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Barron's Booknotes-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
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A HISTORICAL NOTE

When you think of Senators, you naturally think of elected representatives of the people. But in ancient Rome the Senate was made up of wealthy aristocrats and conservatives who sought to defend their ancient privileges. Caesar was a reformer who wanted to reduce the power of the Senate, and to share their lands and privileges with the common people.

Both Senators and reformers looked to the generals for support. Pompey represented the interests of the Senators,- Caesar defended the reformers. In 47 B.C. Caesar crossed the Rubican and defeated Pompey; two years later he defeated Pompey's sons in Egypt. No wonder the Roman officers Flavius and Marullus (Act I, Scene i) are upset by Caesar's triumphant return from battle! And no wonder the common people are overjoyed! Caesar may have wanted to be king or dictator, but it was he, not the Senators, who had the interests of the people at heart. Perhaps that's why in Shakespeare's play we never see Caesar depriving the Romans of their civil liberties, or the Senators discussing what they'll do for the people of Rome once Caesar is destroyed.

ELIZABETHAN ENGLISH

All languages change. Differences in pronunciation and word choice are apparent even between parents and their children. If language differences can appear in one generation, it is only to be expected that the English used by Shakespeare four hundred years ago will diverge markedly from the English used today. The following information on Shakespeare's language will help a modern reader to a fuller understanding of Julius Caesar.



MOBILITY OF WORD CLASSES

Adjectives, nouns and verbs were less rigidly confined to particular classes in Shakespeare's day. Verbs were often used as nouns.

In Act II, Scene ii, line 16 'watch' is used to mean 'watchmen':
Recounts most horrid sights seen by the watch.

Nouns could be used as adjectives as when cross is used to mean crossed or forked: And when the cross blue lightning seemed to open The breast of heaven... (I, iii, 50)

and as verbs as when 'joy' is used to mean 'rejoice':
My heart doth joy (V, v, 34).

Adjectives could be used as adverbs:
...thou couldst not die more honourable (V, i, 60),

as nouns:
I'll about And drive away the vulgar from the streets (I, i, 72)

'Vulgar' is the equivalent of 'common people'.

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Barron's Booknotes-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
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