Caesar Interfectus

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Attributed to Richard Eedes (also Edes), c. 1580-83.


Contents

Historical Records

Francis Meres mentions “Doctor Edes of Oxforde” as among “our best for Tragedie” (fol. 283), but does not mention Interfectus.


The play’s only definite contemporary reference occurs in Bodleian MS. Top.Oxon.e.5, f. 359, which contains a fragment that constitutes what seems to be the epilogue, with this heading:

Epilogus Caesaris interfecti, quomodo in scenam prodijt ea res acta in ecclesia Χѓi Oxoñ, qui epilogus a Mro Ricardo Eedes et scriptus et in proscenia ibidem dictus fuit. (Peck 14; Boas 163)

[The Epilogue of Caesar Murdered, as the piece went on the stage when it was acted at Christ Church, Oxford, which epilogue was both written and spoken on the stage by Master Richard Eedes. (tr. in Bullough 5:195)]

This heading, and the “epilogue” itself, are first printed in an appendix to Francis Peck’s Memoirs of the Life and Actions of Oliver Cromwell (1740) as one of several “historical curiosities” (xi, 14-15).


F. S. Boas provides a fresh transcription and produces the standard account of the issue, which is still in use. He also credits Peck (163-65).


Theatrical Provenance

There are no precise performance dates. Boas theorizes any time between 1581-83, and observes that on the Bodleian MS., someone has written in red ink “1582.” Perhaps 1582 / 83 (OS) could be posited, but no record at Christ Church exists of performances of the play at that time, so Caesar Interfectus “was probably one of the February 1581 / 2 tragedies,” and was almost certainly performed at the college (163). Peck states “1580 A.D.” (xi). Harbage dates it 1582 (247), as does Sibley (21).


Probable Genres

Tragedy, Roman play, history play


Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

Boas (163-65) suggests Marc Antoine Muret’s Latin Julius Caesar (c. 1544) as well as Jacques Grévin’s French adaptation, Jules César (1560).


Plot

We are fortunate to have what may be both the epilogue and plot.

Egit triumphum Caesar de repub. Brutus de Caesare; nihil ille magis potuit, nihil iste magis voluit; nihil aut ille, aut iste minus debuit: Est quod vtriq[ue] laudi tribuam; est quod vtriq[ae] vitio vertam; malè Caesar qui occupauit Rep.; benè, qui sine caede & sanguine occupauit : rectè Brutus qui libertatem restituit ; improbè, qui interfecto Caesare, restituendam censuit ; illius facinoris turpitudini Victoriae moderatio quasi Velū obduxit ; huius facti gloriae ingrata crudelitas tenebras offudit ; ille se gessit optimè in causa pessima ; hic pessimè in optima. Sed neq[ue] defuerunt qui hos tam illrēs viros, alterū regni, alterū libertatis studiosū, velut admotis facib. concitârunt. Antonius Caesari subiecit igniculos, Bruto Cassius : Caesari Antonius regiū diadema ita optauit ut offeret ; Caesar ita recusauit vt cuperet. Quicquid voluit, valde voluit Brutus ; nimiū Cassius : tanto certè q[ue]dem Dux melior quanto Vir Brutus : in altero maior Vis, in altero Virtus : Brutū amicum habere malles ; magis inimicū timeres Cassiū : odio habuit ille tyrannidem, hic tyrannū : Caesarē secuta est fortuna iusta, si tyrannidem spectemus ; iniusta si hominem : sed neq[ue] tyrannos Dij immortales licet optimos ferunt ; et illi quasi in mercedem tantae Virtutis datū est, vt videret, non vt caueret interitū. (Boas 164)
[Caesar triumphed forcibly over the Republic; Brutus over Caesar. The former could do no more, the latter wished for nothing more; neither of them was more at fault than the other. There is something for me to praise in both; there is something in both for me to regard as vicious. It was evil that Caesar seized the Republic; good that he seized it without slaughter or bloodshed. Brutus acted rightly when he restored its liberty; but wickedly when he thought to restore it by killing Caesar. The former’s moderation in victory almost veiled the vileness of his crime; the ungrateful cruelty of the latter darkened the glory of his achievement. The former behaved admirably in the worst, the latter reprehensibly in the best, of causes.
Men were not lacking who as if they had applied firebrands, inflamed these illustrious heroes, the one eager for power, the other for liberty. Antony placed his kindling fire under Caesar; Cassius did so to Brutus. Just as Antony longed for the royal diadem while offering it to Caesar, so Caesar refused it while longing for it. What he wanted, Brutus wanted intensely; Cassius excessively. Cassius was as much the better General as Brutus was the better Man; in one Force was greater, in the other Virtue. You would prefer to have Brutus as a friend, but you would fear more to have Cassius as an enemy. The former hated tyranny, the latter the tyrant. Caesar’s fate seems just if he consider his tyranny, but unjust if we consider the man he was. But the Gods do not suffer tyrants, however excellent they be; and to Caesar it was given as if in reward for so much virtue that he might see, but not avoid, his ruin. (tr. in Bullough 5:195)]

