Never mind having a MONTH named after you – you’re nobody, in the grand scheme of things, until you have your own Lego figure …
O Julius Caesar, thou art mighty yet!
Thy spirit walks abroad and turns our swords
In our own proper entrails. (Julius Caesar, V,iii) [a]
JC’s a play I’ve been flirting with for some time.
This year just might be the year that I write a Scheme of Work and actually teach it, rather than simply playing round the edges, writing the odd Forensic Friday to have fun with Shakespeare’s ‘knob gags’ …
Like 1 Henry IV, it’s a play where the title character doesn’t play the biggest role – indeed (spoiler alert) Caesar doesn’t make it past III.i. And yet, unlike Henry Bolinbroke, I’m absolutely fascinated by him. It’s a long-held ambition, currently reserved for whenever I get to the play in my PTS read-through, to nail down my feelings about him. Man-of-the-people or Monster? Awesome or Arrogant? Benefactor or Bloody Tyrant? I need to give a shout out to Michael Feast, at this point: I love his performance in the outstanding Arkangel audio production.
It isn’t just me who feels the distant echoes of Caesar’s glamour and power. Here’s Andrew James Hartley on the emperor:
It is difficult to overestimate the importance of the historical person of Julius Caesar in Elizabethan English culture […] Caesar’s place in the history of Rome itself was enormous, a massive, mythic presence on which the fate of an Empire turned, a matter – to the Elizabethans – of far more consequence than mere history could suggest. Caesar marked a moment of historical greatness which was, in many ways, more familiar to the Elizabethans than was their own history of the same period. […]
Ancient Rome in general and Caesar in particular was a national preoccupation for the Elizabethans, evidenced in all aspects of culture, demonstrating – even in the corrupted forms in which it was invoked by people with no education at all – that Caesar was assumed to have far-reaching cultural significance and weight. […]
[…] sixteenth – century England had begun to see itself as a new emerging model of all that had once been great about ancient Rome: its discipline, its power, its cultural sophistication and its global reach. The nation – or at least many within it – saw itself reclaiming that imperial mantle from a Rome which was now associated with a discredited and corruptly ‘Papist’ religion. This was the primary reason Elizabeth (who was queen when Shakespeare wrote Julius Caesar in about 1599) held on to the Julian calendar despite the demonstrably more accurate Gregorian system proposed by the Pope. [b]
Elsewhere, Hartley tells us that Shakespeare will almost certainly have been exposed to Caesar’s writings as part of his education.
We might say that in some ways Caesar outlived Elizabeth I. Not just in Shakespeare’s play: when she died, part of the processional for James I’s triumphant entry figured London as a new Rome, too. And it wasn’t until James had united England and Scotland (not forgetting the already subsumed Wales, of course) that the idea of the British Empire, the phrase coined by John Dee, could achieve critical mass …
[a] quotation taken from www.opensourceshakespeare.org
[b] Andrew James Hartley, Julius Caesar: A Critical Reader (Arden Early Modern Drama Guides), (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016)