The Books of My Numberless Dreams

Sunday Salon: Julius Caesar

Posted on: January 6, 2008

As my regular readers know I’ve been having quite the ball with Ted Hughes’ A Choice of Shakespeare’s Verse. One of its pleasant side effects is that I’m remembering particular performances of plays which is great as the delivery and inflection is almost always better than what I can come up with on my own. There are also some speeches that sound awfully familiar but when I check the index it’s from a play I didn’t even remember that Shakespeare wrote it. A great example of this is Gaunt’s speech in King Richard II which appears to be a popular and very selectively quoted excerpt. Here is the bit everyone online loves:

This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,—
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

and here is the rest of it.

This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings,
Fear’d by their breed and famous by their birth,
Renowned for their deeds as far from home,—
For Christian service and true chivalry,—
As is the sepulchre in stubborn Jewry
Of the world’s ransom, blessed Mary’s Son:
This land of such dear souls, this dear, dear land,
Dear for her reputation through the world,
Is now leas’d out,—I die pronouncing it,—
Like to a tenement, or pelting farm:
England, bound in with the triumphant sea,
Whose rocky shore beats back the envious siege
Of watery Neptune, is now bound in with shame,
With inky blots, and rotten parchment bonds:
That England, that was wont to conquer others,
Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.

(Probably not the best choice if you’re interested in recalling England’s glory.)

But what I want to get everyone excited about is the 1953 Julius Caesar starring Marlon Brando as Antony. When I first saw it earlier this year I was rather sceptical of how Brando would make out. I’d only seen Sayonara, The Godfather, and had vague memories about A Streetcar Named Desire and Guys and Dolls. Popular raptures about the mafia film and On The Waterfront aside, I thought, this is Shakespeare and I’m kind of horrified at all the ways I easily imagine he could wrangle it. Still, it’s Shakespeare so I want to see it. And I did and I was very, very pleased. He’s pretty much my Marc Anthony so when I came across two of the characters speeches I could only imagine Brando reaching out to the crowd, giving sly side-way glances at Brutus, assuring us that he was “an honourable man” if misguided.

To close Sunday Salon I’m leaving with you a clip of the climatic “dogs of war” speech that Antony says over Caesar’s corpse. It gives me chills every time I see or imagine it.


4 Responses to "Sunday Salon: Julius Caesar"

I love that film as well, but the Richard II speech has always been blighted for me by the fact that I had to learn it as a teenager in order to ‘sing’ it. I kid you not! Now I can’t hear it without the music running through my mind.

A song? Oh, Ann, that made me laugh. I can’t even imagine what sort of plodding, reverent tune they arranged for that. That’s too bad.

What an awesome clip! I love Marlon Brando…such versatility.

Fantastic content and definitely helps with comprehending the subject much better.

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