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"O mighty Cæsar! Dost thou lie so low? Are all thy conquests, glories, triumphs, spoils Shrunk to this little measure?"
THE assassination of Julius Cæsar by Brutus, Cassius, Casca and twenty other Roman Senators, in the capital of the Empire in broad daylight, was one of the most cowardly and infamous crimes recorded in the annals of time.
The historical and philosophical friends of Brutus and Cassius have tried to justify the conspiracy and assassination by imputing the deep design of tyranny to Cæsar, who was bent on trampling down the rights of the people and securing for himself a kingly crown.
They say the motive of the conspirators in the deep damnation of Cæsar's "taking off" was purely patriotism. Many murderers have used the same argument.
The facts do not justify the excuse. For more than thirty years Julius Cæsar had been a star performer on the boards of the Roman Empire, and his family had been illustrious for five hundred years. Sylla, Marius, Cicero, Cato, Brutus
and Pompey had crossed lances with this civil and military genius, and had all become very jealous of his increasing fame.
From boyhood Cæsar had been a mixer with the common people, and in midnight hours in Rome, among tradesmen, merchants, students, authors, sailors and soldiers, he became imbued with their wants and impulsive nature. He had no reason to doubt or oppress the people.
As commander of invincible troops in Spain, Gaul, Germany and Britain, Cæsar had secured a world-wide reputation, for the eagles of his victorious legions had swept across the mountains and seas to the shore end of Europe and screamed in triumph among the palms and sands of Africa and Asia!
Cæsar was a poet, orator, historian, warrior and statesman, and the imperial families and politicians of Rome, who were forced to sit in the shade of his triumphs and glory, felt a secret pang of jealousy at the stride of this colossal character.
He was the pride and idol of his soldiers, and whether in the forests of Gaul and Germany, the swamps of Britain, mountains of Spain, or among Ionian isles, his presence was ever worth a thousand men in battle action.
His plans were mathematical, his soul sublime and his purpose eternal victory!
Bravery and Cæsar were synonymous terms, and the little, mean, pismire ambitions of Roman politicians he despised, striding over their corrupt schemes for pelf and office like a winter whirlwind.
Brutus, while professing horror at the contemplated assassination of his friend and natural
father Cæsar, lent a willing ear and sympathetic voice to the prime conspirator-Cassius; and although seemingly dragged into the murderous plot, he was in heart the grand villain of the conspiracy, believing he might rise to supreme control of the Roman Empire when Julius the Great lay weltering in his heroic blood.
Brutus was a dastard, an ingrate, a coward and a murderer, and no pretense of patriotism can save him from the contempt and condemnation of mankind. There is no justification for assassination!
The death of Cæsar was the first great blow in the final destruction of the Roman Empire, for up to this time the people had a voice in electing their tribunes, consuls and governors, and were consulted as to the burden of taxation, although many of their previous rulers had been terrible tyrants.
Brutus and Cassius, and their coconspirators, city senators, who dipped their hands in Cæsar's sacred blood, were finally driven from all political power, their estates confiscated, fleeing like frightened wolves to foreign fields and forests and perishing in battle as enemies to their country.
When brought to bay at Philippi, Brutus and Cassius mustered up enough courage to commit suicide, which is confession of guilt.
In the winter of 1597 William was deeply studying the new translation of Petrarch, and Florio was nightly teaching us the lofty philosophy of Grecian and Roman classics. The lives of noted ancient poets, orators, warriors, statesmen, governors, kings and philosophers, as written or com
piled by the great Plutarch has furnished a mine of historic thought for the dramatic artist, and Shakspere, above all the men who ever thought, wrote or talked on the stage, took most advantage of the lines of Plutarch.
The British people were clamoring for grand historical plays, not only for the actions of their own kings and queens, but demanded the enactment of the reigns of great, ancient warriors and kings who had given glory to Greece and Rome and left imperishable memories for posterity to avoid or emulate.
Burbage, Henslowe and other theatrical managers, were ever on the lookout for plays to suit cash customers, and of course, the Bard of Avon had first call, because his plays went on the various stages like a torchlight procession, while those of his so-called compeers, struggled through the acts and scenes with only the flicker and sputter of tallow dips of dramatic thought.
He knew, and I knew, that his plays would be enacted down the circling centuries as long as vice and virtue, hate and love, cowardice and bravery, fun, folly, wit and wisdom characterized humanity.
William told Essex and Southampton that he had just composed a play with Julius Cæsar as the central figure, and wished an opportunity to test its merits before a private party of authors, students and lords at the Holborn House, the grand castle of Southampton.
These noblemen were delighted with the suggestion, and on the night of the first of March, 1597, Burbage, with his whole tribe of theatrical "rounders," appeared in the grand banquet room
of Southampton, and, under the guidance of Shakspere, rendered for the first time "Julius Cæsar."
Jo Taylor took the part of Cæsar, Dick Burbage acted Brutus, Condell represented Cassius and Shakspere played Marcus Antonius, while the other characters were distributed among the "stock" as their various talents justified.
Calphurnia, wife to Cæsar, and Portia, wife to Brutus, were represented respectively by Hemmings and Arnum.
The play opens with a street scene in Rome filled with working, rabble citizens who have turned out to give Cæsar a great triumph on his return from successful war.
Flavius and Marullus, tribunes, enter and rebuke the people for greeting Cæsar.
Flavius twits the turncoat rabble in this style:
"O you hard hearts, you cruel men of Rome,
And do you now put on your best attire?