Caesar and Pompey

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Anon. (1581)


Contents

Historical Records

Stephen Gosson, Plays Confuted in Five Actions (1582, STC 12095), D4r-[D5r] (EEBO-TCP, open access):

if a true Historie be taken in hand, it is made like our shadows, longest at the rising and falling of the Sunne, shortest of all at hie noone. For the Poets driue it most commonly vnto such pointes, as may best showe the maiestie of their pen, in Tragicall speaches; or set the hearers a gogge, with discourses of love; or painte a fewe antickes, to fitt their owne humors, with scoffes & tauntes; or wring in a shewe, to furnish the Stage, when it is to bare; when the matter of it selfe comes shorte of this, they followe the practise of the cobler, and set their teeth to the leather to pull it out.
So was the history of Caesar and Pompey, and the Playe of the Fabii at the Theater, both amplified there, where the Drummes might walke, or the pen ruffle, when the history swelled, and ran to hye for the number of ye persons, that shoulde playe it, the Poet with Proteus cut the same fit to his owne measure; when it afoorded no pompe at al, he brought it to the racke, to make it serue. Which inuinciblie proueth on my side, that Plays are no Images of trueth, because sometime they hādle such thinges as neuer were, sometime they runne vpon truethes, but make them séeme longer, or shorter, or greater, or lesse then they were, according as the Poet blowes them vp with his quill, for aspiring heades; or minceth them smaller, for weaker stomakes.

Theatrical Provenance

The play was performed c. 1581, possibly at the Theatre, which Gosson names as venue for "The Play of the Fabii" (presumably "The Four Sons of Fabius") and which he links to "Caesar and Pompey" by claiming that "both [plays were] amplified there," i. e. at the Theatre.

Gosson's coupling of the two plays may also hint at the fact that "Caesar and Pompey" was staged by Warwick's Men, who had performed "The Four Sons of Fabius" at Court on 1 January 1580.


Probable Genre(s)

Classical history (Harbage).



Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

The play was written immediately after both Appian's Civil Wars and Plutarch's Lives had been "Englished", by William Barker (1578) and Thomas North (1579) respectively. It is therefore tempting to imagine that the anonymous playwright may have decided to base his play on one of those two freshly translated texts, although he could have also relied on other texts such as Lucan's Civil War, Suetonius's Lives of the Twelve Caesars or Cassius Dio's Roman History. However, none of these had been fully translated into English by 1580. Caesar's own Civil War may have also been consulted.

Although it is impossible to know what the plot of the play may have looked like, it may be useful quickly to sum up the main events of the conflict between Caesar and Pompey.

Dissatisfied with the Senate’s hesitations to meet some of his requests despite a long series of resounding military successes, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (Pompey) decided to form an unofficial political alliance with the two other most powerful men in Rome, Marcus Licinius Crassus and Gaius Julius Caesar, an alliance later known as the First Triumvirate (60 BCE). Caesar secured the consulship for 59 BCE and the proconsulship in Gaul for the ensuing five years, while Pompey obtained the ratification of the measures he had taken in his campaign in Asia and the distribution of public lands to his veterans. He also married Caesar’s daughter, Julia. Caesar’s appointment in Gaul was renewed for five more years in 55 BCE, when Pompey and Crassus became consuls; one year later, Crassus secured the governorship of Syria and Pompey that of Spain, which he ruled through legates while remaining in Rome. Crassus’s untimely death in Parthia in 53 BCE upset the political balance, leaving Pompey alone against Caesar, who was now very popular and powerful in the wake of his conquest of Gaul. Meanwhile, Julia had died in childbirth along with her baby in 54 BCE, which had broken Pompey and Caesar's family bond. Caesar later offered Pompey his grandniece Octavia as a new wife in order to strike another matrimonial alliance with his rival, but Pompey refused and in 52 BCE he married Cornelia Metella, the widow of Crassus's son and daughter of Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius Scipio Nasica, one of Caesar’s sworn enemies.

Pompey then disputed Caesar’s right to hold Gaul until the end of 49 BCE and to stand for the consulship in absentia for 48 BCE. More importantly, he would not allow Caesar to run for consul unless he relinquished his armies. When Caesar crossed the Rubicon and marched on Rome with his troops in 49 BCE, Pompey fled to Macedonia, followed by the Senate. There, he levied a considerable army and obtained some successes against Caesar’s troops after their landing in Dyrrachium. Yet, by failing to pursue at such a critical moment for Caesar’s much smaller army, Pompey threw away the opportunity to crush them. Eventually, he let himself be led into a pitched battle at Pharsalus in Greece, where he was defeated (48 BCE). He then sought refuge in Egypt, whose independence he had always championed, but was killed by Achillas, Septimius and Salvius by order of King Ptolemy XIII, who hoped to gain favour with Caesar by murdering his rival.

