Master Shakespeare's Julius Caesar using Absolute Shakespeare's Julius Caesar essay, plot summary, quotes and characters study guides.
Plot Summary: A quick review of the plot of Julius Caesar including every important action in the play. An ideal introduction before reading the original text.
Commentary:Detailed description of each act with translations and explanations for all important quotes. The next best thing to a modern English translation.
Characters: Review of each character's role in the play including defining quotes and character motivations for all major characters.
Characters Analysis: Critical essay by influential Shakespeare scholar and commentator William Hazlitt, discussing all you need to know on the characters of Julius Caesar.
Julius Caesar Essay: Samuel Taylor Coleridge's famous essay on Julius Caesar based on his legendary and influential lectures and notes on Shakespeare.
Stuart Vaughan (essay date 1996)
SOURCE: "Introduction to Commentary" in William Shakespeare: Julius Caesar, edited by Maurice Charney, Applause Books, 1996, pp. xix-xxv.
[In the following essay, Vaughan looks at Julius Caesar from the point of view of performance, discussing such elements as setting, stage design, casting, and directorial modifications to the play.]
Shakespeare's Julius Caesar is both tragedy and history play, but however readers and critics approach it, stage directors must deal with it as a play written for performance in the theatre.
The author of a play to be played in the neutral, architectural theatre of Shakespeare's day had only, in order to set place and time of day, to provide indications early in the dialogue of each scene as to when and where the new unit of action was occurring. Thus, scene design was a matter of words.
Notice how, in the first scene of Julius Caesar, Flavius says (1. 3) " . . . ought not walk/upon a labouring day," and later (1. 27) says, " . . . lead these men about the streets?" When the time of day changes, at the beginning of Act I, Scene iii, Cicero's first words are, "Good even, Casca." At 1. 3 ff., Casca and Cicero both describe the "tempest," setting the scene further, and Cassius, entering later, is greeted by Casca saying, "What night is this!" And so it goes through the plays, with verbal description doing the jobs of defining place and time.
With only an occasional bench or chair to bring on, the action could flow from scene to scene without those stops which the scene changes of the modern theatre so often demand. Also, this neutral stage was utterly flexible, instantly taking on whatever guise the playwright required. At the beginning of Act II, when Brutus enters calling his servant and asking for a taper in his study, we sense right away that we are "at home" with Brutus, and when he talks about the "progress of the stars," we know he is outside and it is still night, as it had been in the previous scene. Shakespeare's audience in the theatre had no need for the written description "in his orchard" which precedes this scene, or for any of the other scenic descriptions which have been placed at the beginnings of scenes to help the reader. The speed and flexibility of Shakespeare's stage allowed him a dramatic structure of swift development and unfettered imagination.
At the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Charles II and his courtiers came back from their travels in exile wanting to see plays on the new-fangled Italianate proscenium, or "picture frame," stage. From that time until very recently, proscenium stages were the standard and expected stages for all sorts of dramatic and musical entertainments requiring a theatre. This stage, with its "open mouth," demands scenery to fill it. The art of perspective painting was quick to answer. An interest in archaeology led to "authentic" period settings and costumes for Shakespeare in the 19th Century. Realism and the proscenium theatre abetted one another on into the 20th Century. After World War II, the British director Tyrone Guthrie, having created a production in a Tudor church hall, realized the advantages of the open stage and the three-sided auditorium for Elizabethan drama. At Stratford, Ontario, and later in Minneapolis, he inspired the building of such theatres. Since then, open stages confronting three-sided auditoriums have sprung up across the United States.
For Shakespeare production, that has been a very good thing. The absence of a curtain behind which scenery can be changed forces Shakespeare's speed, flexibility, and scenic neutrality on the modern director and frees him from the constraints of proscenium staging.
This open stage, with the audience on three sides, pushes the director into special choreographic solutions. In the proscenium theatre, actors are arranged in what amounts to a line across the stage so they are all visible from the house simultaneously. With the open stage, if people on thesides are to see, the movement must be circular, like a wheel, instead of back and forth. Too, there must be enough circulation for all the members of the audience to see what is important most of the time. This makes for exciting visual compositions, flowing into each other with ceaselessly vigorous movement. Instead of "tricking" the actors into a straight line, the director can place the important elements center and group the other actors around that center in a much more natural way. Indeed, on such a stage, one can "block" a whole Shakespeare play in one day, by simply telling the actors to stand in a circle and walk toward whomever they are addressing.
Take the assassination scene in Julius Caesar (II.i). On the picture frame stage, one would probably place Caesar on a center platform three or four steps tall, with the conspirators and other senators spread out on either side of him. How much more interesting this can look on the open stage, using the same central platform for Caesar, but placing the others in a full circle around him. Each one can speak to Caesar from where he is without regard to "opening up the picture." Casca, who has been deputed to strike first, can get into place behind Caesar without the maneuvering necessary on a picture frame stage, and the confusion after Caesar falls can be arranged much more spectacularly. Then, after Antony enters, he can move to Caesar's body and later to each of the conspirators, ranged in their circle, without the unnatural parading back and forth which the proscenium stage enforces.
Modern directors of Shakespeare must be prepared to mount their productions on both types of stages, or "in-the-round" as well, and very different productions will result, in terms of amount of scenery, nature, and number of properties, and the shape of the stage pictures and movement patterns. While "in-the-round" and the open stage may not be suitable for all types of plays, most modern directors prefer the open stage for Shakespeare.
Julius Caesar is placed in Roman times and is about historical figures from that period. It deals with major events of that time which actually occurred, even though Shakespeare has compressed and interpreted as his artistic needs dictated. It might appear at first glance that no question would then arise as to the period in which the play would be set and costumed.
Since at least the 1920s, however, directors have been transplanting classics, and especially Shakespeare's plays, from their ostensible period to other times, political climates, and modes of behavior.
Today, finding a "resonance" between some other historical time and the play's stated period offers a basis for transplanting period: "as if," say, The Merchant of...