Notes on The Tragedy of Caesar


When looking at Shakespeare’s Tragedy of Julius Caesar it is important to consider first and foremost the situation of Rome at the time the play takes place. In his unofficial Tetralogy of Roman History, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar is the third installment following the “Rape of Lucrece” and Coriolanus. To consider the situation of Rome one need only look at the beginning of the play. A group of commoners are confronted by Flavius, a Patrician. The commoners are not recognized as citizens by Flavius and they are not wearing badges indicating their position. The great Roman war between Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great has ended and the commoners are calling for a celebration, a holiday. Yet, this call for a celebration is an indication of the fracturing of Roman politics and the dissolution of the Republic. Only victories over foreigners were traditionally celebrated by Rome, and so celebrating Caesar’s victory over a great Roman general is an important element to observe in the play.

From this point the play takes two positions, one as the Tragedy of Julius Caesar and the second as the Tragedy of Brutus.

In regards to Caesar, the commoners view Caesar as a “Super” Tribune though he held no official office. Historically speaking Caesar was a dictator at the time but there is question over whether the Senate recognized this office. If they didn’t recognize it, then Caesar was left to strive for something even more: the crown of King. This is the situation of the play, as Caesar has returned home there is discussion of naming Caesar Dictator for Life and providing him with a crown (albeit the Senate will insist it only be worn outside the city.) In addition to seeing him as “Super” Tribune, the people generally regard Caesar as a living god which some suggest is what Caesar is truly after. However Caesar suffered from epilepsy, got sick, and lost a swimming race, all of which may call into question the divine nature of Caesar.   One thing is very certain though, Julius Caesar was a very accomplished conqueror.  Caesar is also a shrewd politician who is well aware of the nature of the Roman people and so despite any desire to hold the crown he will refuse it knowing the people’s hatred of monarchy.

Throughout the play Caesar speaks of himself in the third person and refers to himself as the “unmoved mover”, which those familiar with theology and Aristotelian metaphysics will note that the unmoved mover is God. And to drive this point home further, Caesar calls himself Jupiter who was the Chief god of the Romans.  As a result of this  Shakespeare departs from his source (Plutarch’s Lives of Noble Grecians and Romans) who suggests that Caesar struggled with his assassins and yet Shakespeare’s Caesar does not. This may indicate that Shakespeare’s Caesar desired some more than the crown of King or Dictator.

Caesar’s assassination calls the audiences attention to problems within the Roman Republic. The people’s devotion to a man who may or may not have desired to become King or at worst a god suggests that the people cannot rule themselves and are in need of a Caesar. This may be a result of the nature of the Roman Republic, which is also an Empire. One of the faults of Empire is that Republic is not possible. This is in part because you will constantly be on extended military adventures and will need a General willing to lead these exhibitions. As a result the soldiers that make up that General’s army will become devoted to their General more than to the republican government. A Republic exists so that no one person can say that anything is done according to their will, yet in an Empire such proclamations is feasible.

Caesar’s death comes early in the play and Brutus’ struggle to understand himself dominates the rest of the play. At Caesar’s death  Shakespeare reports his last words as “Even you Brutus?” However, despite Shakespeare placing Latin words into Caesar’s mouth he is reported historically to have used Greek. The translation of Caesar’s historical Greek last words are, “Even you child?” Causing the question to arise, was Brutus Caesar’s bastard? Brutus’s view of the “self” is that it is only possible to see and know oneself through others. Brutus views himself as his ancestor who helped to overthrow the Tarquin Kings. Every action he takes are with this image in mind; Brutus portrays himself as a lover of “res publica” and opposed to the private goods. The Roman Republic is his chief concern, not his private fears. His devotion to the cause of the Republic links him to the persons of Lucretia and Junus Brutus (his ancestor.) He places a strict emphasis on honor, but unlike Coriolanus who places an emphasis on honor without regard to the ancestral, Brutus sees honor very much in the light of the ancestral. Brutus, therefore, regards Rome under Caesar as not different than Rome under the Tarquins. It is at this point that Brutus chooses to take part in the assassination of Caesar.

Two important questions are to be considered in Brutus’ decision to join the conspiracy. First, what should a responsible Roman, committed to the common good, consider when deliberating joining a conspiracy against Caesar, which will end in his death? Secondly, the issue of Republic: how do you maintain Rome as a republic with Caesar’s death in particular when only a handful of people take part in the assassination?

