Julius Caesar: Acting Clues through Dialogue

With every play, I like to dive into the non-”stage direction” stage directions found in the dialogue, the little signposts for actors and directors alike. Julius Caesar is a slightly different beast, however. In this play, there actually is quite a bit of stage direction, but that’s not to say that there still aren’t some pretty good clues in the dialogue.

For example…

In the play’s first scene, after the tribunes chastise the commoners into exiting the scene, Flavius’ speech tells us how those commoners should leave the stage: they should “vanish tongue-tied in their guiltiness” (I.i.62).

How should the soothsayer sound? With a “tongue shriller than all the music” (I.ii.18).

When Caesar and his train return to the stage in Act One, Scene Two, after the Lupercal ceremony, Brutus’ speech gives direction to the actors playing the characters in the train:

The angry spot doth glow on Caesar’s brow,
And all the rest look like a chidden train.
Calphurnia’s cheek is pale, and Cicero
Looks with such ferret and such fiery eyes
As we have seen him in the Capitol,
Being crossed in conference by some senators.
  • I.ii.184-9

The manner in which Brutus gains Casca’s attention during the arrival of that train is described both before and after the act. Before, Cassius tells Brutus to “pluck Casca by the sleeve” (I.ii.180), and after, Casca says, “You pulled me by the cloak” (I.ii.216)

The actor portraying Caesar has a physical infirmity to play with, since he tells Antony, “Come on my right side, for this ear is deaf” (I.ii.214).

Casca, who had been so cool and sarcastic in Act One, Scene Two, appears very different just a few lines later, as Cicero asks Casca, “Why are you breathless, and why stare you so?” (I.iii.2). This actor has to go from unshakable to shaken in just under 30 (off-stage) lines.

At the end of last month, I talked about Portia and her “weak condition” (II.i.235) and “voluntary wound” (II.ii.299-300), and their implications on acting and directing choices (i.e., methinks the lady’s pregnant).

Immediately after the assassination, Brutus urges his co-conspirators to

Stoop, Romans, stoop,
And let us bathe our hands in Caesar’s blood
Up to the elbows
  • III.i.106-8

And they do, as Antony later says that he will shake each man’s “bloody hand” (III.i.185).

Last week, I spent quite a bit of time on Antony’s funeral oration, and its references to his use of physical props like the “will,” cloak, and corpse of Caesar.

Finally, in the most unfortunate (and I would have to say unintentional) punchline in recent memory, Brutus responds to Messala’s statement that Titinius was mourning over Cassius’ body: “Titinius’ face is upward” (V.ii.92). Whoops.