Friday, July 21, 2017

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare: A review

I first read Shakespeare's Julius Caesar for my high school literature class many, many years ago. Time has dimmed my memories of much that occurred during that period, but I have a pretty clear recollection of this play and my reaction to it. I found it fascinating, particularly the characters of Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.

That fascination was recalled to me a few years ago when HBO ran its excellent series set in that period, Rome, with Ciaran Hinds as Caesar and the wonderful James Purefoy as Antony. That series owed a lot Shakespeare's writing, as has probably every new artistic interpretation of that period. 

Shakespeare's language is so much a part of our collective unconscious that we quote him, both figuratively and literally, often when we are not even aware of it. Remember these quotes from this play?
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.
Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once. 
Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war!
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...
Beware the ides of March.
There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune...
His life was gentle; and the elements so mixed in him, that Nature might stand up and say to all the world, THIS WAS A MAN!
Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more.
Let me have men about me that are fat... Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look. He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.  
It was wonderful to stroll down memory lane with William. The words seemed just as fresh as when I first read them back in 19whatever.

What prompted me to reread the play was the notoriety it has caused this summer. Its production by "Shakespeare in the Park" in New York has been in the news because it updated the play to portray Caesar as a well-known current day politician and his rabid followers took great exception to that, disrupting the play and invading the stage to stop it. 

Who would ever have imagined that a 400-year-old play could have such relevancy and could cause such a reaction? Perhaps only Shakespeare. One imagines him chortling and rubbing his hands in glee as he surveyed that scene!

Rereading the play - the plot of which is too well-known to bother summarizing here - I still found it fascinating. I was struck this time especially by the fact that Mark Antony has the best lines in the play - his funeral oration for Caesar and his words on the death of Brutus. (Perhaps my reaction is colored by watching James Purefoy play him!) 

At any rate, I'm glad to have read it again and I am somehow comforted to know that Shakespeare's words still have the power to garner a forceful reaction even from people who may not fully understand them.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars   

4 comments:

  1. You chose great quotes. I haven't read this play, but I sure will at some point because I've been watching modern adaptations of Shakespeare's historical plays on the War of the Roses and my curiosity on this kind of production is piqued. I haven't watched Rome either. I tried to watch the first episode and got bored. Perhaps I should give it another try.

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    1. If you are interested in that period of history and certainly if you have a familiarity with this particular play, I would think you would find Rome enjoyable.

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  2. The Bard rarely fails us. Yes, the quotes! The man achieved immortality, that is for sure. I will read this one eventually.

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    1. It's hard to get through a day without quoting Shakespeare. He's that much a part of our language.

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