As a result of taking part in the conspiracy Brutus objects to the attempt by the others to recruit Cicero to the cause; Shakespeare departs from Plutarch on this point. Brutus may fear that Cicero may take all the honor from the assassination, stealing Brutus’s role as savior of the Republic. In addition, Brutus is careful to make want Caesar’s death look as a sacrifice and not as a murder. Brutus is so high minded that he neglects seeing the assassination as others may see it: a crime.

In his speech following the death of Caesar, Brutus appeals to “Friends, Romans and lovers” in contrast to Antony’s “Friends, Romans and Countrymen.” For Antony the people are primarily fellow citizens and Romans but for Brutus they are less fellow citizens and more as lovers and friends. Brutus’ devotion to honor causes him to betray his Countrymen and his Friends causing him to have to exile from the city in the midst of a war. The speech is important to note as well because it is given in prose, typically Shakespeare used verse for the educated and noblemen and prose for the base.

Brutus’ suicide is a result of two factors: A. Brutus believes he can stand outside himself and view his actions and B. because he cannot be honest with himself as a result of the conflation of honor and justice. Ultimately, his suicide is a result of his persistence to see the assassination of Julius Caesar as an act of justice and because he still believes he is seen as Junus Brutus.

The Measure of Love: She’s Out of My League


We’re all familiar with the age old saying that you ought to marry within your means. There is something to be said about marrying someone who is within one’s means. Often times when people of completely different worlds come together they find that love isn’t enough to keep them together, but rather they are faced with numerous problems. But is physical appearance one of those things that should exclude the possibility of a relationship between two people, or is it something that can be over looked under the right circumstances? It’s not totally uncommon for one describe a member of the opposite sex as being a perfect 10, or a 0 or whatever other number we can devise. In the movie She’s out of My League, now out in wide release, we find yet another example of where it is assumed a relationship won’t work because of the differences in physical appearance. Yet, this movie demonstrates the very principles that show looks are not the only thing that matters when it comes to a relationship.

As is mentioned in the Communization of Thought it is sometimes necessary to indoctrinate people into a certain way of thinking in order to allow for the peaceful coexistence of man in society. One of those unfortunate indoctrinations is the question of beauty and ugliness. From the time we are in elementary school we already exercise our knowledge of the beautiful and the ugly in a game of cooties. Children go around claiming that each other have cooties, typically in a class room setting this is done with the children who are some what lacking in beauty by those who are not. By the time high school hits those going into athletics or cheerleading must date each other, and those joining the chess team and band must date each other. We allow our physical characteristics to interfere with our ability to have a meaningful relationship with someone of the opposite sex, or friendship with someone of the same sex. It is an unfortunate defect of our indoctrination that we fall into this trap of rating each other based on our looks.

In She’s Out of My League this classification of beauty continues and this code is enforced even amongst a group of less than attractive nerds who are friends with each other. When Kirk meets Molly, who has left her phone in one of those bins you’re expected to place your belongings in while being violated by TSA, Kirk’s friend Stainer believes that they shouldn’t be dating because he is a “5” and she is a “hard 10.” Stainer’s belief is that Kirk should only date another 5, a 7, 6, 4, or 3 but nothing more than 7 because his looks aren’t able to compensate past that. Like wise, Molly shouldn’t attempt to date anyone below an 8 because her looks are too much for someone below that. Of course looks alone don’t determine one’s ranking for Stainer, because if you drive a cool car, have a cool job, or have a cool hobby like playing in a band that can elevate one’s ranking (after all we know that the ugliest of musicians and actors/actresses can still land the most attractive of people…) Stainer enforces the code so much against his friend that Kirk finds himself looking for a defect in Molly to justify their being together. To his misfortune, attempting to find a defect only drives Molly away.

