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Jackson, MacD. P. "'But with Just Cause':
Julius Caesar, III.i.47." Notes and Queries 48 (246), no. 3 (2001 Sept): 282-84.

Thesis: In his opening paragraph Jackson recounts the beginnings of a controversy about the text of Julius Caesar :  
Ben Jonson [a friend and rival of Shakespeare] claimed that many times Shakespeare 'fell into those things could not escape laughter'. As an example he recalled some lines in Julius Caesar in which the protest 'Caesar, thou dost me wrong' elicited the response, 'Caesar did never wrong but with just cause'. Jonson thought Caesar's reply 'ridiculous'.  (282)
However, in the text as we have it, no one says, "Caesar, thou dost me wrong," And Caesar says—at the end of a longish speech about how he cannot be moved by flattery—"Know, Caesar doth not wrong, nor without cause / Will he be satisfied."

What happened? Did Jonson misremember? Or did Jonson correctly remember the actors' improvised version of what Shakespeare wrote? Or did Jonson's ridicule inspire Shakespeare (or someone else) to revise the lines?

Jackson reviews the positions of the participants in this controversy, paying particular attention to the famous critic John Dover Wilson, who believed that Jonson remembered correctly, and that the lines showed Caesar's vainglorious illogic. Jackson himself takes a middle course; he believes that the text underwent some alteration, but he doesn't believe that Shakespeare meant to show Caesar as illogical.

Bottom Line: Good review of an interesting textual problem.

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   Author: Philip Weller
   Last Modified: 6 June 2005
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