HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Julius Caesar
Author: William Shakespeare
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Adult Publishing Group, reissued in 2004
Language level: 3 (a very occasional curse word or profanity)
Reading level: Ages 15 and up
Rating: 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Shakespeare, William. Julius Caesar (apparently written in 1599; first published in 1623). William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England’s national poet and the “Bard of Avon.” His surviving works, including some collaborations, consist of 38 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and several other poems. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright. Shakespeare was born and raised in Stratford-upon-Avon, the son of John Shakespeare, a successful glover and alderman originally from Snitterfield. Most biographers agree that Shakespeare may have been educated at the King’s New School in Stratford. At the age of eighteen, he married Anne Hathaway, with whom he had three children. Between 1585 and 1592, he began a successful career in London as an actor, writer, and part owner of a playing company called the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, later known as the King’s Men. His early plays were mainly comedies and histories, genres he raised to the peak of sophistication and artistry by the end of the sixteenth century. He then wrote mainly tragedies until about 1608, including Hamlet, King Lear, and Macbeth, considered some of the finest works in the English language. In his last phase, he wrote tragicomedies, also known as romances, and collaborated with other playwrights. He appears to have retired to Stratford around 1613, where he died three years later.
The first recorded works of Shakespeare are Richard III and the three parts of Henry VI, written in the early 1590s during a vogue for historical drama. Shakespeare’s plays are difficult to date, however. Julius Caesar is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in 1599. It portrays the conspiracy against the Roman dictator Julius Caesar, his assassination and its aftermath. It is one of several Roman plays that he wrote, based on true events from Roman history, which also include Coriolanus and Antony and Cleopatra. Although the title of the play is Julius Caesar, Caesar is not the central character in its action; he appears in only three scenes, and is killed at the beginning of the third act. The protagonist of the play is Marcus Brutus, and the central psychological drama is his struggle between the conflicting demands of honor, patriotism, and friendship. Marcus Brutus is Caesar’s close friend and a Roman praetor who allows himself to be cajoled into joining a group of conspiring senators because of a growing suspicion�implanted by Caius Cassius�that Caesar intends to turn republican Rome into a monarchy under his own rule. A soothsayer warns Caesar to “beware the Ides of March,” which he ignores, culminating in his assassination at the Capitol by the conspirators that day. Caesar’s assassination is one of the most famous scenes of the play, the other being Mark Antony’s funeral oration “Friends, Romans, countrymen”.)
Brutus later attacks Cassius for soiling the noble act of regicide by accepting bribes. At the battle of Philippi, Cassius and Brutus both commit suicide. The play ends with a tribute to Brutus by Antony, who proclaims that Brutus has remained “the noblest Roman of them all” because he was the only conspirator who acted for the good of Rome. I am not a big proponent of Shakespeare. In high school, we read Romeo and Juliet, which I did not like, as freshmen; Julius Caesar, which I did like probably because it was based on historical figures, as sophomores; and Hamlet and Twelfth Night, which were all right but nothing for me to get too excited about, as seniors. Luckily, I missed studying Shakespeare in college. On the one hand, a lot of figures and aphorisms in our speech come from Shakespeare, so an acquaintance with him and his works can be very helpful in language studies. On the other hand, there are many things which go on in them which have to be approached cautiously by those who want their minds to be God-centered. Each homeschooling family will have to make its own decisions about including Shakespeare in its curriculum, but we decided not to do so.