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ON THE ASSASSINATION
We shall notice throughout it a strong distrust of subversion and conspiracy.
These were, in the knowledge and experience of all Elizabethans, the greatest
disruptions of the state. The Homilies: appointed to be read in churches
throughout the realm, have already been mentioned. Shakespeare not only
knew these; he apparently accepted their instruction. In them he would
have found the lesson driven home that conspiracy is dangerous, that it
is never to be trusted, and that directed against the king or ruler it
is both against God's commandment and doomed to create confusion involving
both conspirators and the country. It could be nothing but evil.... It
is probably with a mind made up on these points that Shakespeare read
Plutarch and wrote his play.
Caesar's death is followed by a civil war in which Shakespeare must have seen
a parallel to the Wars of the Roses that had so obsessed his earlier years.
Certainly we know that Shakespeare stood for civil order above everything,
and Caesar's death was followed by the destruction of the existing order.
I am going to risk a generalisation about Shakespeare. He was an Elizabethan
dramatist, and I do not think the Elizabethans were conscientious over
their characters; they would often alter them in the middle in order to
get on with the play. Beaumont and Fletcher contain glaring examples of
this. Good men become bad and then good again; traitors turn into heroes
and vice versa without any internal justification. And Shakespeare sometimes
does it too. There is an example-not a glaring one-in this play, in the
character of Casca. Casca first appears as extremely polite and indeed
servile to Caesar, 'Peace ho! Caesar speaks,' he cries. Then he shows
himself to Brutus and Cassius as a sour blunt contradictious fellow, who
snaps them up when they speak and is grumpy when they invite him to supper.
You may say this is subtlety on Shakespeare's part, and that he is indicating
that Casca is a dark horse. I don't think so. I don't think Shakespeare
was bothering about Casca-he is merely concerned to make the action interesting
and he alters the character at need. Later on, during the thunderstorm,
Casca becomes different again; he walks about with a drawn sword, is deeply
moved by the apparitions, and utters exalted poetry. At the murder-scene
he wounds Caesar in the neck, and then we hear of him no more. His usefulness