play that after the conspirators commit their deed they run out of the Senate building screaming 'freedom' and 'liberty' and are not cut down by the Roman Constabulary (as would no doubt happen today if we were to do the same thing against one of our leaders). The reason for that is that if a ruler were to get to the point where they were seen as a tyrant then it was the responsibility of the people, with the intention of protecting the freedom of the Republic, to assassinate the tyrant.


However, the problem is, and this comes out in the play, is that one person's tyrant is another person's saviour. We see this happen today when you have one group protesting against a leader and then an opposing group that actually supporting the leader (no doubt because they benefit personally from this leader). Even in the modern United States there is a belief that the citizenry must act to remove a tyranical leader (and we see this in one particular play called Americans where Leon Czolgosh defends his actions in assassinating William McKinley because he believed that it was his right, as an American citizen, to kill what he believed to be a tyrant).


This comes more to the front in Julius Ceaser where, after defeating his opponent Pompey in the Civil War, Ceaser comes into Rome triumphant. In fact the people of Rome throw him a massive party (called a Triumph) celebrating his victory (which was something only great heroes received, and to receive a Triumph was a sign of your accomplishment, though one aspect of it was that a slave would stand next to you in your chariot reminding you that you are still a mere mortal). However, we also have Ceaser being offered a crown (a symbol of Kingship) which he turns down, and the reason for that happening can be considered political manipulation (in saying that he will not accept the crown because he has no intention of becoming a tyrant).


Now, the problem with Brutus is that not only is he being persuaded by the co-conspirators to make a move against Ceaser, they are also calling up his namesake, and ancestor, another Brutus, who was responsible for killing the king Tarquin and establishing Rome as a republic. The question that is raised though was whether Ceaser could really be considered a tyrant, and whether moving against him in that manner was the right thing to do. As it turns out Mark Anthony managed to persuade the people of Rome (in his famous 'Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears' speech) that their actions were not the actions of liberators but rather the actions of criminals, which ends up shattering the fragile peace of Rome and throwing the republic back into civil war. In fact what ends up happening is that this action that is performed to protect the Republic ends up backfiring and sending Rome into a lengthy period where it is ruled by emperors and the old Republic is never again re-established.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/789975109
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quote 2015-03-20 03:11
"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings." - William Shakespeare
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review 2014-09-03 09:10
A question of tyranny
Julius Caesar - William Shakespeare

I am surprised that it has taken me this long to actually get around to re-reading this play so as to write a commentary on it considering that it happens to be one of my favourite Shakespearian plays. The copy that I own belonged to my uncle and the notes that have been scribbled into the book indicate that he read it when he was in high school. A part of me is jealous that he actually got to study this play whereas I was stuck with Hamlet. However, as I think about it I am glad that I never ended up studying this play because if I had I probably would not have enjoyed it as much.

If there is one thing that I do not like about this play it is the 1970 movie starring Charlton Heston as Mark Antony and Jason Robbards as Marcus Brutus. The reason that it leaves a black mark on a rather brilliant play is because of Jason Robbards' American accent. In fact, the accent is so bad that it completely destroys the movie. Another thing that I have noticed about the Shakespearian adaptations around time the movie was produced is that they tend to use the historical setting as opposed to the more recent adaptations which tend to bring the play into the modern world. Ever since the release of this version of Richard III:


Richard III with Ian McKellan



I have been hoping that they would do something similar with Julius Caesar. They did it with Coriolanus, and there does seem to be a Julius Caesar that was produced in 2002, but I have yet to see one where they have tanks, artillery, and Apache Gunships sweeping over the battlefield in the last act.


Apache Gunship



It also seems that there have been a number of high profile actors playing the role of Mark Antony:


Marlon Brando as Mark Antony



Anyhow, enough of my venting my desire to see a modern rendition of Julius Caesar, complete with Apache Gunships, and let us consider the play itself.


