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Selections from North's Plutarch

The following two short passages from North's Plutarch will suffice to show how closely Shakespeare often followed the words of the biographies which he used when writing his play.

1. It rejoiceth my heart that not one of my friends hath failed me at my need . . . . For as for me, I think myself happier than they that have overcome, considering that I leave a perpetual fame of virtue and honesty, the which our enemies the conquerors shall never attain unto by force or money, etc.

In V, 5, 33-38, we find these words cast into verse and ennobled by Shakespeare.
My heart doth joy that yet in all my life
I found no man but he was true to me.
I shall have glory by this losing day
More than Octavius and Mark Antony
By this vile conquest shall attain unto.
2. For it was said that Antonius spake it openly divers times that he thought that of all them that had slain Caesar, there was none but Brutus only that was moved to do it, as thinking the act commendable of itself; but that all the other conspirators did conspire his death for some private malice or envy that they otherwise did bear against him.

In the play we have these four lines:
All the conspirators, save only he,
Did that they did in envy of great Caesar;
He only, in a general honest thought
And common good to all, made one of them. V, 5, 69-72.
Following are a number of the more interesting passages in North's Plutarch which the poet followed closely, or from which he took an idea. It will be a profitable study to compare word for word these selections with the corresponding lines in the play. Nothing can show more clearly the method of the dramatist, or the skill which he used in working over his prose material into poetry of the highest type.

1. Caesar sat to behold that sport upon the pulpit for orations, in a chain of gold, apparelled in triumphant manner. Antonius, who was Consul at that time, was one of them that ran this holy course. So when he came into the market-place, the people made a lane for him to run at liberty, and he came to Caesar, and presented him a diadem wreathed about with laurel. Whereupon there rose a certain cry of rejoicing, not very great, done only by a few appointed for the purpose. But when Caesar refused the diadem, then all the people together made an outcry of joy. Then Antonius offering it him again, there was a second shout of joy, but yet of a few. But when Caesar refused it again the second time, then all the whole people shouted. Caesar, having made this proof, found that the people did not like of it, and thereupon rose out of his chair and commanded the crown to be carried unto Jupiter in the Capitol. After that there were set up images of Caesar in the city, with diadems upon their heads like kings. Those the two tribunes, Flavius and Marullus, went and pulled down, and furthermore, meeting with them that first saluted Caesar as king, they committed them to prison.
Plutarch, Julius Caesar. -- Shakespeare, I, 2.

2. Furthermore, there was a certaine Soothsayer, that had given Caesar warning long afore, to take heed of the day of the Ides of March (which is the fifteenth of the moneth), for on that day he should be in great danger. That day being come, Caesar going unto the Senate-house, and speaking merrily to the soothsayer, told him, "The Ides of March be come." "So they be," softly answered the soothsayer, "but yet are they not past."
Plutarch, Julius Caesar. -- Shakespeare, I, 2 and Shakespeare, III, 1

3. Then going to bed the same night, as his manner was, and lying with his wife Calpurnia, all the windows and doors of his chamber flying open, the noise awoke him, and made him afraid when he saw such light; but more, when he heard his wife Calpurnia, being fast asleep, weep and sigh, and put forth many fumbling lamentable speeches; for she dreamed that Caesar was slain, and that she had him in her arms. . . . Insomuch that Caesar, rising in the morning, she prayed him, if it were possible, not to go out of the doors that day, but to adjourn the session of the Senate until another day. And if that he made no reckoning of her dream, yet that he would search further of the soothsayers by their sacrifices, to know what should happen him that day. Thereby it seemed that Caesar likewise did fear or suspect somewhat, because his wife Calpurnia until that time was never given to any fear and superstition, and that then he saw her so troubled in mind with this dream she had. But much more afterwards, when the soothsayers having sacrificed many beasts one after another, told him that none did like them; then he determined to send Antonius to adjourn the session of the Senate.
Plutarch, Julius Caesar. -- Shakespeare, II, 2.

4. But when they had opened Caesar's testament, and found a liberal legacy of money bequeathed unto every citizen of Rome, and that they saw his body (which was brought into the marketplace) all be mangled with gashes of swords, then there was no order to keep the multitude and common people quiet, but they plucked up forms, tables, and stools, and laid them all about the body; and setting them afire, burnt the corse. Then when the fire was well kindled, they took the fire-brands, and went unto their houses that had slain Caesar, to set them afire. Other also ran up and down the city to see if they could meet with any of them, to cut them in pieces: howbeit they could meet with never a man of them, because they had locked themselves up safely in their houses. There was one of Caesar's friends called Cinna, that had a marvellous strange and terrible dream the night before. He dreamed that Caesar bade him to supper, and that he refused, and would not go; then that Caesar took him by the hand, and led him against his will. Now Cinna, hearing at that time that they burnt Caesar's body in the market-place, notwithstanding that he feared his dream, and had an ague on him besides, he went into the market-place to honour his funerals. When he came thither, one of mean sort asked him what his name was? He was straight called by his name. The first man told it to another, and that other unto another, so that it ran straight through them all, that he was one of them that murthered Caesar (for indeed one of the traitors to Caesar was also called Cinna as himself), wherefore taking him for Cinna the murtherer, they fell upon him with such fury that they presently despatched him in the market-place.
Plutarch, Julius Caesar. -- Shakespeare, II, 2 and Shakespeare, II, 3.