Caesar pursued Pompey to Alexandria, where he learned about his rival's death. In the Egyptian dynastic war between Ptolemy and his sister, wife and co-regent Cleopatra VII (more commonly known simply as Cleopatra), Caesar sided with the latter. After defeating Ptolemy, he reinstated her on the throne. Caesar and Cleopatra also had an affair and a son, Ptolemy XV Caesar, better known as Caesarion. After spending the first months of 47 BCE in Egypt, Caesar headed for Syria to deal with King Pharnaces II of Pontus, an old ally of Pompey’s, who had taken advantage of the fact that the Romans were engaged in the civil war and had managed to conquer a few Roman territories. Caesar attacked and defeated him with remarkable swiftness at Zela.

Then, he returned to Rome to quell the mutiny of some of his legions, who were waiting for the discharge and the bonus pay Caesar had promised to them before the battle of Pharsalus. Caesar needed those legions to fight the supporters of Pompey that were still active in North Africa, but he also knew that he did not have enough money to pay them. With an incredible exhibition of charisma and shrewdness, he succeeded in convincing them that he would deliver what he had promised after the defeat of Pompey’s sons in Africa. Caesar then reached Africa and defeated an army led by Cato the Younger in Thapsus (46 BCE). After the battle, Cato and Metellus committed suicide. But the war was not yet over. Gnaeus Pompeius and Sextus Pompeius, Pompey's sons, together with Titus Labienus, former propraetor and second in command of Caesar in Gaul, had fled to Spain. Caesar pursued them and finally crushed them in Munda in 45 BCE. Upon his return to Rome, he was appointed as dictator for life and later assassinated by a group of conspirators led by Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus on the Ides of March of 44 BCE.


References to the Play

See below.


Critical Commentary

Wiggins (serial number 685) has tentatively suggested that the mention of "the life of Pompeie" and "the martial affaires of Caesar" in A Second and Third Blast of Retreat from Plays and Theatres (possibly written by Anthony Munday) may refer to the lost "Caesar and Pompey" play described by Gosson.

The writers of our time are so led awaie with vaineglorie [*Against Auctors of plaies], that their onlie endeuor is to pleasure the humor of men; & rather with vanitie to content their mindes, than to profit them with good ensample. The notablest lier is become the best Poet; he that can make the most notorious lie, and disguise falshood in such sort, that he maie passe vnperceaued, is held the best writer. For the strangest Comedie brings greatest delectation, and pleasure. Our nature is led awaie with vanitie, which the auctor perceauing frames himself with nouelties and strange trifles to content the vaine humors of his rude auditors, faining countries neuer heard of; monsters and prodigious creatures that are not: as of the Arimaspie, of the Grips, the Pigmeies, the Cranes, & other such notorious lies. And if they write of histories that are knowen, as the life of Pompeie; the martial affaires of Caesar, and other worthies, they giue them a newe face, and turne them out like counterfeites to showe themselues on the stage. It was therefore aptlie applied of him [*The best thing at plaies is starke naught], who likened the writers of our daies vnto Tailors, who hauing their sheers in their hand, can alter the facion of anie thing into another forme, & with a new face make that seeme new which is old. The shreds of whose curiositie our Historians haue now stolen from them, being by practise become as cunning as the Tailor to set a new vpper bodie to an old coate; and a patch of their owne to a peece of anothers.

(Anthony Munday (?), A Second and Third Blast of Retreat from Plays and Theatres (1580, STC 21677), 104-106 (EEBO-TCP, open access)).

It does seem feasible to posit that Munday is here referring to the same "Caesar and Pompey" that Gosson would attack two years later, especially because the accusations sound quite similar, inasmuch as both Munday and Gosson harshly disapprove of the distortions to history for the sake of spectacle exhibited in the play. It is true that the reference to "the life of Pompeie" and "the martial affaires of Caesar" might also be an allusion to the lost "Pompey" performed in 1581 at Court by the Children of Paul's; however, Munday's concern with the play's distortions to history makes it "marginally more likely that [Munday] was thinking of a less elite repertory" (Wiggins). Of course, as Wiggins again suggests, it cannot be ruled out "that there may have been a third play on the subject to which Munday refers, but it does not seem especially likely".

In any of the cases envisioned by Wiggins, it is necessary to assume that either "Caesar and Pompey", "Pompey" or a third unknown play had already been performed before Munday's book was published in 1580.

For What It's Worth

Content welcome.


Works Cited

Gosson, Stephen. Plays Confuted in Five Actions. London: Imprinted for Thomas Gosson dwelling in Pater noster row at the signe of the Sunne, 1582. (EEBO-TCP, open access)
Munday, Anthony (?). A Second and Third Blast of Retreat from Plays and Theatres. Imprinted at London: By Henrie Denham, dwelling in Pater noster Row, at the signe of the Starre, being the assigne of William Seres, 1580. (EEBO-TCP, open access)


Site created and maintained by Domenico Lovascio, University of Genoa; updated 28 July 2015.

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