Yet Stainer isn’t the only one guilty of enforcing a silly code on his friend. Patty, Molly’s best friend, believes that Molly’s interest in Kirk can’t be real. Instead, after being hurt by her ex boyfriend Cam, Molly is only dating Kirk because he is safe (namely, he wouldn’t do something like cheat because who would go for Kirk) as Patty believes it to be. Her belief is something shared by us all as well; we see a beautiful woman or a handsome man with someone far less attractive than them then it must be a charity case or a safe move. Patty goes so far as to insist Molly will want the “rescue” phone call on her andKirk’s first solo date. To her shock and disbelief Molly ignores her phone call. And despite all of Kirk’s foibles and mess ups, Molly keeps going back to him despite the logic Patty is certain is flawless. While Molly may have in fact originally pursued Kirk because she thought he might be safe, she ends up taking him back even after he hurts her time and again.

The beliefs spouted by Stainer and Patty in She’s Out of My League invariably lead to the same outcome as the movie demonstrates. When one believes that they aren’t worthy of being with someone else, they do whatever it takes to find a reason. Those who date someone because they think it safe while they recover from a bad break up often find themselves in a rebound situation where they have to intentionally break the hurt of their safety net because they find themselves falling for that net. She’s Out of My League does a remarkable job of showing the flaws in believing that person A can’t be with person B because of things like looks. It also shows that when we put aside our prejudices, we can find remarkable people on the other side of what we were indoctrinated to not like.

Doctrine of Self Preservation


 

In the Summer of 1763 John Adams undertook the writing of an essay entitled “On Private Revenge.” The turmoil of the French and Indian War was only freshly over and the British Parliament in that same year adopted the Proclamation of 1763. The Proclamation granted control over the lands acquired through the Treaty of Paris to the British government, not the colonial governments. Within a decade the Parliament would go on to do more to seek retribution from the Colonies for the assistance England provided during the war. This enraged the passions of colonial Americans, specifically in New England in and around Boston. We must read Adams’ essay only in the light of these events. In his traditional style, Adams calls for law and order to persevere over chaos and anarchy.

The first paragraph of the essay sets up the plan Adams has laid out for his argument. In the Politics, Aristotle asserts that man outside of the city is either a beast or a god. Adams argues that man is distinguished from other animals because of his ability to unite and entire into society. The natural attributes of man are not enough to make him superior to other animals, but in fact Adams believes they would make man weakest of all other animals. What makes man superior is his ability to unite with others of his kind; thus agreeing with Aristotle partly by stating man outside of society is nothing more than a beast such as, “the bear or the tiger.” Within this man, like other animals, Adams argues, “As he comes originally from the hands of his Creator, self-love or self-preservation is the only spring that moves him.” Locke argues that the law of nature is only known through reason, with exception of the first law which is that of self-preservation. Hobbes too argues that within society the Magistrate is capable of ordering his subjects to do whatever he wishes, except if he desires to kill them in which case the law of self-preservation requires them to defy the Magistrate.  And thus Adams has created his argument; man is superior to other animals because he is able to unite himself within society. However, like other animals man has implanted in his soul self-preservation, which calls upon man to defend his life against all threats. How does one preserve his life and at the same time allow himself to exist in society? The law of self-preservation appears to grant man the authority to execute the law of nature. Society limits this ability and grants that authority to an impartial third-party.

Adams description of a state of nature comes closer to the description provided by Rousseau. He describes that in this state man is propogated, food is found on “the banks of clams and oysters”, weapons for war are present, and animal hide become clothing. Yet this society is void of friendship, trade, and human bonding unless instinct calls for it. In essence, man is truly free and independent without any other above him or below him. Adams defines the virtues of the “savage state, courage, hardiness, activity, and strength.” Take these four virtues and compare them to the four classical virtues, “Justice, Prudence, Fortitude, and Temperance.” Many view the virtue of courage as among the basest virtues, in fact Aristotle in the Ethics describes it almost immediately, indicating that it is the most base of all virtues. The man who is in charge in this society is the one who can kill the best, or run the fastest. This is the basis for tribal leadership, and possibly the roots of how one became king in ancient England, France, or Germany. This basis for determining who is superior will also result in the usage of revenge over justice; the man who perceives himself to be stronger and is beat by another will take it as an insult and attack the other man. Adams even argues that the idea of allowing a third-party to mediate the situation is indication  the deficiencies of the savage state. It is clear that Adams views revenge as the hallmark of a savage state. New Englanders within a few years of this essay will attempt to overthrow the established system and seek revenge for the ills done to them by the British parliament. Adams, in a possible prophetic statement argues that when a horse treads over a gouty toe, our passions are so excited that we feel we must kill the horse. The horse is a symbol of Aristocracy in philosophy, which can lead one to see the prophetic nature of the comment. The horse represents the British Parliament, which does end up stepping on the gouty toe of the colonies, who never really recover from the French and Indian War. Adams finishes this section by saying:

For the great distinction between savage nations and polite ones, lies in this,—that among the former every individual is his own judge and his own executioner; but among the latter all pretensions to judgment and punishment are resigned to tribunals erected by the public; a resignation which savages are not, without infinite difficulty, persuaded to make, as it is of a right and privilege extremely dear and tender to an uncultivated nature.

