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REVIEW
Brooke, Nicholas. "Julius Caesar."
Shakespeare's Early Tragedies. London: Methuen, 1968. 137-162.


Thesis: Brooke is uncomfortable with Julius Caesar. In discussing the relationship between it and Shakespeare's other early tragedies, he says that it has the "Senecan shape" of revenge tragedy: "The play is firmly based on the Greatness of Caesar, and the ritual crime of his murder, which is preceded by an elaborate display of portents, storms, and portentous rhetoric; Antony fills the role of faithful (and not very hesitant) revenger; Caesar's ghost sustains the portentous atmosphere, and the revenge is finally accomplished" (141). However, Julius Caesar is, according to Brooke, a revenge tragedy with ambivalent twists:
Caesar's credulity, identified with his ageing megalomania, discredits all credulity, discredits in fact the structure of portents on which I have said the play is constructed; or at least questions it, for the result is ambivalent. This ambivalence casts a similarly indefinite shadow on the play in other ways: the great Caesar is also absurd in his Marlowan self-assertion; Antony, with all his devotion and skill, is offensive; a similar irony reveals in Cassius (but only occasionally) a crude jealousy, and it calls Brutus' high-mindedness into question. The play seems to have equal and opposite tendencies towards the nobility of tragedy on the one hand, and world of dust and ashes on the other. There is also a perplexing hovering on the edge of comedy which is sometimes explicit (as, for instance, with Casca's description of Caesar in comic prose in I.ii), but sometimes not at all clear: there are many passages which seem at least to invite a sense of the ridiculous without being decisively 'meant' to be funny.  (142-3)
Brooke goes into detail about the ambivalent nature of the play, and his discussion leads him to the conclusion that the ending—Antony's famous praise of Brutus as "the noblest Roman of them all"—is not appropriate:
The questioning of values, the contrasting of the blood-free spirit of man with the grotesques image of his clumsy body, the inclination to see Roman nobility as comically or farcically degraded—all these things have been strong in the play, but they find no place in this noble finale. It is inevitable, I think, that their absence should be felt as a criticism of the end. The parts of the play have not grown consistently into a whole, and it is therefore a fragile tragic value that is built up here, one which cannot survive criticism.  (161)
For Brooke, then, the play is interesting as an indication of "the developing sensitivity to varying modes of utterance with which Shakespeare experimented in his earliest work" (162).

Bottom Line: Whether or not you agree with his conclusions, Brooke provides many valuable insights.


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   Author: Philip Weller
   Last Modified: 27 June 2005