- Rabkin, Norman. Shakespeare and the Common
- Understanding. New York: The Free Press, 1967.
Thesis: Rabkin's general thesis is that Shakespeare (and every
other great writer) "changes our way of seeing by doing through art
what can really be done no other way: fusing as complementary to one
another and simultaneously valid total responses to life that would
seem to be contradictory" (16). In Julius Caesar, the "fusing"
which Rabkin discusses most is of Caesar and Brutus:
Both are great men who put country before self: Brutus' concern for
the general good is dramatically mirrored in the crucial capacity for
self-abnegation which Caesar shows when he refuses to hear
Artemidorus' suit on the groundsnot those of his prototype in
Plutarchthat "What touches us ourself shall be last served"
(III.i.8). Yet in both selflessness is intertwined with a
self-destructive vanity and a tendency to play to the galleries;
Witness the language of Caesar's rebuff to Artemidorus, or of Brutus'
haughty remark to Cassius:
There is no terror, Cassius, in your threats,
Significantly Brutus is perceptive enough at this point to see a
falling off in Cassius, yet not perceptive enough to recognize worse
failings in himself; thus he can reproach Cassius first for
contaminating the bleeding of mighty Julius with money illegitimately
raised, and second for not sending some of it to him ("For I can
raise no money by vile means" [IV.iii.71]. A like balance of
perception and self-righteous blindness is apparent in Caesar from
the outset. Thus he sees better than Antony that the lean Cassius is
not to be trusted, only to cancel out his observation with the
fatuous "I rather tell thee what is to be fear'd / Than what I fear;
for always I am Caesar" (I.ii.211-212). Both sapient men, Caesar and
Brutus alike sacrifice wisdom to egotism. Both generous men, Brutus
with Cassius and Caesar with Metellus Cimber are alike predictably
unable to relax a self-destructive moral rigidity.
Above all, they are alike in that they both set themselves to alter
the course of history, and they both succeed, but not as they
planned, because "plans, whether noble or otherwise, have little
effect on the course of events" (117).
For I am arm'd so
strong in honesty
That they pass by me as the idle wind,
I respect not.
Bottom Line: An interesting insight.