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BY HENRY T. LEE.
"THIS WAS A MAN."
We often hear of grand old picture-galleries, through which the gothic windows the mellow light of an Italian sun comes streaming in upon many an ancient picture, wrought by the skilful hands of the great masters. Thither throng the art-pilgrims from every land; and as they wander through the silent corridors, within the soul-entrancing presence of an ideal humanity, and study with reverential zeal each creation of the painter's imainatgion, they forget the many weary miles of their pilgrimage; and, drinking full draughts of inspiration from the very fountain of art, yield themselves to the absorbing pleasures of an art-student's life. Thus would we enter through the majestic portals into the grand temple of Shakspeare's genius, wherein are gathered all those wondrous portraits which the great master painted in living, burning words of "English undefiled." Here, in the sparkling sunlight, we see the laughing, loving Juliet; there, in the gloomy shadow, the incarnate fiend Lady Macbeth; here the "jolly tun of flesh," that mocking riddle, Sir John Falstaff, with his capon and his quart of sack; there the noblehearted Brutus, soul-sick and weary, surely working out his mournful destiny.
Christian, Pagan, Greek, and Roman, kings and jesters, knaves and nobles, "queenlie soules" of noble women, mobs of "the sweaty night-cap," airy sprites and "tricksy faeries, witches, ghosts, and sea-nymphs lovely-all humanity, and the spirits to boot, find we in this magic world of Shakspeare,
From the motley crowd that throngs around us, we select for notice and development Marcus Brutus, the hero of the tragedy of Julius Cæsar.
It is as the hero of a tragedy that Brutus claims our notice, and that a Christian tragedy; for Shakspeare is by pre-eminecne the Christian poet. His tragic idea is not that of heathenish fatalism, that represents the strong man relentlessly pursued by inexorable fate, and struggling with all the energy of despair against its invincible decrees; for with him, in the words of Ulrici, "the tragic element consists in the sufferings and final ruin of the humanly great, noble, and beautiful which have fallen a prey to human weakness." The simple story of the "young man whom Jesus loved," around whose unspoken fate hangs such an air of ineffable sadness, contains the essence of the Christian
tragedy. Sophocles, master of the heathen art, plunges his dipus Tyrannus into the blackest gulf of torment and despair, because, in obedience to the inevitable decree of the gods, he unwittingly kills his father, and dishonours bis bed. But Shakspeare, the great creator, as well as the unrivalled master of the Christian art, makes his "noble Brutus," endowed with an almost perfect manhood, bring upon himself, by his own moral and intellectual weakness, the awful punishment of outraged justice.
The development of the central character of a play must of necessity be the development of the plot. So it was that Shakspeare wrote. One grand central thought expressed in the plot, and every other thought and feeling centering in that. One character, the incarnation of his grand idea, and every other character tributary and subservient to its development. Thus it was that he reared those mighty monuments to the lasting glory of his name, and the increasing wonder of humanity: not a part superfluous, not a stone wanting; stupendous as the Pyramids, beautiful as the palace of the "Faerie Queen." His genius was the architect. His characters are the outgrowth of his scul. And if it were permitted us to deify genius, most aptly would Emerson's exquisite lines develope our meaning:
"These temples grew as grows the grass;
When we speak, then, of Shakspeare's art we speak of it so far as he himself is concerned, objectively. As we follow in his giant strides, there is revealed to us at every step an uncon scious skill, of which, as he strode onward to his one grand thought, he knew not. When we look at the consummate art of Antony's oration to the people, it is Antony's skill that commends
might enjoy its blessings: and that peculiar reflective temperament that led him to seek enjoyment and occupation in his own inner life rather than in the outward world; that fitted him to be the quiet student absorbed in the earnest pursuit of truth and in philosophical investigation, rather than the active, energetic audi-public man; that made of him, in a word, the thoughtful, earnest philosopher, rather than the scheming, far-sighted, sharp-witted politician and conspirator. To these we might add a fourth, though it would seem to follow as a direct inference from the third, the lack of that powerful, energetic, persevering will, so indispensable to the public man, who would guide successfully the ship of state over the surging billows of revolution.
