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