A stark contrast between the savage state and the polite state is clear,  in the one man is his own executioner while in the other he is not. Rousseau argues in the Social Contract:

The passage from the state of nature to the civil state produces in man a very remakable    change, by substituting in his conduct justice for instinct, and by giving his actions the moral quality that they previously lacked. It is only when the voice of duty succeeds physical impulse, and law succeeds appetite, that man, who till then had regarded only himself, sees that he is obliged to act on other principles, and to consult his reason before listening to his inclinations.

Rousseau’s sentiments are similar to Adams, in that when man passes into civil society he is expected to give up those habits which were present in him in nature.

This brings up the next point. If society should ever come to the point where we will give up our polite and noble nature, we will become worse than the Goths before becoming Christians. He compares the individual who believes that when offended one should draw his sword to that of the fowl, the bull, and stallion. The image of these three animals are simple, the bird can represent bloodshed, the bull destructive force, and the stallion life and death. It should be noted that he does not use horse, but rather stallion which indicates not the symbol of aristocracy specifically. Instead, the stallion represents the wild, unbridled passions of man and specifically can be seen as a symbol of life and death, which horses are known to symbolize. After initially using fowl, in his ending sentence of this paragraph Adams states, “But are cocks and bulls and horses the proper exemplars for the imitation of men, especially of men of sense, and even of the highest personages in the government!” The cock more specifically than fowl represents the underworld, passion and pride, and thus we arrive at how man is outside of nature: Prideful, passionate, destructive, and wild.

And finally Adams attacks the point that such images of gallantry have been argued from the military. Adams argument begins by stating that such images are not praised by the military, nor have they ever been. Instead, the dregs of society have idealized the Cock, Bull and Stallion as exemplars for man. He argues, “For every gentleman, every man of sense and breeding in the army, has a more delicate and manly way of thinking, and from his heart despises all such little, narrow, sordid notions.” Of these he mentions specifically Divines, Lawyers and Physicians. Divines represent religion, God; Lawyers represent the law; Physicians have a philosophic meaning behind them, in that whenever a Physician appears it represents healing of the body politic. In this instance, though it is much more likely that Adams is speaking that Physicians heal the body,  Adams suggests that they praise themselves above all others such as Divines and Lawyers do. The other set of professions he mentions include: husbandmen, manufacturers, and laborers. They lack the virtue of magnanimity and are instead short-sighted, little minded individuals believing their professions are the best in the world. It is likely then, that soldiers of lower ranks are just as likely to believe themselves superior to any other order. They are, as a result, prone to the, “principles of revenge, rusticity, barbarity, and brutality…” which Adams described earlier as the principles upheld by the savage. However, soldiers who are superior in their senses recognize the authority not only of their superiors but also of the civil society. Once again, in a similar prophetic nature as before, these soldiers recognize the superior nature of English law. Moving away from calling them soldiers, it is evident at this point that Adams is specifically referring to men in general, not just those who serve in the Army. England, being an image of the polite society, is superior to the savage society; some of his fellow New Englanders wish to rebel against English rule, thus stooping to this level. A truly polite and decent man would recognize the doctrine of self-preservation as indignant.

Adams having completed his argument has demonstrated that man who seeks the doctrine of private revenge has no regard for civil society, and therefore is only as good as a tiger or bear. Only within civil society is man able to full perfect his nature, which is where Adams demonstrates the Enlightenment principle that nature is created imperfect. It is man’s responsibility to perfect nature by building upon it, making things, and this is only possible in society. Likewise, man is only able to be fully man within society under the constrains of law and order which is characterized by justice; whereas man outside of society and in total chaos is characterized by the doctrine of self-preservation, or revenge.

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