Amazon has used paperbacks from $3.98, but it certainly isn't grand literature or anything special. I like to use it as an example of "First Person History" where you get the individual's perspective as opposed to something like War As I Knew It by Patton or what he mimicked - Caeser's Gallic War. Those are very dry notebooks by comparison and while interesting in a technical manner, not much in a historically informative state. Something I was looking for at the time of trying to understand the whole Vietnam / endless USA at war experience.
I was shocked and amazed to find that it was also a favorite book of a FPS gaming friend of mine (mid 30's female, no less) who lives in Oz.
a good deal of that can be chalked up to your fecund imagination
I love the word "fecund". I wish I made use of it more often.
The very sound of it is at once both provocatively esoteric and deliciously lewd.
Well, pardon, but an imaginative writer can make a work sound more intriguing than it actually is. I was looking at W.H. Auden's Shakespeare lectures he gave at The New School back in the 40s (in paperback form now); particularly his Julius Caesar lecture and was impressed with his analysis of the philosophical schools of thought influencing the reality of late Republican Rome:
"It was a society doomed not by the evil passions of selfish individuals, because such passions always exist, but by an intellectual and spiritual failure of nerve that made the society incapable of coping with its situation, which is why the noble Brutus is more at sea in the play than the unscrupulous and brutal Antony. The Roman-Hellenic world failed to evolve a religious pattern that was capable of grasping the world, of making sense of what was happening. The Platonic-Aristotelian politics of the good life proved ineffective for the public world, and Stoic-Epicurean thought proved incapable of saving the individual. The play presents three political responses to this failure. The crowd-master, the man of destiny, Caesar. The man who temporarily rides the storm, Antony. And Caesar's real successor, the man who is to establish Roman order for a time, Octavius."
While the set up is admirable Auden's description of the various failed political responses is less so. I think it's chiefly because (as I've alluded to above) in place of political maneuvering Shakespeare primarily gives us posturing and rhetoric. Why must the verbal wrangling between Brutus and Cassius, for instance, flashy as it is, comprise so much of the latter part of the play? Much of the action smacks of rank melodrama and so little of the kind of political play we see, for example, in Coriolanus - or even, Cymbeline.
Auden can blow his politico-religious analysis out his ass. Julius Caesar is a great play, but Shakespeare is too grounded in human relations to bypass dramatic moments between individuals -- in the latter part of the play, Brutus and Cassius -- in service to some view of Roman, or collective, history.
Coleridge -- unquestionably an insightful Shakespearean critic -- claimed that Coriolanus says all that can reasonably be said about aristocratic versus democratic rule. He was as fulla shit as Auden was about Julius Caesar.
The mere fact that Shakespeare's plays cause us to think does not mean that Shakespeare himself gave an atom of a fuck about the "ideas" his plays contain. And, as we all know, he readily bent history to drama, and not vice-versa.
The mere fact that Shakespeare's plays cause us to think does not mean that Shakespeare himself gave an atom of a fuck about the "ideas" his plays contain.
A bit absurd, wouldn't you say, Sev? The long deliberations of Brutus, after all, are a direct precursor to that classic brooder, the prince of Denmark. I can't even believe you'd say that about a bloke who (reportedly) scribbled As You Like It, Henry V, Julius Caesar and Hamlet in one year. No small feat for somone who could care less about ideas.
JC is by no mean a sophisticated political play. I enjoy Auden's enlargement of the material. He does make a blunt point later in the lecture that Caesar's conspirators (in Shakespeare's account) really have no persuasive motive for killing Caesar (as opposed to the real menace he posed to the guilded members of the senate, as Parenti points out). The real politics of the period are largely absent. Small wonder Auden took such a philosophic/religious recourse in examining it (though that was certainly a predilection). It has fine rhetorical passages but closer study actually reveals more interesting source material, particularly the kind of material that passed for scholarship during the late 16th century. Incidentally, Norton is releasing a critical edition of JC in July. I just picked up a Signet edition (my favorite) which accompanies my daily subway excursions. And yes, I've heard; real men don't read books.
It's Shakespeare's remarkable human sympathies -- not his ideas -- that make his bones.
Yes, Brutus and Hamlet are brooders -- but each is a different kind than the other. They're not connected by ideas, only by a personality trait that all of us are prey to. Indeed, it's hard to claim Brutus as a precursor to Hamlet. The noble Roman freely runs on his sword when the game is up. He's a man whose thoughts are always preliminary to action. The Dane, on the other hand, is crippled by thought. That's his M.O. The only time he acts affirmatively is when there's no time for him to think things out. Far from running on his sword, he can't even contemplate suicide without losing himself in the consequences of self-slaughter, in dread of that "undiscovered country". "Thus conscience does make cowards of us all " is hardly what Brutus believes. For him, conscience is a spur to great action.
