- Ribner, Irving. "Political Issues in Julius Caesar."
- Journal of English and Germanic Philology 56 (1957):10-22.
Thesis: Ribner begins by rejecting two views: a) that
Shakespeare was interested "only in character,
and . . . remained aloof from political concerns"
(10), and b) that "the play is a vindication of absolute
monarchy, represented by Caesar, against the claims of a
constitutional system, represented by Brutus" (10). The history of
the Roman Republic, says Ribner, was well-known in Shakespeare's time
and it was used by many others to teach political lessons, but the
political issue in Julius Caesar is not monarchy vs.
republicanism; rather it is the danger of tyranny. Thus Caesar is a
tragic hero whose flaw is "tragic pride and ambition" (15), and the
villain of the play is the savage mob who puts Cinna the Poet to
death merely for his name. As for Brutus, he is also a tragic hero,
one who is "too much the idealist to cope with the crude realities of
politics" (17), and whomore importantlyis doomed by
The tragic error of Brutus is his entry into the conspiracy, for this
involved a divorce between his ideals and his conduct which could
lead only to tragedy. For in order to attain an end of public
virtue, Brutus commits a private crime: he murders his friend.
Shakespeare saw the problems of government in personal human terms.
A man must have the public virtues to be an efficient ruler, but he
must have the private virtues as well, if he is to be a great and
good one. It is ironic that Brutus, so rich in private virtue and so
poor in public virtue, should fall because of a single deviation from
his personal code of behavior. But when Brutus commits a crime
contrary to his own nature and in spite of the promptings of
conscience, he is doomed to failure. (18)
In the end, Ribner writes, Shakespeare took a balanced view:
He saw . . . on the one hand, a lesson in the
civil chaos which results when a great and noble leader tries to
overthrow long-established institutions and seeks, with support of
the mob, to attain a kingship to which he has no lawful claim. On
the other hand, he saw the even greater chaos which results when men
of noble instincts violate their own natures and enter into evil so
that political good may result. (22)
Bottom Line: Solid analysis