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Lucan and the Self-Incised Voids of Julius Caesar Clifford J. Ronan Several students of Shakespeare have maintained that Julius Caesar and other earlier plays of Shakespeare echo language and various details from Marcus Annaeus Lucanus' Pharsalia, otherwise known as De Bello Civili (Civil War) ? Substantia] acceptance has been accorded the claim that certain omens and portentous events in Julius Caesar derive from Lucan. In a previous issue of this journal, I sought to link the play's imagery of lightning, blood, and snakes with Lucan as well. There exist other similar but less easily defended claims, as in the instance of Antony when he summons up vengeful Ate. Another and larger claim is J. Dover Wilson's contention that Caesar himself is demonic in the same way that the Dictator in Lucan is.2 More recently, Emrys Jones has argued on behalf of a Lucanic inspiration for Cassius' sense of his future fame ("How many ages hence/ Shall this our lofty scene be acted over" [LÏI.ii.l 1 1-12]).3 Jones' analysis of parricide as one motif tying Shakespeare thematically to the Pharsalia in the Henry VI plays is excellent, and his remarks could well have been extended to Julius Caesar also. In all of the above works there is a cluster of ideas and, as I intend to show with regard to Julius Caesar, images that are felt to be especially appropriate to discussions of civil war— images especially dignified because redolent of Lucan. Lucan's manner as well as matter in dealing with civil war is so distinctive as to constitute an allusion whose aesthetic and thematic functions are at present too little appreciated in the criticism of Julius Caesar. Specifically, Shakespeare imitates Pharsalia in CLIFFORD J. RONAN, whose companion essay on Lucan and Shakespeare appeared in the preceding number of Comparative Drama (Summer 1988), has a special interest in connections between antiquity and Elizabethan playwrights. He is Professor of English at Southwest Texas State University. 215 216Comparative Drama making crucial use of motifs of self-mutilation and parricide to describe civil war. As a result, both works create a sense of the family and the self violated, with all their voids ironically exposed. In particular, the play uses Lucan's inspiration to create a sense of Romans as symbolic of hollowness in us all—of hardened surfaces, beneath which we painfully and often fruitlessly probe in order to affirm a supposedly viable being within. I That Julius Caesar and De Bello Civili have many large elements in common is understandable in view of the works' common subject matter, narrative structure, and occasionally tone. Both picture Rome's Civil War in terms of repeated undular developments the days of one set of combatants are displaced by the days of another pair of rivals—after the Gracchi, Marius and Sulla and then Caesar and Pompey, Caesar and Cato, Caesar and Brutus—with other rivalries impinging upon them (Cassius versus Brutus, Calphurnia versus Caesar, Octavius versus Antony, and so forth). An effect of this structuring of events is to suggest the onward thrust of life, an idea that precludes the deepest of tragic closures and opens up the final meaning of the works' events to irony. As they implicate the macro- and microcosms in the affairs of Rome qua political mesocosm, both works make much not only of omens but also of the ruptures within families, circles of friends, and single human bodies. Both authors use wives, friends, and household members to characterize the works' chief personages. In Shakespeare , one thinks of the boy Lucius, Calphurnia, Portia, "brother" Cassius, and the like; while Lucan introduces the wife (Marcia) of his hero Cato, Cato's son-in-law (Brutus), Pompey's wife (Cornelia), her father (Scipio), and predecessor's ghost (Caesar's daughter Julia). Marcia—divorced when pregnant so that one of Cato's friends might not die without an heir—returns a widow in the night (II.328ff)5 and seeks to resume her marriage and bed rites. But, alas, Cato's political dedication cannot permit him to be a fully responsive husband. This scene, like much else in this epic, can bring to mind details...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 215-226
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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