itself to us, not Shakspeare's, for when he wrote |
To every careful reader, the tragedy of "Julius Cæsar" reveals itself as the triumphant vindicator and expositor of the Divine principle, Retributive Justice. Accordingly the grand thought or idea expressed is Assassination and conspiracy are self-destructive. So the plot or story is Brutus and his associates conspire against Cæsar, assassinate him, and reap the reward of their acts in violent deaths; while the tragic movement, as before enunciated, demands that our interest should be excited in Brutus as the possessor of high intellectual and moral endowments, yet fallen into sin.
This then is the problem which the creative genius of Shakspeare so grandly solves; to obtain for Brutus our deepest love and sympathy, as a high-souled and honourable man, at the very moment when he plunges his thirsty dagger into the bosom of his friend, his "best lover," who had not only given him life at the battle of Pharsalia, but had crowned it with honour and distinction. Clothed in the enchanting drapery of Shakspeare's genius, the midnight conspirator and noon-day assassin, the destroyer of his own God-given life, wins a high place in our interest and esteem. Let us mark how it comes about.
So far we have found Brutus only what every other hero of the Christian tragedy must needs be, one claiming interest and sympathy on the ground of certain qualities of mental and moral excellence; yet, trusting only in his own strength, fallen into grievous sin. But that does not make him Brutus; so we proceed to a more particular development of his character by portraying those traits that excite our interest, as well as those failings that led to his downfall. And if our ideal be the true one, there belong to him three distinguishing characteristics that give tone and colour to his whole character; and which, under the circumstances in which he was placed, inevitably made him the man he was; caused him to live the life that he lived, and to die the death that he died. These we conceive to be an honest desire to do right, with a conscience susceptible even to morbid ness: a deep and burning love of liberty, with the earnest longing that once again his country
Brutus was upright, honest, and conscientious: a devoted patriot, a reflecting philosopher; much given to brooding meditation; totally unfitted by his temperament and life to take a comprehensive and searching view of political affairs; not much versed in human nature, and consequently easily imposed on; and not at all the man to be the head and front of a band of conspirators, whose avowed purpose was to overthrow the existing tyranny, and establish the freedom of the people.
Such is a rough sketch of our conception of Brutus, as Shakspeare represents him. True, it is softened down and filled out in detail by a thousand delicate touches from the master's hand; but these three or four general characteristics we hold to have been the ruling powers of his life. We shall now attempt to prove this, in a comprehensive view of the action of the play, by showing that such a man as we conceive Brutus to have been must of necessity have thought and acted as Shakspeare makes him think and act.
But while we make this our principal object, let us also note the wonderful skill by which we are forced to love and sympathize with the erring Brutus, while we abhor and detest his crimes, and assent to the mournful fate that outraged justice metes out to him.
The play begins by introducing to us the Roman populace, but yesterday so zealous in the cause of Pompey "that Tiber trembled underneath her banks," at their "universal shout" of loyalty and admiration; now eager in their new-found zeal to
"Strew flowers in his way That came in triumph over Pompey's blood."
