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REVIEW
Brower, Reuben A. "The Discovery of Plutarch:
Julius Caesar." Hero & Saint: Shakespeare and The Graeco-Roman Heroic Tradition. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1971. 204-38.


Thesis: Brower's central concern is Shakespeare's presentation of heroes, and his central idea about Julius Caesar is that "In the Renaissance rendering of Plutarch's Lives by Amyot, 'Englished' by the transforming genius of North, Shakespeare found a version of the ancient heroic in language so familiar that he could in his turn transform it, adapting it to his uses as a growing writer of tragic drama" (205).

Plutarch (especially as Shakespeare knew him) most favored Pericles:
In the final blend of North-Amyot-Plutarch, Pericles has become the complete hero-prince, great in martial conquests and political skills, nobler still by virtue of 'overcoming himselfe', gentle in manners, and merciful to his enemies. The Plutarchan ideal of a ruler who has reached the harmony within necessary for achieving harmony with his people has been qualified by Virgilian and Christian tenderness. In one man, and perhaps only one in the ancient world, 'personal' and 'political' values were in perfect balance.  (211)
Plutarch's ideals, says Brower, constitute the basis upon which Shakespeare built the character of Brutus; also, in exploring the balance of personal and political values within Brutus, Shakespeare started on the path to the "drama of the mind" (237) which appears in his greatest tragedy.

In the course of making his general argument, Brower touches on many associated subjects. Of particular interest is his section on the speech patterns of the characters:
"Julius Caesar" is the most purely oratorical of the tragedies. Dramatic speech is nearly always public speech, and distinctly persuasive. The most private soliloquies are public and impersonal in tone when compared with similar speeches in Hamlet and Macbeth. There is also a marked tendency for characters to use the third person of themselves or of other characters they are addressing, and a not unrelated fondness for rhetorical questions and apostrophes, for personification and the use of semi-allegorical abstractions to describe outer and inner action.  (217)
Brower believes that these stylistic characteristics were inspired by the focus on public and political life that Shakespeare found in North's Plutarch.

Bottom Line: Very informative.


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   Author: Philip Weller
   Last Modified: 22 June 2005