It should be noted, however, that the heading that precedes this description in the Bodleian MS does not state definitely that what follows is indeed the epilogue or the plot of the play. It simply reports that Eedes wrote and delivered an epilogue.


References to the Play

Critics have tried to identify the Caesar play to which Polonius alludes in Hamlet (2.2), without success, and at times, Caesar Interfectus has been posited. George Steevens mentions Eedes as author as reported in Peck, as well as the praise by Meres (8:3). Edmond Malone raises and dismisses the possibility of such a connection: “From some words spoken by Polonius in Hamlet, I think it probable that there was an English play on this subject, before Shakspeare commenced as a writer for the stage” (7:238). However, since the metatheatrical passage following the assassination in Julius Caesar includes the line “accents yet unknown” (3.1), Polonius “could not allude to Dr. Eedes’s Latin play exhibited in 1582, and therefore may be fairly urged as a presumptive proof that there had been some English play on this subject previous to that of Shakspeare” (1:370). Still, as recently as the early twentieth century, a school text states without qualification that not only does Polonius refer to Caesar Interfectus, but that this is also the source of the disputed “Et tu, Brute” line that Caesar utters as he dies (Mathers 29), a tendency that Harry Morgan Ayres deplores, since Eedes has been “often a little too confidently, I think, cited as the source of the famous” tag (200). The Temple edition of Julius Caesar also states as fact that the lost play is the source of the famous last words (1896). An article in the Retrospective Review (1825) follows Polonius’s lines with a reference to Caesar Interfectus, and names the author "Gedes" (8).


Critical Commentary

F. G. Fleay prefers the spelling “Eades,” and says “even the names of his plays are all lost” (1:162).


H. H. Furness Jr. gives a brief account of the matter, and identifies Eedes as the author of the play (448).


E. K. Chambers cites most of Boas’s information, saying that “Edes was probably the author” and that the Latin prose description is indeed the epilogue and plot “both written and spoken by him” (3:309).


Bullough classifies Caesar Interfectus as an analogue to Julius Caesar. He is definite in his attribution to Eedes as well as place and date of performance (Christ's, 1581-2). He also writes that the epilogue “shows an interesting parallel to the short, clipped, Senecan style of Brutus’ speech” in the Forum (3.2) in Shakespeare’s play (5:33).

See also Wiggins serial number 723.


For What It's Worth


(Information welcome)


Works Cited

Anonymous. “The Latin Plays Acted before the University of Cambridge.” Retrospective Review12 (1825): 1-42.
Ayers, Harry Morgan. “Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in the Light of Some Other Versions.” PMLA 25.2 (1910): 183-227.
Boas, F. S. University Drama in the Tudor Age. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1914.
Bullough, Geoffrey, ed. Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare. 8 vols. New York: Columbia UP, 1957-75.
Fleay, Frederick Gard. A Biographical Chronicle of the English Drama 1559-1642. 2 vols. London: Reeves and Turner, 1891.
Furness, H. H., Jr. A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare: “Julius Caesar.” Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1913.
Gollancz, Israel, ed. Julius Caesar. Temple Shakespeare. London: Dent, 1896.
Malone, Edmond, ed. The Plays and Poems of William Shakspeare. 10 vols. London: Printed by H. Baldwin, 1790.
Mathers, Maurice Whitmore, ed. Caesar: Episodes from the Gallic and the Civil Wars. New York: American Book Company, 1905.
Meres, Francis.Palladis Tamia: Wits Treasury. London: Printed by P. Short, for Cuthbert Burbie, 1598.
Steevens, George, et al., ed. The Plays of William Shakspeare. 10 vols. London: Printed for C. Bathurst, et al., 1778.


Site created by M. L. Stapleton, Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne; updated 01 March 2010.

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