Thesis: Doran's book is a collection of essays, each one of which examines how Shakespeare's use of language contributes to a particular play's distinctive effect and significance. She acknowledges that in all of his plays Shakespeare uses language as a marker of character and situation (clowns don't talk like courtiers, and Hamlet doesn't talk to Horatio the way he talks to Polonius), but she also asserts that each of the plays she studies has its own unique tone, created largely by a particular feature of language. In Julius Caesar, the feature is the use of proper names.
Doran focuses on three names: "Caesar," "Brutus," and "Rome."
About "Caesar" and Caesar, Doran makes some acute points. She says that "when he is present, the interplay of the several forms of the second and third persons, of direct and indirect address, is a wonderfully adroit way of moving back and forth between Caesar the man and Caesar the public figure" (131). And she says of his habit of referring himself in the third person:
How are we to take this third-person habit of Caesar's? this deliberate use of his own name? As evidence of character? As a manifestation of the hubris of the tragic hero whom the gods mean to destroy? As a way to suggest the greatness Caesar had assumed in tradition, hence to prepare the way for the magnitude of his fall? These several ways of looking at the speeches in question need not be incompatible, provided one entertains all the quick impressions one receives in the theater, or even the more thoughtful impressions from reading, and does not insist on an exclusive and consistent intellectualized theory. (136)About Brutus and his name, Doran says, "the name is used in more varied ways, often more spontaneous, hence less obtrusive, ways than Caesar's" (141). An interesting point is that Brutus, like Caesar, speaks of himself in the third person when he is thinking of his public position, "when he thinks of himself as Roman republican and patriot, assimilated to the ancestral Brutus as tyrant-slayer" (143).
About the scene in which the Roman commoners tear apart Cinna the Poet because of his name, Doran says,
Caesar had sought to invest his name and with some kind of greatness of position or will and to live by the meaning he gave it. Brutus has found in the name he shares with his ancestor the same obligation to patriotism and tyrannicide. And the people tear apart the innocent Cinna merely on account of his name. Is there some fascination in names which makes men endow them with reality, even if that assumed reality may lead to catastrophe? Is what we call people, and even things or deeds, more important than what they are? (150).
Evaluation: Doran provides some good insights, but she often drags us through more detail than she makes meaningful, and she has no vision of the play which would unify all of her individual observations.
Bottom Line: A lot of interesting material.