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REVIEW
Knight, G. Wilson. The Imperial Theme: Further Interpretations of
Shakespeare's Tragedies Including the Roman Plays. London: Oxford UP, Humphrey Milford, 1961.


Thesis: Knight's book contains two chapters on Julius Caesar: "The Torch of Life: An Essay on Julius Caesar" (32-62), and "The Eroticism of Julius Caesar" (63-95). The first concerns image-clusters, and the second, the characters of Caesar, Brutus, Cassius, and Antony. The leading idea of both chapters is probably best summed up in the last part of the last paragraph of the first chapter:
So, with fanfare of music, holy feasting, thoughts of birth, opens the erotic brilliance of this Caesarean theme. It is a vivid life-vision. This harmony Brutus shatters; in Rome, in his own heart. At the end he would solace his tired soul with music of his boy, Lucius. But the ghost of Caesar intervenes. Not till Brutus' death is Rome crowned again with peace. Thus the action first shows us love, friendship, imperial sway. This surface is rudely gashed by the daggers of revolt, torn open, and the naked flames exposed which feed the mechanisms of social order, life, and love. The wound heals, Antony's love for Caesar avenges his death, peace is restored. And love and friendship bring the only final peace to the souls of both Brutus and Cassius.  (62)


Evaluation: Knight calls his method "imaginative interpretation," and claims that only by imaginative interpretation can Shakespearean values be appreciated; if "we confine our attention to logical analysis of plot and subtle psychologies of 'character'" (1), we are missing what is most important. In practice, this means that Knight quotes extensively, and rearranges his collection of quotations into a collage which suits his own purposes and which ignores the development of both plot and character. It also means that Knight simply disregards material that does not suit his purposes. For example, he says that "Antony speaks, acts, fights to heal Rome" (70), as though Antony never agreed to the execution of his nephew, never fiddled with Caesar's will, never plotted the destruction of Lepidus—in short, as if Act 4, Scene 1 just does not exist.

Bottom Line: 25% inspiring; 75% annoying.


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   Author: Philip Weller
   Last Modified: 22 June 2005