The mob is evidently no favourite with Shakspeare, and for two reasons it is expedient that it should be represented in an unfavourable light. First, because Cæsar's great ambition to win the fickle favour of such a people tends to lower him in our estimation, thus lessening the odium of his assassination; and again, because being totally devoid of all true appreciation or love of liberty, they do not second the conspirators in their vain attempt to throw off the
yoke, and thus ensure the final ruin of the | him not "that gentleness and show of love as cause, so imperatively demanded by the whole he was wont;" Cassius, type of the serpent design of the play. fiend, watches his victim as he hastens away, and exclaims:
Then we see Brutus watching in the bitterness of his heart the mad procession of the Lupercalians, with Cæsar at their head, and the servile mob with fickle zeal following at his heels. The wily, fox-like Cassius takes advantage of his mood, and stealthily inflames his mind, already excited against Cæsar. Note now the exquisite skill and tact of Cassius in this interview. He pretends to feel aggrieved at what he chooses to consider Brutus' late estrangement from him, which in a noble, generous mind like Brutus' would naturally create the desire of disproving the insinuation by more than usual kindness, and would remove any suspicion he might have entertained against Cassius, and convince him of the latter's devotion and friendship. Cassius then assaults his love of popular favour by assuring him that
The blunt Casca then, whose "rudeness is a sauce to his good wit," still farther brings Cæsar into disrepute, by his characteristic account of his triple refusal of the crown, and the abject and loathsome applause of the people.
Brutus leaves them, engaging to meet and speak with Cassius on the morrow. So the first wrong step is taken, and Brutus's doom is sealed: he listens and falls. From this his course is downward, and the tragic shadows thicken over him till they are lost in the gloom of black and endless night.
Cassius, the author of all his woe; Cassius, whose soul just now over-flowed with tenderness and wounded feeling because Brutus gave
"Smiling in such a sort, As if he mocked himself."
"Well, Brutus, thou art noble; yet I see Thy honourable metal may be wrought From that it is disposed."
And so the plot goes on. Brutus is easily persuaded that he is the chosen instrument of the gods to free his country from her chains; and after many an hour of soul-anguish the one absorbing idea of his life sweeps all before it, and he determines to "slay his best lover for the good of Rome."
But there is no rest for him; the still small voice of his better nature is never silent; and this subjective conflict of right and wrong is in itself far more fearfully tragic than the most desperate struggle with objective fate. Most masterly does Shakspeare describe this conflict when he makes him say:
Then comes the midnight meeting of the conspirators, at which the plan of action is arranged, and the time for the deed appointed. And a fitting night it was. They came with faces buried in their cloaks, "through a tempest dropping fire, and the cross-blue lightning." The lion glared upon them in the Capitol, and
gliding ghosts" and "men all in fire" walked with them up and down the streets. Even "the complexion of the elements was favoured like to the work they had in hand: most bloody, fiery, and most terrible." As they came, so they went into the "cold raw morning," their reeking hearts as black as the night from which they came.
Scarce had their retreating footsteps died upon the ear, when as an angel of light after spirits of darkness, the "gentle Portia" stood beside her lord. The introduction of Portia here is most exquisitely timed. Brutus has just identified himself with the faction, and assumed their leadership. The odium of treachery, ingratitude, and murder is clinging to his skirts; and this garden scene with Portia is needed to restore him to our good "apprehension." The very fact of his being so loved by such an one as she, as well as his own noble language to her, excite our deepest esteem and sympathy.
Of Portia's character we cannot speak as fully as we would. Beautiful and pure, she stands before her humbled husband with the
true dignity of wounded love, an ideal Roman woman, "Cato's daughter," ," "well reputed," and worthy of her lord. But her eulogy is best pronounced by Brutus himself:
"You are my true and honourable wife, As dear to me as are the ruddy drops That visit my sad heart.
O ye Gods! Render me worthy of this noble wife."
Great and all-absorbing indeed must have been the struggle that could have made him fail in his wonted courtesy to such a wife. But her wifely bosom will take no repulse, and soon she wins him to his former self by the touching earnestness with which she pleads to share his burden :
"And upon my bended knees, I charge you, by my once commended beauty, By all your vows of love, and that great vow Which did incorporate and make us one, That you unfold to me yourself, your half, Why you are so heavy."
ruling powers. He stands before the people for whose liberty he has shed the life-blood of his best friend, and is now ready to shed his own; and they despise the heavenly boon he proffers. His defence is calm, deliberate, and weighty, as becomes a Roman senator; but withal, it has the resistless energy of an honest, life-absorbing purpose. It is a great speech, for it is the concentrated utterance of a great life.