5. Now Caesar, on the other side, did not trust him overmuch, nor was without tales brought unto him against him, howbeit he feared his great mind, authority, and friends. Yet, on the other side also, he trusted his good nature and fair conditions. For intelligence being brought him one day that Antonius and Dolabella did conspire against him, he answered "That these fat long-haired men made him not afraid, but the lean and whitely-faced fellows," meaning by that Brutus and Cassius.
Plutarch, Brutus. -- Shakespeare, I, 2.

6. But for Brutus, his friends and countrymen, both by divers procurements and sundry rumours of the city, and by many bills also, did openly call and procure him to do that he did. For under the image of his ancestor Junius Brutus (that drave the kings out of Rome) they wrote, "Oh, that it pleased the gods thou wert now alive, Brutus!" and again, "That thou wert here among us now!" His tribunal or chair where he gave audience during the time he was praetor was full of such bills: "Brutus, thou art asleep, and art not Brutus indeed."
Plutarch, Brutus. -- Shakespeare, II, 1.

7. Brutus, who went to see him being sick in his bed, and said unto him, "Ligarius, in what time art thou sick?" Ligarius rising up in his bed, and taking him by the right hand, said unto him, "Brutus," said he, "if thou hast any great enterprise in hand worthy of thyself, I am whole."
Plutarch, Brutus. -- Shakespeare, II, 2.

8. Then perceiving her husband was marvellously out of quiet, and that he could take no rest, even in her greatest pain of all she spake in this sort unto him: "I being, O Brutus," said she, "the daughter of Cato, was married unto thee; not to be thy bed-fellow and companion in bed and at board only, like a harlot, but to be partaker also with thee thy good and evil fortune. Now for thyself, I can find no cause of fault in thee touching our match; but for my part, how may I shew my duty towards thee and how much I would do for thy sake, if I cannot constantly bear a secret mischance or grief with thee, which requireth secrecy and fidelity? I confess that a woman's wit commonly is too weak to keep a secret safely, but yet, Brutus, good education and the company of virtuous men have some power to reform the defect of nature. And for myself, I have this benefit moreover, that I am the daughter of Cato and wife of Brutus. This notwithstanding, I did not trust to any of these things before, until that now I have found by experience that no pain or grief whatsoever can overcome me." With those words she shewed him her wound on her thigh, and told him what she had done to prove herself. Brutus was amazed to hear what she said unto him, and lifting up his hands to heaven, he besought the gods to give him the grace he might bring his enterprise to so good pass, that he might be found a husband worthy of so noble a wife as Porcia; so he then did comfort her the best he could.
Plutarch, Brutus. -- Shakespeare, II, 1.

9. When this was done, they came to talk of Caesar's will and testament and of his funerals and tomb. Then Antonius, thinking good his testament should be read openly, and also that his body should be honourably buried, and not in hugger-mugger, lest the people might thereby take occasion to be worse offended if they did otherwise, Cassius stoutly spake against it. But Brutus went with the motion and agreed unto it, wherein it seemeth he committed a second fault. For the first fault he did was when he would not consent to his fellow-conspirators that Antonius should be slain; and therefore he was justly accused that thereby he had saved and strengthened a strong and grievous enemy of their conspiracy. The second fault was when he agreed that Caesar's funerals should be as Antonius would have them, the which indeed marred all. For first of all, when Caesar's testament was openly read among them, whereby it appeared that he bequeathed unto every citizen of Rome 75 drachmas a man, and that he left his gardens and arbours unto the people, which he had on this side of the river Tiber, in the place where now the temple of Fortune is built, the people then loved him, and were marvellous sorry for him.

