A Spectator’s Role
Chapter Six: Julius Caesar and Neoclassicism
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Julius Caesar and Neoclassicism
Julius Caesar, like Coriolanus and Macbeth, is largely devoid of humor, distinguishing it from other major tragedies of Shakespeare such as Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear. The three more emotionally consistent plays each have a tone appropriate to their concentration on issues of government and succession of leadership that brings them far closer to the Aristotelian norm and seemingly differ from the mixed mode of drama favored by Cinthio and Lope de Vega. Their contrast with the powerful intrusion of comic figures such as Falstaff and Pistol into the most successful English history plays like Henry IV and Henry V is very conspicuous, though Richard II had certainly started the second tetralogy in a similar sober style to the two later Roman tragedies.
One senses that Shakespeare was consciously writing to more neoclassical specifications for tragedy in handling his Roman subjects, just as The Comedy of Errors in its classical setting consciously conformed to the parameters set out by the Plautine precedent Menaechmi, from which much of its content and procedures are derived—matching the limits for the plot set by the Neoclassical Unities of Time, Place and Action. Though less rigorous in these broader terms, as a result of its consistency of tone Julius Caesar has proved manageable for teachers, providing one of the basic texts used to introduce Shakespeare to adolescents. However, it does this with less theatrical success than the other popular tragedies,...
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