Monday, August 17, 2009

Julius Caesar - Is Poetry Fatal?


Perhaps Caesar's most arresting speech is his response to Cassius' pleas for Publius Cimber.

I could be well moved, if I were as you;
If I could pray to move, prayers would move me;
But I am constant as the Northern Star,
Of whose true-fixed and resting quality
There is no fellow in the firmament.
The skies are painted with unnumb'red sparks,
They are all fire and every one doth shine;
But there's but one in all doth hold his place.
So in the world; 'tis furnished well with men,
And men are flesh and blood, and apprehensive;
Yet in the number I do know but one
That unassailable holds on his rank,
Unshaked of motion; and that I am he. (3.1.58-70)

Quite the extended metaphor, no? What, in your opinion, does it reveal about Caesar? Is he a poet?

Here is another metaphor from nature, as Brutus discusses battle tactics with Cassius before Phillippi:

Our legions are brimful, our cause is ripe.
The enemy increaseth every day;
We, at the height, are ready to decline.
There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures. (4.3.214-223)

And what, in your opinion, does this tell us about Brutus, how he thinks? What differences do these "arguments" establish between Caesar and Brutus? How would you ask your students to unpack the poetry of these two passages?


(Quotes from Signet edition)

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