« AnteriorContinua »
A testimony so honourable to Brutus, who was certainly intended for the hero of his play, Shakspeare has carefully preserved :
“ O, he sits high, in all the people's hearts :
And that, which would appear offence in us,
The simple fact, that no oath was taken by the conspirators, the poet learnt from Plutarch*; but the argument which demonstrates the inutility of such a ceremony-the succeeding quotation proves to be his own: “Having never taken oathes together, nor taken or given any caution or assurance, nor binding themselves one to another by any religious othes, they all kept the matter so secret to themselves, and could so cunningly handle it, that notwithstanding the gods did reveale it by manifest signes and tokens from above, and by predictions of sacrifices, yet all this would not be beleeved." +
Shakspeare, like Plutarch, has wished to make public duty a principle of Brutus' conduct. Brutus knows no “personal cause to spurn at Cæsar but for the general;” nor can he tell, “ to speak truth of Cæsar," " when his affections sway'd
* “ No, not an oath : If not the face of men,” &c.
Act II. sc. 1. + Life of Brutus, p. 996.
more than his reason. - “ The quarrel,” he says, “ will bear no colour for the thing he is ;' but he argues, that if Cæsar should be king, he then will have “a sting in him, that at his will he may do danger with.” And this is the wretched hypothesis on which Brutus justifies his conscience in the murder of Cæsar! When Shakspeare deserted his author, and described the rest of Brutus' character from his own imagination, how beautiful is the picture ! - his calmness and dignity so well sustained by the abounding maxims of his philosophy; — his considerate regard for Lucius *, in such accordance with the character of gentleness in Brutus. In the struggle of feeling and philosophy, when he tells Cassius of the death of Portia, he can speak with calmness of his misfortune, and is able even to narrate the circumstances of its occurrence without embarrassment; but the strict attention he observes to utter no unnecessary word, his haste to dismiss, and his injunctions against the renewal of the subject, denote, in a manner as deeply impressive as language could have made it, the internal agony of his mind. This is one of those surprising instances of Shakspeare's power to produce extraordinary
* Act II. sc. 1.
- Act IV. sc. 3.
+ Act IV. sc. 3.
effects, by means apparently the most simple and inartificial. - But to continue our general comparison.
Shakspeare, prudently enough, omits to notice the motives which should have restrained Brutus from raising his arm against the head of Cæsar. “ The great honors and favour Cæsar shewed unto him, kept him backe that of himselfe alone he did not conspire nor consent to depose him of his kingdome. For Cæsar did not only save his life after the battel of Pharsalia when Pompey fled, and did at his request also save many moe of his friends besides ; but, furthermore, he put a marvellous confidence in him.” *
But while he rescued his hero from the charge of ingratitude, the dramatist exposes him to a more disgraceful accusation, that of violating the sacred bond of friendship, by confounding him with Decimus Brutus, whom, after Plutarch, he styles Decius. Shakspeare calls Marcus Brutus “ Cæsar's angel," and the “ well-beloved," and makes him say that he had slain his “best lover." Now it was “ Decius Brutus, surnamed Albinus, in whom Cæsar put such confidence, that in his last will and testament he had appointed him to be his heiret”, and who with“ Octavius, the son
* Life of Julius Cæsar, p. 739.
+ Ibid. 740.
of his neece," accompanied him “throughout al Italy."*
Though Plutarch's account of Cæsar's disposition towards Brutus is very contradictory, he clearly enough intimates, that neither friendship nor familiarity subsisted between them. “Cæsar, on the other side, did not trust Marcus Brutus overmuch, nor was without tales brought unto him against him: howbeit he feared his great mind, authoritie, and friends. Yet on the other side, also, he trusted his good nature and faire 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 that by Brutus and Cassius." +
The lives both of Cæsar and Anthony also mention the dictator's aversion from abstemiousness; and though in every instance Brutus is coupled with Cassius as a man to be suspected, Shakspeare omits to name him in transferring into his play the testimony of Cæsar in favour of the loyalty of the votaries of conviviality. I
* Life of Antonius.
+ Life of Brutus, p. 994. $ “Let me have men about me that are fat," &c.
Act I. sc. 2.
Had all the conspirators been as deeply impressed with the overwhelming importance of their enterprize as Brutus was, the momentous secret must have been divulged, since even the constancy of the philosopher was scarcely able to maintain an exterior indifference, while his mind was oppressed by the difficulties that surrounded him :-“when he was out of his house, he did so frame and fashion his countenance and lookes, that no man could discerne he had any thing to trouble his mind. But when night came that he was in his owne house, then he was cleane changed : for, either care did wake him against his will when he would have slept, or else oftentimes of himself he fell into such deepe thoughts of his enterprize, casting in his mind all the dangers that might happen."* How intense Shakspeare intended to represent the feelings of his hero, may partly be seen, as in Plutarch, from what his wife, Portia, alleges of him; but far more impressively from Brutus' description of his mental anxiety in the fearful interval between the formation of his resolution and its execution.f The patriot's injunctions to his associates, with regard to the manner of their
* Life of Brutus, p. 996.
Act II. sc. 1.