Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar
This is one classic drama that women don’t flock to see. ‘It’s such a masculine play, only interested in men and their fighting’, is a typical view.
In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar I challenge such conventional readings, pointing out that as it opens, the play puts the figure of Calpurnia, Caesar’s wife centre stage and invites the audience to note her mute public humiliation.
Shakespeare’s take on this ancient story is highly critical of the Roman way of life, with its contempt for all women and subordinates, its savage competition between elite men and its military violence.
Reminding readers that Dante ranked Brutus with Judas Iscariot as a traitor, I suggest that Shakespeare didn’t necessarily endorse the masculine heroics that his characters indulge in.
Instead I present a play where the treachery that Caesar encounters is linked with the fatal distance built into Roman marriage, symptoms of a sickness that runs through the whole society. We don’t always notice this but many of the characters in the play are shown as ill or diseased. Caesar’s deafness and his epilepsy are deliberately brought to our attention, but he’s not alone in having health problems.
The dreams and portents that recur throughout the play represent a buried knowledge, a sense of what is excluded and denied by Roman men, that won’t disappear but survives to haunt the city.
‘Mary Hamer’s Julius Caesar provides a stimulating and original reading . . . It avoids the rhetoric of the academy but introduces ways of thinking about the play which are informed by psychoanalytic and feminist thought and should give it a fresh significance for undergraduates.’ The Year’s Work in English Studies.