The Ides of March, the mysterious time appointed by the soothsayer at the feast of the Lupercal, has come. The great Cæsar, soldier and philosopher though he be, is deterred from going to the Capitol by the portentous dream of his anxious wife. But when Decius tells
"The Senate have concluded
To give this day a crown to mighty Cæsar,"
his love of power and fear of ridicule induce him to change his mind.
The conspirators met him there, and with the words of arrogance and pride upon his lips, pierced by friendly daggers,
"Even at the base of Pompey's statue, Which all the while ran blood, great Cæsar fell!" So was Pompey's fate avenged, and so
"Ambition's debt was paid."
And now, when Brutus is called to the management of affairs, his unfitness becomes most manifestly evident. He is too honest, and consequently too trustful in others, to deal with such men as Antony and the fickle mob. In the kindness of his soul he lets Antony "speak in Cæsar's funeral," and as a consequence, the conspirators are forced to flee for their lives.
Of the speeches of Brutus and Antony, volumes almost might be written. Considered in themselves as representative ideals of eloquence and oratory, or in their perfect contrast with each other, they claim our most exalted admiration, as well as our patient and scrutinizing study. The speech of Brutus, written in prose a most noteworthy fact, by the way, for Shakspeare evidently wrote with greater ease and fluency in blank verse-is the outgushing of bis inmost life, the expression of its
The populace, in their reception of his speech, are evidently more influenced by their goodwill to Brutus and respect for his character, than by its exalted sentiments; for in total disregard of its whole spirit, they cry out to
"Let him be Cæsar."
Antony finds them strongly prejudiced in favour of the conspirators by the speech, but more by the character of Brutus, and consequently extremely jealous of any attempt to disparage him. But as clay is moulded in the hands of the skilful potter, so he moulds their minds to the pattern of his own choosing. Brutus with triumph home unto his own house;" Soon those who before were ready to "bring "to give him a statue with his ancestors," and "make him Cæsar," now join their willing "We will be revenged! voices to raise the cry: Revenge! about! seek! burn! fire! kill! slay! let not a traitor live !"
Admirably fitted was Antony to move the popular mind. A man of the world, a soldier of fortune; accustomed to deal with the lower order of mind; engaging in his address; a polished, speaker of consummate art; wonderful in his knowledge of human nature; having, doubtless, much affection for Cæsar, but knowing well how to turn it to the best account to give zest and life to the part he was acting. As an exquisite work of art, his speech is without an equal, and it is probably the finest example of rhetorical climax known. To enter here upon a full analysis of it, were foreign to the scope of this article. No more profitable study for the English scholar could be found. Every sentence is replete with interest, every word has its hidden store of wealth and beauty, revealed only to him who labours in the love of
But we turn to follow Brutus to his speedy and mournful end. The fatal deed is done, and Cæsar's blood cries from the ground for vengeance.
Now new actors are needed on the stage, and with Octavius, Lepidus and Antony the soldier, their followers, the avengers of Cæsar's fate, come forward to act their parts.
Brutus, the chief conspirator, for whose development all the others have their dramatic life. Cassius, his fellow-conspirator, bringing out in bold relief the sterling worth of Brutus's character, playing the part of tempter and false friend. Cæsar, the noble victim, by his own tragic fate enforcing, in episode, the grand moral of the play. Antony, the " golden-mouthed
and there some lingering lineaments of their God. In all we are reminded of one common humanity, fallen, yet magnificent in its ruins!
orator" and revelling soldier; with Octavius, the clever, weak, and unprincipled demagogue; all proclaim, though they know it not, the grand law of retributive justice: "All they that take the sword shall perish by the sword." Where is the lack of unity, or which of these, the lead-heart-felt; and, when compared with that of his first interview with Brutus, shows an unmistakable change of motive. In the first he speaks the language of the head; in the last, the kindly speech of a full heart.
