Dr. Frank Brownlow, “Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar” (MP3 Download)


Run Time: 46 minutes

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In this lecture, Dr. Brownlow examines the origins, criticism, and rhetorical impact of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. The first mentions of the play by academic playwrights and competitors of the Bard illustrate the scholarly concerns of Shakespeare’s day to render historical characters faithfully and according to a variety of sources. Ben Jonson, one of Shakespeare’s most able early critics, took issue with the artistic freedom of the play, as well as with apparently faulty moral reasoning in several remembered passages. The Bard, seemingly, responded to Jonson’s criticism by changing the lines in the scenes he mentioned, but the consensus of the academics was that Shakespeare had not followed exactly the historical sources preferred by the academic playwrights of Cambridge, and instead used only Plutarch and his artistic imagination. The irony of the relative unpopularity of the academics, whose lines can be directly traced to their sources word-for-word, and the phenomenal popularity of Shakespeare’s masterpiece, whose handling of the sources is less heavy-handed, is best explained by the rhetorical quality of the play itself. Even minor characters, like the senators who open the first scene declaiming the fickleness of the Caesar-worshipping mob, are given shocking and memorable speeches. Dr. Brownlow concludes by analyzing several memorable scenes from the play and explaining their impact.

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