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Julius Cesar was one of three principal plays by different authors, pitched upon by the celebrated Earl of Hallifax to be brought out in a splendid manner by subscription, in the year 1707. The other two were the King and No King of Fletcher, and Dryden's Maiden Queen. There perhaps might be political reasons for this selection, as far as regards our author. Otherwise, Shakespear's Julius Caesar is not equal as a whole, to either of his other plays taken from the Roman history. It is inferior in interest to Coriolanus, and both in interest and power to Antony and Cleopatra. It however abounds in admirable and affecting passages, and is remarkable for the profound knowledge of character, in which Shakespear could scarcely fail. If there is any exception to this remark, it is in the hero of the piece himself. We do not much admire the representation here given of Julius Caesar, nor do we think it answers to the portrait given of him in his Commentaries. He makes several vapouring and rather pedantic speeches, and does nothing. Indeed, he has nothing to do. So far, the fault of the character might be the fault of the plot.
The spirit with which the poet has entered at once into the manners of the common people, and the jealousies and heart-burnings of the different factions, is shewn in the first scene, when Flavius and Marullus, tribunes of the people, and some citizens of Rome, appear upon the stage.
"Flavins. Thou art a cobler, art thou?
Cobler. Truly, Sir, all that I live by, is the awl: I meddle with no tradesman's matters, nor woman's matters, but with-al, I am indeed, Sir, a surgeon to old shoes; when they are in great danger, I recover them.
Flavins. But wherefore art not in thy shop to day? Why do'st thou lead these men about the streets?
Cobler. Truly, Sir, to wear out their shoes, to get myself into more work. But indeed, Sir, we make holiday to see Caesar, and rejoice in his triumph."
To this specimen of quaint low humour immediately follows that unexpected and animated burst of indignant eloquence, put into the mouth of one of the angry tribunes.
Marullus. "Wherefore rejoice!
!—What conquest brings
What tributaries follow him to Rome,
Run to your houses, fall upon your knees,
The well-known dialogue between Brutus and Cassius, in which the latter breaks the design of the conspiracy to the former, and partly gains him over to it, is a noble piece of high-minded declamation. Cassius's insisting on the pretended effeminacy of Caesar's character, and his description of their swimming across the Tiber together, "once upon a raw and gusty day," are among the finest strokes in it. But perhaps the whole is not equal to the short scene which follows when Caesar enters with his train.
"Brutus. The games are done, and Caesar is returning. Cassius. As they pass by, pluck Casca by the sleeve, And he will, after his sour fashion, tell you What has proceeded worthy note to day.
Brutus. I will do so; but look you, Cassius—
Cassius. Casca will tell us what the matter is.
Ctesar. Let me have men about me that are fat,
Antony. Fear him not, Caesar, he's not dangerous: He is a noble Roman, and well given.
Ctesar. Would he were fatter; but I fear him not: Yet if my name were liable to fear, I do not know the man I should avoid So soon as that spare Cassius. He reads much;He is a great observer; and he looks Quite through the deeds of men. He loves no plays, As thou dost, Antony; he hears no music: Seldom he smiles, and smiles in such a sort, As if he mock'd himself, and scorn'd his spirit, That could be mov'd to smile at any thing. Such men as he be never at heart's ease, Whilst they behold a greater than themselves;And therefore are they very dangerous.
We know hardly any passage more expressive of the genius of Shakespear than this. It is as if he had been actually present, had known the different characters and what they thought of one another, and had taken down what he heard and saw, their looks, words, and gestures, just as they happened.
The character of Mark Antony is farther speculated upon where the conspirators deliberate whether he shall fall with Caesar. Brutus is against it—
"And for Mark Antony, think not of him:
Camus. Yet do I fear him:
Brutus. Alas, good Cassius, do not think of him:
Trebonius. There is no fear in him; let him not die: For he will live, and laugh at this hereafter."
They were in the wrong; and Gassius was right. The honest manliness of Brutus is however