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Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: An Apollonian and Comparative Reading R. J. Kaufmann and Clifford J. Ronan My enemies are those who want to destroy without creating their own selves. Nietzsche A man’s virility lies more in what he keeps to himself than in what he says. Camus All crimes, so far as guilt is concerned, are com­ pleted even before the accomplishment of the deed. Seneca I Peter S. Anderson’s brilliant essay in a recent issue of this journal advanced discussion of Julius Caesar to a new level of methodological sophistication.! His working out, through intelligent deployment of structuralist techniques, of a “metonymic epistemology of sacrifice” must be studied in toto and attentively to appreciate its rich critical dividends. The essay charts the mythopeic infrastructure of the play better than this has ever been done. He transposes into discursive language something of the wonderful polyphony of the play, its inter­ play of mutually qualifying analogues from different planes of ab­ straction. Numerous critics have felt, but they have not been able to annotate convincingly, the special poetic of Julius Caesar. They have sensed its crucial intermediary role as a bridge between the painterly and rhetorical modes of the plays of the 90’s and the deeper reaching verbal and psychological dynamics of the sequence of Shakespeare’s greatest plays which follow it. But much of their commentary has been negative, as, e.g., in observing Caesar’s relative lack of imagery; or they have swallowed the bait of ideology and ethical analysis and lost the play’s tonal shading in the process. Anderson by applying pre-modern modes of constitutive thinking—• specifically those of Lévi-Strauss when mapping the non-Kantian modalities of The Savage Mind—has rehabilitated what we would call the “prismatic capacities” of the late-medieval-cum-renaissance mind, at least as these are ideally typified by the instrument we know as Shakespeare’s imagination. With Julius Caesar as his text, Ander18 R. J. Kaufmann & Clifford ]. Ronan 19 son articulates the patterns of substitution and displacement (not just words for words, but of words for things or agents, of events for metaphors, and in all possible qualitative permutations) which are refracted through this prismatic logic. This is valuable, and the exegetical dividends are impressive, but his excitement in his discovery is also great; so, our praise is not seasoned when we say that, occa­ sionally “the frame devours the picture.” Hence, he stimulates further discussion, for as he says himself in one of many passages of telling generalization: Julius Caesar is not a closed field. The Shakespearean play, even if it is, as here, a sort of “maimed ritual,” is not an her­ metically sealed torture chamber in which the audience undergoes what is undergone. The play opens from and onto a public life outside itself in which the audience once moved, will again move, and even in experiencing the play, moves. There is not so much suspension of disbelief during the play as there is participation in the larger life through the play. Drama is a form of participa­ tion, and surely Brutus, perhaps above all other characters, elicits our response to life outside the play. (pp. 16-17) This is well said and pertinent to an adequate response to the special­ ized tone of Julius Caesar. So is his earlier more arguable statement that “Stoicism is no more than a dialect of sacrificial language.” Ander­ son’s placing of the play as particularly “open” in its inertial move­ ment; his classification of Stoicism as “no more than” a subset of his central organizing paradigm, sacrifice; and his choice of Brutus as the figure through whom we gain access to the play’s outward reaching orbits of connotation promote concentration on the play’s vital core; they also invite recourse to a method consonant with his own but, more comparative and less subject to virtuoso overdevelopment than his mythopeic approch. The essay which follows is intended as an Apol­ lonian complement to his essentially Dionysian reading of Julius Caesar. Any Apollonian reading must be sensitive to a number of different normative manifolds within which any particular art-product is placed. Without trying to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 18-51
Launched on MUSE
2018-07-11
Open Access
No
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