REVIEW
Daiches, David. Shakespeare: Julius Caesar.
Studies in English Literature. 65. London: Edward Arnold, 1976.


Thesis: In this slim book (58 pages), Daiches, after some opening remarks on tragedy, "the relation between virtue and power" (8), and "the order-disorder theme" (11), proceeds with a fairly detailed account of the play. Throughout, Daiches focuses on character and motivation. Here's a sample of his commentary on the mixed motives of Brutus:
That human reality is precisely what Brutus cannot help wanting to obscure. He objects to Cassius's proposal that the conspirators should take an oath of resolution on the grounds that this is a unique compact between honesty and honesty (not interestingly enough, between honest men and honest men) and, unlike all other sorts of conspiracy, does not require an oath. When Cassius suggests bringing in Cicero, Brutus impatiently brushes the suggestion away, 'For he will never follow anything / That other men begin' (is this a glimmer of political realism, or a sole touch of jealousy?). When Decius and Cassius argue for the elimination of Antony as well as Caesar, Brutus dismisses their case on the grounds that that would be real murder, whereas they are going to kill as 'sacrificers, not butchers'. It is an extraordinary piece of dressing up:
We all stand up against the spirit of Caesar,
And in the spirit of men there is no blood.
O that we then could come by Caesar's spirit
And not dismember Caesar! But, alas,
Caear must bleed for it! And, gentle friends,
Let's kill him boldly but not wrathfully;
Let's carve him as a dish fit for the gods,
Not hew him as a carcass fit for hounds.
And let our hearts, as subtle masters do,
Stir up their servants to an act of rage
And after seem to chide 'em.
The murder of Caesar must be done as a disinterested ritual act. As a murder it must not be real. At the same time there must be an element of hypocrisy in it (and we remember the etymology of the word 'hypocrisy' from the Greek hypocrisis, 'an acting on the stage'), since after stirring up their hearts to commit the deed, they must 'after seem to chide 'em'. If they do it this way, the populace will see them as 'purgers, not murderers'. The audience must surely by now have an intense curiosity as to just how this man, who talks of sacrificing and carving and purging when he is about to join in committing a political murder, will actually behave during and immediately after the assassination.   (25)
This kind of thing is helpful, and it gets even more interesting when Daiches compares characters to each other. However, Daiches has no general theory about the characters or themes of the play—or maybe it should be said that he has no axe to grind.

Bottom Line: Pretty good pony.