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REVIEW
Yoder, R. A. "History and the Histories in Julius Caesar."
Shakespeare Quarterly 24 (1973): 309-327.


Thesis: Yoder believes that Shakespeare's plays about English history contain an idea that also applies to Julius Caesar. This idea is that the cycles of history are more powerful than individual personalities, so that people, no matter who their intentions, fall into the roles that history will have them play. So, for example, Julius Caesar rose against Pompey at the height of Pompey's power, and then Brutus did the same to Julius Caesar. Brutus, in his turn, had one moment of triumph when the crowd acclaimed him, and then began his fall, as Antony turned the crowd against him. Yoder writes:
It seems to me that any character study of Julius Caesar will be unsatisfactory if it fails to take account of Shakespeare's cross-purposes in the play. The issue cannot be one of character, that Brutus is nobler than Caesar, or that Antony is shrewder than Brutus; nor can it be the triumph of Caesarism or of liberalism. Character and ideologies give way to history. Men are brilliantly differentiated, but drawn into the mechanism of history they lose their streaks, repeating each other's ways, becoming more and more alike.  (315)
In support of her thesis, Yoder highlights the similarities of the very different major characters of the play. Here's a sample of her comparison of Brutus and Caesar:
[O]n the morning of the assassination, Brutus and Caesar appear in a similar light: both are awakened by a group of well-wishers who finally prevail upon them to go to the Capitol. It is their common fate to be torn from their private beds and thrust into public affairs. As public men they respond to honor, but they are also susceptible to flattery—thus Brutus is flattered by Cassius, Caesar by Decius. As public men they must be supremely confident, avoiding whatever may hint of cowardice, though some, like Calpurnia, might call it wisdom. So Brutus disdains an oath in order to dramatize the purity of his cause, perhaps even to reassure himself about course of action he does not relish. And Caesar puts aside all the auguries because he would not bear the "shame of cowardice." Caesar, too, in his images of the elder lion (II.ii.46) and the northern star (III.i.60) boasts so extravagantly that it seems he must persuade himself as well as others.  (311)
Yoder's analysis of men as the pawns of history is persuasive, but she also has less effective sections on motifs and images.

Bottom Line: Very worthwhile.


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   Author: Philip Weller
   Last Modified: 14 October 2005