Historical Context

Julius Caesar is considered by modern scholars to be a problem play. Initially I haven't really seen anything all that problematic about it. While it is an historical play, it is also a play that demonstrates Shakespeare's maturity as a playwright. However, looking at the historical context of the play one needs to consider the fact that there are two contexts that we need to consider: that of the period in which the play was written and performed; and that of the period in which the events were set. The play itself is clearly a play that could be considered political in nature, even though it is a tragedy, however, as is clear, it has been based upon historical events. The sources of the play are numerous and include Plutarch's Life of Julius Caeser, Life of Mark Antony, and Life of Marcus Brutus, as well as Lucan's Pharsalia.

I will first look at the historical setting of the play (Ancient Rome) itself before looking at the context of the period in which the play was performed (Elizabethan England).



Ancient Rome


I hope we all know about the story of Julius Caesar, a Roman general who rose to become the foremost power within the Roman Empire and at his height was struck down by his peers in the Roman Senate, and whose best friend was among the conspirators. However we need to ask why it was that they did that because to our modern eyes it would seem absurd. This was not a case of assassination like what happened to John F Kennedy, where he was assassinated by a lone gunman (if that is what you believe), but rather it would be like Barrack Obama walking into Congress and all of the Republican representatives drawing guns and proceeding to shoot him. This is something that simply does not happen, so the question is why did the senators kill him when they surely would have expected retribution.


This thing was, and its comes out of the play, is that they first of all did not expect retribution. The Senators were the government and in one sense what they were doing was taking down a political opponent. This happens all the time in our modern democracies. In fact we see this occurring quite often, such as what happened to the Australian Labor Party in the last federal election, with certain newspapers clearly stating their political position on the front page:



Daily Telegraph - 5 August 2013



These days politicians tend not to resort to murdering their opponents in cold blood: rather they prefer to destroy their reputation.

The second reason the Roman Senators did this was because there was a belief that Julius Caesar had become a tyrant (and whether he was a tyrant is a separate argument in an of itself, which I will touch upon later) and it was seen to be the duty of the people in a democracy to resist a tyrant. Once again we see this happening today, though the definition of a tyrant can be quite vague. However, nobody would argue that this particular person was not a tyrant:


Adolf Hitler



Though whether this particular person could be considered a tyrant is another story:


Tony Abbott



I suspect that these people don't really consider him to be a tyrant:



Anti-Abbott Protest


but they certainly don't like him (and I must say I never saw as many protests as this when Julia was Prime Minister – just a couple of people waving placards screaming 'Juliar' and 'Ditch the Witch' – and look who is at the front):


Tony Abbott Protesting


Elizabethan England

Well, I seem to have written a bit with regards to the Roman period so I feel that maybe I should jump over to Elizabethan England to have a look at what was going on then. Well, England had had a relatively stable government for over a century (ignoring the disruption between the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I), particularly in the last fifty after the ascension of Elizabeth I. However this period was coming to an end because it was quite obvious that Elizabeth was getting old and no successor had been named. There was also the case that Elizabeth was not the most popular of monarchs among a certain portion of the population but the threat of the throne being usurped was now somewhat past. Shakespeare had already written a number of plays covering a period of significant instability within England which culminated with the War of the Roses, and out of the ashes had arisen the Tudor dynasty which had not only brought England into the modern age, but had created a stable government. Yet there was always the threat that this government could collapse and return to the period of anarchy that Shakespeare would regularly return to that theme.

Now, unlike Rome, England was not a democracy, nor was it a republic, so the idea of resisting a tyrant did not have the same effect that it would have had in Ancient Rome, or even today. As you are probably aware the monarch was in effect a tyrant. Yet, it is likely that the view of a tyrant differed in those days as it does now. England was a relatively liberal society. They had undergone a reformation and Elizabeth allowed parliament a certain amount of freedom. While England was not necessarily in a position that it was in today, there was some form of religious and economic freedom. As such the threat of a tyrant in this period was not so much installing oneself as a dictator, but rather undermining religious freedom and moving to sideline the fledgling parliament.





It is clear that Julius Caesar is an incredibly violent play. In fact the act of assassinating Caesar is an incredibly violent act in and off itself. During this part of the play Shakespeare clearly focuses on the blood – in fact there appears to be quite an excess of blood flowing out of this scene. However, the violence does not end with the assassination, but rather it continues with Mark Antony crying out 'cry havok and let slip the dogs of war'.


