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Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar

Art and Culture Quotes

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Quote #4

Good gentlemen, look fresh and merrily;
Let not our looks put on our purposes,
But bear it as our Roman actors do,
With untired spirits and formal constancy: (2.1.22)

Brutus is pretty crafty here, don't you think? He urges the conspirators to pretend everything is hunky dory so nobody will catch on to their secret plot to assassinate Caesar.  What's interesting is that when Brutus tells the plotters to behave like "actors," Shakespeare makes an explicit connection between stage acting and rebellion. 

Brain Snack: This connection between acting and rebellion is pretty provocative because government censors and officials were always worried that playhouses where large crowds gathered could potentially incite riots and acts of treason. This was even more of a concern if the play portrayed rebellion against a monarch or powerful political leader onstage, or if it used the stage as a political platform.

Quote #5

Caesar should be a beast without a heart,
If he should stay at home to-day for fear.
No, Caesar shall not: danger knows full well
That Caesar is more dangerous than he:
We are two lions litter'd in one day,
And I the elder and more terrible:
And Caesar shall go forth. (2.2.6)

Ever notice the way Julius Caesar likes to talk about himself in the third person? This is called "illeism," and it's pretty common in the play – Cassius and Brutus do it too. What's up with that?

In a book called Roman Shakespeare, literary critic Coppelia Kahn argues that when characters talk like this, it is "as though they are spectators and audience of themselves as public figures" (78). Sounds right to us, and we also might add that Caesar is a pretty admiring "audience" of himself.

According to Kahn, the repeated third person references are examples of the play's "public mode." In other words, Caesar, Brutus, and Cassius are very much aware of the public roles they play. We also know that these guys are pretty active when it comes to shaping and creating their public images.

Brain Snack: During the 1996 US presidential election campaign, candidate Bob Dole often referred to himself in the third person. (At one point, he said, "If you had to leave your children with Bob Dole or Bill Clinton, I think you'd probably leave them with Bob Dole" (source). Other famous "illeists" include Fez (That 70's Show), Elmo (Sesame Street), The Rock (actor Dwayne Johnson), and The Todd (Scrubs).

Quote #6

[...]How many ages hence
Shall this our lofty scene be acted over
In states unborn and accents yet unknown! (3.1.10)

Cassius predicts how the actions of the conspirators against Julius Caesar will be "acted" out in future "states unborn and accents yet unknown."  This is Shakespeare's way of winking at the audience, who is watching this play centuries later, in a "state unborn" (16th century England), being performed in a language that didn't exist yet (English).  

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