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REVIEW
Mack, Maynard. "Teaching Drama: Julius Caesar."
Essays on the Teaching of English: Reports of the Yale Conferences on the Teaching of English. Ed. Edward J. Gordon and Edward S. Noyes. New York: Appleton-Century Crofts, 1960. 320-36.


Thesis: The leading idea of Mack's essay is that Shakespeare is always relevant and "can be taught to almost any sort of audience" (321), but the greater part of the essay is given over to a persuasive analysis of Julius Caesar. Mack shows how both Caesar and Brutus have divided selves. Caesar is both "the husband with his hopeful supersition" and "the marble superman of state" (325); Brutus is both "a grave studious private man, of a wonderfully gentle temper" and "the man of public spirit" (327). And so both are involved in "the problem at the tragic center of the play, . . . the tug of private versus public, the individual versus a world he never made," and "the other tug .  .  .  of the irrational versus the rational, the destiny we think we can control versus the destiny that sweeps all before it" (327).

Evaluation: Mack is an excellent writer, able to make his points with clear accounts of how scenes play, as in the following paragraphs:
         Through I.ii, Brutus' public self . . . is no more than a reflection in a mirror, a mere anxiety in his own brain, about which he refuses to confide, even to Cassius. In II.i, we see the public self making further headway. First, there is Brutus' argument with himself about the threat of Caesar, and in his conclusion that Caesar must be killed we note how far his private self—he is, after all, one of Caesar's closest friends—has been invaded by the self of public spirit. From here on, the course of invasion accelerates. The letter comes, tossed from the public world into the private world, into Brutus' garden, and addressing, as Cassius had, that public image reflected in the mirror: "Brutus, thou sleep'st awake and see thyself." Then follows the well-known brief soliloquy . . . , showing us that Brutus' mind has moved now from the phase of decision to the inquietudes that follow decision:
Between the acting of a dreadful thing
And the first motion, all the interim is
Like a phantasma, or a hideous dream.
What is important to observe is that these lines stress once again the gulf that separates motive from action, that which is interior in man and controllable by his will from that which, once acted, becomes independent of him and moves with a life of its own. This gulf is no man's land, a phantasma, a hideous dream.
     Finally, there arrives in such a form that no audience can miss it the actual visible invasion itself, as this peaceful garden quiet is broken in on by knocking, like the knocking of fate in Beethoven's fifth symphony, and by men with faces hidden in their cloaks. Following this, a lovely interlude with Portia serves to emphasize how much the private self, the private world has been shattered. We have something close to discord here—as much of a discord as these very gentle people are capable of—and though there is a reconciliation at the end and Brutus' promise to confide in her soon, this division in the family is an omen. So is that knock of the latecomer, Caius Ligarius, which reminds us once again of the intrusions of the public life. And when Ligarius throws off his sick man's kerchief on learning that there is an honorable exploit afoot, we may see in it an epitome of the whole scene, a graphic visual renunciation, like Brutus', of the private good to the public; and we may see this also in Brutus' own exit a few line later, not into the inner house where Portia waits for him, but out into thunder and lightning of the public life of Rome.  (327-8)


Bottom Line: Readable and persuasive.


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   Author: Philip Weller
   Last Modified: 22 June 2005