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Dowden, Edward. "The Roman Plays." Shakspere:
A Critical Study of His Mind and Art. 3rd ed. New York: Harper, 1881. 245-299.

Thesis: The general aim of Dowden's very influential book is "to connect the study of Shakspere's works with an inquiry after the personality of the writer, and to observe, as far as is possible, in its several stages, the growth of his intellectect and character from youth to full maturity" (xv). By the time of the writing of Julius Caesar Shakespeare had "mastered life from the material point of view," and so "the breaking-down or the building-up of character seemed to him, now more than ever before, of supreme importance" (249). In line with this view, Dowden presents the play as essentially the story of Brutus: "In Julius Caesar Shakspere makes a complete imaginative study of the case of a man predestined to failure, who nevertheless retains to the end the moral integrity which he prized as his highest possession, and who with each new error, advances a fresh claim upon our admiration and our love" (249).

Evaluation: Dowden's approach is straightforward; he provides a character sketch of each of the main characters of the play, and compares each to Brutus, in order to highlight the character of Brutus. He then recounts the main events of the play, again focusing on how the character of Brutus is revealed. In the course of his discussion, Dowden makes many observations which later critics have repeated, but not improved upon. Here are a few:
Brutus is an idealist; he lives among books; he nourishes himself with philosophies; he is secluded from the impression of facts. Moral ideas and principles are more to him than concrete realities; he is studious of self-perfection, jealous of the purity of his own character, unwilling that so clear a character should receive even the apparent stain of misconception or misrepresentation.  (251)

The real man Caesar disappears for himself under the greatness of the Caesar myth. He forgets himself as he actually is, and knows only the vast legendary power named Caesar. He is a numen to himself, speaking of Caesar in the third person, as if of some power above and behind his consciousness.  (253)

Julius Caesar is indeed protagonist of the tragedy; but it is not the Caesar whose bodily presence is weak, whose mind is declining in strength and sure-footed energy, the Caesar who stands exposed to all the accidents of fortune. This bodily presence of Caesar is but of secondary importance, and may be supplied when it actually passes away, by Octavius as its substitute. It is the spirit of Caesar which is the dominant power of the tragedy; against this—the spirit of Caesar—Brutus fought; but Brutus, who forever errs in practical politics, succeeded only in striking down Caesar's body; he who had been weak now rises as pure spirit, strong and terrible, and avenges himself upon the conspirators.  (255)

[T]he speech of Brutus is unable to rouse any enthusiasm among his hearers for Liberty or an ideal of Justice. The people require a Caesar; and if their former lord be dead, then they will have Brutus himself for their new lord.  (268)

[Brutus] is in his tent, and the boy Lucius touches his instrument, drowsily fingering the strings. Brutus, with his beautiful freedom from the petty self-interest of daily life, is gentle and considerate towards every one. The servants have lain down. Lucius drops away into the irresistible sleep of boyhood. Brutus, who, at the call of duty and honor, could plunge his dagger into Caesar, cannot wake a sleeping boy.  (271)
Bottom Line: Eloquent.

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   Author: Philip Weller
   Last Modified: 18 July 2005
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