Julius Caesar (1919) Yale/Appendix A

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Sources of the Play

There were, of course, earlier plays in Elizabethan England on the subject of Cæsar's career (Henslowe's Diary attests their popularity in the 1590's) and they may well have influenced Shakespeare's work. For a careful study of these possibilities, see H. M, Ayres' 'Shakespeare's Julius Cæsar in the Light of Some Other Versions' (Pub. Mod. Lang. Assoc. of America, 1910). Dr. A. Boecker also has put forward an elaborate effort to establish Shakespeare's indebtedness to Orlando Pescetti's 'Il Cesare,' a tragedy running to nearly four thousand lines of verse and published in Verona in 1594, 2d ed. 1604 ('A Probable Italian Source of Shakespeare's Julius Cæsar,' N. Y. Univ. Dissertation, 1913). But after all due allowances have been made for this sort of influence, and for the less important possibility of indebtedness to classic authors such as Appian, it still remains true that the great source of the play is 'The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romanes, Compared together by that grave learned Philosopher and Historiographer, Plutarke of Chæronea: Translated out of Greeke into French by Iames Amyot . . . and out of French into Englishe, by Thomas North. Imprinted at London . . . 1579,' 2d ed. 1595, 3d ed. 1603. To this famous and splendid monument of Elizabethan prose Shakespeare owes the whole action or plot of the play, the separate incidents, many personal details of characterization, some few errors in fact, and occasional verbal suggestions: but his supreme skill in selecting, rejecting, combining, and arranging historical material has rarely been shown to better advantage than in his handling of the three 'Lives' on which he drew,—those, namely, of Cæsar, Brutus, and Antony; while his power of poetic and dramatic transformation will appear upon comparing Act III, Scene i with the following typical passage from North:

'For these things, they may seem to come by chance: but the place where the murther was prepared, and where the Senate were assembled, and where also there stood up an image of Pompey dedicated by him selfe amongest other ornaments which he gave unto the Theater: all these were manifest proofes, that it was the ordinaunce of some god that made this treason to be executed, specially in that very place. It is also reported that Cassius (though otherwise hee did favour the doctrine of Epicurus) beholding the image of Pompey, before they entred into the action of their traitorous enterprise; hee did softly call uppon it to aide him. But the instant danger of the present time, taking away his former reason, did sodainly put him into a furious passion, and made him like a man halfe besides him selfe. Now Antonius, that was a faithfull friend to Cæsar, and a valiant man besides of his handes, him Decius Brutus Alhinus entertained out of the Senate house, having begunne a long tale of set purpose. So Cæsar comming into the house, all the Senate stood up on their feete to doe him honor. The part of Brutus company and confederates stoode round about Cæsars chayre, and part of them also came towardes him, as though they made sute with Metellus Cimber, to call home his brother againe from banishment: and thus prosecuting still their sute, they followed Cæsar, till hee was set in his chaire. Who, denying their petitions, and being offended with them one after an other, because the more they were denied the more they pressed uppon him, and were the earnester with him: Metellus at length, taking his gowne with both his hands, pulled it over his necke, which was the signe given the confederats to set uppon him. Then Casca, behinde him, strake him in the necke with his sword, howbeit the wound was not great nor mortall, because it seemed the feare of such a devilish attempt did amaze him and take his strength from him, that he killed him not at the first blow. But Cæsar turning straight unto him, caught hold of his sword, and held it hard: & they both cried out, Cæsar in Latin: O vile traitor Casca, what doest thou? And Casca in Greeke to his brother, brother, helpe mee. At the beginning of this stur, they that were present, not knowing of the conspiracy, were so amazed with the horrible sight they saw: they had no power to flie, neither to helpe him, not so much, as once to make an outcry. They on the other side that had conspired his death compassed him in on everie side with their swords drawen in their hands, that Cæsar turned him no where but hee was stricken at by some, and still had naked swords in his face, and was hacked and mangled among them, as a wilde beast taken of hunters. For it was agreede among them, that every man should give him a wound, because all their parts should be in this murther: and then Brutus gave him one. . . . Men report also, that Cæsar did still defende him selfe against the rest, running every way with his body: but when he saw Brutus with his sword drawen in his hand, then he pulled his gowne over his head, and made no more resistaunce, and was driven either casually, or purposedly, by the counsell of the conspirators, against the base whereupon Pompeys image stoode, which ran all of a goare bloud till he was slain. Thus it seemed that the image tooke just revenge of Pompeys enemy, being throwen downe on the ground at his feete, and yeelding up his ghost there, for the number of wounds he had upon him. For it is reported, that he had three and twenty wounds upon his body: and divers of the conspirators did hurt themselves, striking one body with so many blowes. When Cæsar was slaine, the Senate (though Brutus stood in the middest amongst them, as though he would have saied somewhat touching this fact) presently ran out of the house, and flying, filled all the city with marvellous feare and tumult.' (From 'The Life of Julius Cæsar,' North's 2d ed., 1595, as quoted by Furness, pp. 300, 301.)