- Ornstein, Robert. "Seneca and the Political Drama of
Caesar," Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 57 (1958), 51-56.
Thesis: Ornstein asks, "how can Brutus play the dominant role
the political drama of Julius Caesar if, as critics have
repeatedly said, his political principles are muddled and obscure?"
(51). Ornstein goes on to describe the muddle of Brutus' reasoning,
his use of his political principles "to escape from the realities of
his relationship with Caesar and of the political situation in Rome"
(53), then asks his key question: "Now is this ironic view of Brutus
an invention of modern critics, too politically sophisticated for an
Elizabethan to have conceived or grasped?" (54). Ornstein's answer to
his own question is that this view of Brutus was readily available to
Shakespeare and his audience via a well-known essay, De
Beneficiis, by Seneca, a famous Roman philosopher and dramatist.
Seneca, though he considered Brutus to be a great man, was astonished
that he could believe that "'civil rights might still exist and laws
maintain their rightful place there where he had seen so many
thousands of men fighting to decide, not whether, but to which of the
two masters, they would be slaves!'"(55). (Seneca is alluding to the
war between Pompey and Caesar, which is the background of the opening
scene of Julius Caesar.) Seneca also wrote that Brutus was
"'forgetful . . . either of the law of nature or
of the history of his own city, in supposing that, after one man had
been murdered, no other would be found who would have the same aims'"
(55). Ornstein concludes that "following Seneca's train of thought,
Shakespeare realized that the essential drama of Brutus' role in the
conspiracy lay not in a conflict of republican and monarchal theories
but in a tragic disparity between naïve illusions and political
Bottom Line: Classical support for a common observation.