Afterwards, when Caesar's body was brought into the market-place, Antonius making his funeral oration in praise of the dead, according to the ancient custom of Rome, and perceiving that his words moved the common people to compassion, he framed his eloquence to make their hearts yearn the more, and taking Caesar's gown all bloody in his hand, he laid it open to the sight of them all, shewing what a number of cuts and holes it had upon it. Therewithal the people fell presently into such a rage and mutiny, that there was no more order kept amongst the common people. For some of them cried out, "Kill the murtherers!" others plucked up forms, tables, and stalls about the marketplace, as they had done before at the funerals of Clodius, and having laid them all in a heap together, they set them on fire, and thereupon did put the body of Caesar, and burnt it in the midst of the most holy places. And furthermore, when the fire was thoroughly kindled, some here, some there, took burning firebrands, and ran with them to the murtherers' houses that killed him, to set them on fire. Howbeit the conspirators, for seeing the danger before, had wisely provided for themselves and fled.
Plutarch, Brutus. -- Shakespeare, III, 2.

10. About that time Brutus sent to pray Cassius to come to the city of Sardis, and so he did. Brutus, understanding of his coming, went to meet him with all his friends. There both their armies being armed, they called them both Emperors. Now as it commonly happened in great affairs between two persons, both of them having many friends and so many captains under them, there ran tales and complaints betwixt them. Therefore, before they fell in hand with any other matter, they went into a little chamber together, and bade every man avoid, and did shut the doors to them. Then they began to pour out their complaints one to the other, and grew hot and loud, earnestly accusing one another, and at length fell both a-weeping. Their friends that were without the chamber, hearing them loud within, and angry between themselves, they were both amazed and afraid also, lest it would grow to further matter, but yet they were commanded that no man should come to them.
Plutarch, Brutus. -- Shakespeare, IV, 3.

11. This Phaonius at that time, in despite of the doorkeepers, came into the chamber, and with a certain scoffing and mocking gesture, which he counterfeited of purpose, he rehearsed the verses which old Nestor said in Homer:
My lords, I pray you hearken both to me.
For I have seen moe years than suchie three.
Cassius fell a-laughing at him; but Brutus thrust him out of the chamber, and called him dog, and counterfeit Cynic. Howbeit his coming in brake their strife at that time, and so they left each other.
Plutarch, Brutus. -- Shakespeare, IV, 3.

12. So, being ready to go into Europe, one night very late (when all the camp took quiet rest) as he was in his tent with a little light, thinking of weighty matters, he thought he heard one come in to him, and casting his eye towards the door of his tent, that he saw a wonderful strange and monstrous shape of a body coming towards him, and said never a word. So Brutus boldly asked what he was, a god or a man, and what cause brought him thither? The spirit answered him, "I am thy evil spirit, Brutus, and thou shalt see me by the city of Philippes." Brutus being no otherwise afraid, replied again unto it, " Well, then I shall see thee again."
Plutarch, Brutus. -- Shakespeare, IV, 3.

13. Now the night being far spent, Brutus as he sat bowed towards Clitus, one of his men, and told him somewhat in his ear: the other answered him not, but fell a-weeping. Thereupon he proved Dardanus, and said somewhat also to him; at length he came to Volumnius himself, and speaking to him in Greek, prayed him for the studies' sake which brought them acquainted together, that he would help him to put his hand to his sword, to thrust it in him to kill him. Volumnius denied his request, and so did many others; and amongst the rest, one of them said, there was no tarrying for them there, but that they must needs fly. Then Brutus, rising up, "We must fly indeed," said he, "but it must be with our hands, not with our feet." Having so said, he prayed every man to shift for himself, and then he went a little aside with two or three only, among the which Strato was one with whom he came first acquainted by the study of rhetoric. He came as near to him as he could, and taking his sword by the hilt with both his hands, and falling down upon the point of it, ran himself through. Others say that not he, but Strato (at his request) held the sword in his hand, and turned his head aside, and that Brutus fell down upon it, and so ran himself through, and died presently.
Plutarch, Brutus. -- Shakespeare, V, 5.

How to cite this article:
Shakespeare, William. Julius Caesar. Ed. Samuel Thurber. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1919. Shakespeare Online. 26 Feb. 2013. < >.

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Quote in Context

microsoft images You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things!
O you hard hearts, you cruel men of Rome,
Knew you not Pompey?

"The play commences with comedy. The mob is like all Shakespeare's mobs -- much excited at the prospect of a show, very ready to be quite sure that the last speaker is the wisest, and very ready to appreciate a joke however small, if it is only sufficiently obvious. Their politics are entirely personal, and they all start prepared to shout for Caesar because Caesar is giving them a show. The tribunes, on the other hand, are party politicians, not opposed to Caesarism, but partisans of the dead Pompey." -- Arthur D. Innes.

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Did You Know? ... Unlike many of Shakespeare's other plays, which were printed in quarto form during his lifetime, Julius Caesar seems to have been first published in 1623, in the First Folio edition of Shakespeare's works. More on the First Folio...


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