Shakespeare's Plays Before the publication of the First Folio innineteen of the thirty-seven plays in Shakespeare's canon had appeared in quarto format. With the exception of Othelloall of the quartos were published prior to the date of Shakespeare's retirement from the theatre in about It is unlikely that Shakespeare was involved directly with the printing of any of his plays, although it should be noted that two of his poems, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece were almost certainly printed under his direct supervision.
Coleridge has a shrewd doubt as to what sort of a character Shakespeare meant his Brutus to be. A strange piece of casuistry indeed! And yet the character of Brutus is full of beauty and sweetness.
In all the relations of life he is upright, gentle, and pure; of a sensitiveness and delicacy of principle that cannot bosom the slightest stain; his mind enriched and fortified with the best extractions of philosophy; a man adorned with all the virtues which, in public and private, at home and in the circle of friends, win respect and charm the heart.
Being such a man, of course he could only do what he did under some sort of delusion. And so indeed it is. Yet this very delusion serves, apparently, to ennoble and beautify him, as it takes him and works upon him through his virtues.
At heart he is a real patriot, every inch of him. But his patriotism, besides being somewhat hidebound with patrician pride, is of the speculative kind, and dwells, where his whole character has been chiefly formed, in a world of poetical and philosophic ideals.
He is an enthusiastic student of books. Plato is his favorite teacher; and he has studiously framed his life and tuned his thoughts to the grand and pure conceptions won from that all but divine source: His great fault, then, lies in supposing it his duty to be meddling with things that he does not understand.
Conscious of high thoughts and just desires, but with no gift of practical insight, he is ill fitted to "grind among the iron facts of life. The characters of those who act with him are too far below the region of his principles and habitual thinkings for him to take the true cast of them.
Himself incapable of such motives as govern them, he just projects and suspends his ideals in them, and then misreckons upon them as realizing the men of his own brain. So also he clings to the idea of the great and free republic of his fathers, the old Rome that has ever stood to his feelings touched with the consecrations of time and glorified with the high virtues that have grown up under her cherishing.
But, in the long reign of tearing faction and civil butchery, that which he worships has been substantially changed, the reality lost. But Brutus is so filled with the idea of that which has thus passed away never to return that he thinks to save or recover the whole by preventing such formal and nominal change.
And so his whole course is that of one acting on his own ideas, not on the facts that are before and around him. Indeed, he does not see them; he merely dreams his own meaning into them.
He is swift to do that by which he thinks his country ought to be benefited. That they will do this is the very thing which he has in fact no reason to conclude; notwithstanding, because it is so in his idea, therefore he trusts that the conspirators will "be called purgers, not murderers.
It is certain that, unless so construed, the act must prove fruitful of evil; all Rome is full of things proving that it cannot be so construed; but this is what Brutus has no eye to see. To do otherwise would be unjust, and so would overthrow the whole nature of the enterprise as it lives in his mind.
Thus the course of Brutus serves no end but to set on foot another civil war, which naturally hastens and assures the very thing he sought to prevent.
He confides in the goodness of his cause, not considering that the better the cause, the worse its chance with bad men.
He thinks it safe to trust others because he knows they can safely trust him; the singleness of his own eye causing him to believe that others will see as he sees, the purity of his own heart, that others will feel as he feels. Here then we have a strong instance of a very good man doing a very bad thing; and, withal, of a wise man acting most unwisely because his wisdom knew not its place; a right noble, just, heroic spirit bearing directly athwart the virtues he worships.
On the whole, it is not wonderful that Brutus should have exclaimed, as he is said to have done, that he had worshiped virtue and found her at last but a shade. So worshiped, she may well prove a shade indeed! As if one should say, "O yes, yes! Plutarch has a short passage which served as a hint, not indeed for the matter, but for the style of that speech.
As, when the war was begun, he wrote unto the Pergamenians in this sort: And what a rare significance attaches to the brief scene of Brutus and his drowsy boy Lucius in camp a little before the catastrophe! There, in the deep of the night, long after all the rest have lost themselves in sleep, and when the anxieties of the issue are crowding upon him,--there we have the earnest, thoughtful Brutus hungering intensely for the repasts of treasured thought.
And do we not taste a dash of benignant irony in the implied repugnance between the spirit of the man and the stuff of his present undertaking? The idea of a bookworm riding the whirlwind of war!What are character analyses of Brutus, Antony, Julius Caesar, Octavius Caesar, and Cassius from Click on the enotes link below, and navigate to the section on Character Analysis on the right.
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