Caesar was marked as a tyrant by the conspirators, and as a tyrant it was up to them to resist him, however things did not turn out as expected. This was Shakespeare's warning, namely that by assassinating the tyrant was not going to free the people, but rather it was going to have the opposite effect. Notice how after Caesar is killed two things occur:


1) Octavian enters the play and becomes more and more dominant and by the end has taken the mantle of Caesar. In fact Octavian has the last line in the play.


2) While Caesar may be dead, he in effect does not die. Instead returns as a ghost and interacts with the characters in this form.


Thus, what has happened is that the conspirators have not ended the tyranny, but rather have perpetuated it. Caesar is offered the crown three times (reflecting the offer to take up the mantle of the monarch) and three times Caesar rejects it. True, Caesar had just defeated his political enemy (though what differs from the actual events is that Caesar did not kill Pompey – Pompey was assassinated by somebody else who was then punished by Caesar because while he and Pompey were enemies, Caesar did not wish to see his enemy dead) and it appeared that he was now master of Rome – in fact he was offered that position: but he refused.


However, by assassinating Caesar what the conspirators have done is not only have they sped up the process of moving Rome from a Republic to a dictatorship, but they have also released Caesar from his physical form. The nature of the ghost is not so much that Caesar has become undead, but instead represents the idea that by dying Caesar has ceased to be human and has now become a legend. His assassination actually worked in his favour because by dying he has become greater. Further, the assassination also paved the way for Octavian to take the mantle of Caesar, as is seen when Mark Antony begins to refer to him as such (ignoring the fact that Caesar is his surname, not his title).




Julius Caesar


There are a few things that should be discussed about the main character because even though he dies halfway through the play, he is still the character around which the entire play is focused. It was interesting to read that there was a change in the idea of Caesar between the Medieval Period and the Renaissance. Medieval thought portrayed Caesar as a hero, somebody to aspire to and to look up to, whereas Renaissance thinkers began to see him as a tyrant. Some have suggested that this was the case with Shakespeare, but that is not my position. My main argument is that Caesar rejects the crown, and there was never any clear indication that he would not have stepped down after a period of time (as Sulla did).


However, another aspect we need to consider is that Caesar was a populist, as can be seen throughout the play. While the conspirators are able to convince the people that the assassination was a necessity for a short time, Mark Antony was able to sway them back to his side. It is not just that he was a good speaker, but rather that he was able to touch upon a part of the ordinary people that swayed them to back his position. Even in Shakespeare's time we see support for Caesar among the common people that was not seen among the intellectual classes.


Further exploration of the historical facts also indicates that his assassins were supporters of the patricians (though we must remember that Caesar himself was a patrician, though his family did have humble beginnings). To put it in a modern context, the conspirators were akin to members of the Republican Party, while Caesar and his supporters were Democrats. While there was no left/right designation back in those days (that designation came about from the French Revolution), the struggle between those who support the common people and those who believe that the well being of the common people will arise from the support of the wealthy was still being played out.




Marcus Brutus


I want to finish off with a few words about Marcus Brutus, though it appears that I have written quite a lot anyway. The reason that I wish to make mention of Brutus is because I believe the play is actually his tragedy. The title of the play is 'The Tragedy of Julius Caesar' but I do not believe that Caesar is the tragic hero in the play - it is Brutus. One thing about Brutus is that his ancestor is famous for removing the last King of Rome, Tarquin, and founding the Republic, and thus he comes under pressure to follow in his ancestor's footsteps in this perceived crisis. The problem is that Brutus is Caesar's friend, which makes the struggle that he faces even greater. Thus comes the idea of whether it is right to commit a wrong if a greater good may result. However, as I have argued, it is possible that Caesar was not a tyrant, therefore the act of participating in the assassination did not bring about a greater good (which in the end it didn't).


The other aspect of Brutus' character is his legacy. In Dante's Divine Comedy we discover that Brutus lurks in the bottom layer of hell, along with Judas Iscariot, not just for the crime of murder, but for the crime of betraying a close friend. The name of Brutus (and there is a lot with regards to names in this play, and their importance) has also been forever tarnished. In fact, for me, whenever I hear the name Brutus, I immediately think of this guy:


Brutus from Popeye


Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1041050609
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