In all this there are no ideas, as that term is generally used. What we get instead are profound observations, sometimes from Shakespeare merely re-stating what he picked up in the Bible or some other written or oral source of wisdom available to him, coupled with an uncanny penetration of the individual human personality that enables him to create Macbeth and Gloucester, so close on the surface of their active lives, yet so different within.
One goes to Bacon, among Shakespeare's Elizabethan contemporaries, for ideas. One goes to Shakespeare himself for people.
Both Brutus and Hamlet engage with ideas. Both of them deliberate over a specific action which sets the moral tone and the course of action in both plays. Those are the ways in which they're similar. In this light Brutus' deliberations are very much a precursor to Hamlet's. We're talking about thought. Unless it's involved with some motor skill it's concerned with ideas. I can't think of single example of a character illustrated in any play where the playwright delineates the difference between who people are and what they think. (Of course I agree with you about Shakes's human sympathies.)
The definition of "idea" you cite is too vast for what we're talking about -- so vast that it can apply to fuck books as well as to A Critique of Pure Reason.
I'm not insisting on a definition that confines the term solely to ideologic formulations. But it must contain some exclusivity, some fueling "ism", some coherent and arguable (and argued) usefulness, some abstraction from the immediate day-to-day activities of the character, in order for this discussion to have any meaning.
Brutus engages with no idea -- other than the most general Caesar-has-to-die-to-preserve-the-republic, which is really just a device to move him to associate his respectable self with the conspirators. Ultimately, despite his overlay of "stoicism" -- an idea that Shakespeare neither develops nor gives a particular shit about -- Brutus joins the assassins for reasons of passion, not thought. And, as Antony tells us, the rest of the conspirators did not act out of such honest passion, but did what they did out of envy of great Caesar. Ideas? Or just the good ol' seven deadly sins at work here?
Shakespeare's predecessor, Macchiavelli, who wrote a wonderfully comic play in Mandragola , laid out, in a single sentence, more ideas than Shakespeare set down in the entire play: "He who wishes to become king and does not kill Brutus, and he who wishes to establish a republic and does not kill the sons of Brutus, will only reign a short time." Now that's what I call "pith and vinegar", not just a glib maxim, but a whole conceptualization of politics. Is there a whisper of this in Julius Caesar ? Not by a long shot. The whole play is personalities. And when they collide, it's their emotions -- not their ideas -- that bubble to the surface.
And what can one say about Hamlet? The longest of Shakespeare's plays, yet without a single idea in it. If anything, every thought the gloomy Dane thinks is a suggestion as to a possible course of in-action. And yet look at the possibilities available to Shakespeare to explore ideas of genuine political and religious importance -- if he had any interest in doing so: First, Hamlet is the adult son of the dead king. Why has he not succeeded to the throne? Second, he ponders that "undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveller returns". Yet isn't his entire problem based upon what he's been told by a traveler who did return?
Hamlet doesn't think about anything -- he frets or rants or whines. His "ideas" are nothing more than bitter remarks, directed at himself and at others, as he wipes his ass on his mother, counselor, girlfriend, school pals -- everyone but Horatio and the visiting players, and it seems like he can only tolerate them for the use he makes of them or because he needs some sort of sounding board for his sour temperament. Am I the only one who sees the unintentional irony at the finish, when Fortinbras laments Hamlet's death, suggesting that had he lived and become king he would have proved most worthy? The Hamlet drawn by Shakespeare is the last guy in the kingdom I'd want to see in charge of the government.
Shakespeare is just not a man of ideas. Why pretend he is?
After all, it's not like his reputation needs shoring up.
Oh, I agree, Brutus' ideas are not at all developed, but they are ideas, nonetheless. I don't see that he joined the assassins for reasons of passion. You certainly can't cite the "Caesar was ambitious" rationale. Does anyone believe that nonsense, anyway? Who wasn't ambitious in Rome??
And what can one say about Hamlet?
Plenty - in another (perhaps the next) thread, though. I agree, Hamlet would have made a fairly odd figure as king but the question of who is worthy of ruling a kingdom is one that Shakespeare seems to have spent his entire career attempting to address.
the question of who is worthy of ruling a kingdom is one that Shakespeare seems to have spent his entire career attempting to address
-- and he succeeded in coming up with the wrong answer.
It's often said that Henry V was Shakespeare's ideal king. If that's so Heaven help him. But he probably lived to regret that he spent most of his years in the reign of the greatest ruler in England's history, only to play out his string in the hey-day of Jackoffian -- Jacobian ineptitude.
Heh. That last statement obviously bears some elucidation. His best plays were certainly written under the equally eccentric successor.
Some of his best.