This view of the scene is abundantly borne out by the language of Cassius. It is evidently
ing characters, is superfluous or overdrawn?
The same disastrous results still follow the course of Brutus, and mark him still more plainly as unfitted for his part. To make the matter worse, his mind evidently becomes diseased by brooding, as was his wont, over his troubles; and the raging conflict in his breast is fast corroding the energies of his soul. When we add to this the distracting news of the suicide of his wife, we cannot admire too highly his forbearance and forgiveness in that justly noted tent-scene, in which he comes to words with Cassius. This link completes the chain that binds our sympathies to his fate. He is shown possessed of so much manly independence, and yet of so frank and generous a nature -confessing his hasty spirit, even when his inmost soul is wrung with agony-that if aught was needed to finish his conquest of our hearts, this completes it.
There is also now a peculiar significance in the conduct of Cassius. The two have become identified by a common sin and a common doom. Cassius, the instigator of the whole affair, has played his part, and failed of his object. There is no necessity, then, for the further development of the low cunning in his nature. On the other hand, it adds greatly to the effect of the plot that his better traits are now shown us; our interest is excited to this heretofore hidden phase of his character, and so another element is added to the tragic end.
This softening of the character of Cassius is with Shakspeare a labour of love. So far in the play, there is scarcely a word he has uttered, a trait he has developed, that claims in the least degree our sympathies. The cold, calculating, deceitful conspirator; the embodiment of perverted intellect, or rather of sly cunning, he seems totally lacking in moral and social qualities. Such an one was demanded by the action of the play. But now his mission is fulfilled; and before he disappears from the stage, it seems as if Shakspeare hastens to throw the mantle of a kindly humanity over his cold, repulsive character.
And this trait of Shakspeare is evident in all his creations. It was this that put the touching words "Et tu Brute ?" into the mouth of the dying tyrant; and that represents Antony as eulogizing Brutus over the dead body of Cæsar.
He seems to see in every fallen brother and sister of his race only what he himself might have been; and while he holds up to our disapprobation sin and error, he engages our pity and compassion for the sinning and the erring. None of his characters are either perfectly pure or perfectly depraved; in the best and the noblest are the traces of one common sin, and in the lowest and the most abandoned gleam here
After this exciting scene, Brutus seeks the soothing influence of music to calm his troubled breast; and herein develops another engaging trait, very prominent in Shakspeare's characters. His treatment of the tired Lucius, who from sheer fatigue drops asleep as he plays the lute to him, most beautifully brings out his kind consideration for the feelings and comfort of his inferiors, at a time when he himself is bowed to the earth with his mighty load of sorrow. The music ceasing, he betakes himself to reading; when suddenly the ghost of Cæsar, the phantom of his diseased brain, appears before him. The memory of Cæsar, in very truth, is his "evil spirit," never leaving him, and continually asserting its growing influence over his fevered mind. He acknowledges this himself when, at the death of Titinius, he says:
"O Julius Caesar! thou art mighty yet: Thy spirit walks abroad, and turns our swords In our own proper entrails."
And again, the last utterance of his life is :
"Cæsar, now be still:
I killed not thee with half so good a will."
It is observable that as the tragic end drawS near, its retributive nature is constantly alluded to by the avengers as well as their victim. In the meeting of the hostile generals it forms the burden of the burning reproaches which Octavius and Antony heap upon Brutus and Cassius. Cassius, as he dies, proclaims it :
"" Cæsar, thou art revenged Even with the sword that killed thee."
Thus the leading, ruling thought intensifies itself as it nears its perfect fulfilinent.
The manner of the death of Brutus, so apparently contradictory to our conception of his character and to his own express declaration, claims our lingering notice. It will be remembered that on the eve of that disastrous battle, Cassius says:
"If we do lose this battle, then is this
Even by the rule of that philosophy
By which I did blame Cato for the death
For fear of what might fall, so to prevent