Julius Caesar: Ghosts and Spirits

As I reread Julius Caesar as part of the deeper dive into the play, I’ve been finding something of note: the prevalence of the words “ghost” and “spirit” in the play.

It doesn’t take long to find the first one: in Act One, Scene Two, when Cassius and Brutus stay behind after Caesar and his train move on at the Lupercal, Brutus says of himself, “I am not gamesome. I do lack some part // Of that quick spirit that is in Antony” (I.ii.30-1).

Later in the same scene, when Cassius is attempting to gain Brutus’ trust, and is comparing him to Caesar, he says, “Conjure with ‘em: // ‘Brutus’ will start a spirit as soon as ‘Caesar’” (I.ii.147-8).

A month later, on the night before the assassination, Cassius discusses with Casca the supernatural things he’s seen: “these gliding ghosts” and “things…infused…with these spirits” (I.iii.63, 66, and 69, respectively). When Casca shows fear of these, Cassius mocks him, saying, “And we are governed with our mothers’ spirits” (I.iii.82), and refers to his own “strength of spirit” (I.iii.94).

When Brutus tells his co-conspirators that they should not swear an oath as they don’t need one, he says that such a statement can only strengthen “the melting spirits of women” (II.i.121) and would only be needed to support “th’insupportive mettle of (their) spirits” (II.i.133). In the same scene, when arguing against the killing of Antony, Brutus says,

We all stand up against the spirit of Caesar,
And in the spirit of men there is no blood.
Oh, that we then could come by Caesar’s spirit,
And not dismember Caesar
  • II.i.167-70

Brutus also tells his cohorts to act as normal, “with untired spirits” (II.i.226).

When Brutus has allowed the sick Ligarius to join the conspiracy, the old man refers to his own “mortified spirit” (II.i.323).

When Calpurnia tries to keep Caesar from leaving their home, she tells of what others have seen in the night, including “ghosts (that) did shriek and squeal about the streets” (II.ii.24).

After the assassination, Antony calls Caesar’s the “choice and master spirits of this age” (III.i.164), and speaking to the corpse, refers to Caesar’s “spirit” (III.i.196). And when alone, Antony fortells that “Caesar’s spirit, ranging for revenge” (III.i.273) will make itself felt.

As Antony reaches the end of his funeral oration, he disingenuously tells the crowd,

                                  were I Brutus,
And Brutus Antony, there were an Antony
Would ruffle up your spirits
  • III.i.220-2

Later, when Antony insultingly describes Lepidus to Octavius, he says Lepidus is like a horse whose “corporal motion is governed by (Antony’s) spirit,” and describes his fellow triumvir “a barren-spirited fellow” (IV.i.33 and 36, respectively).

When Brutus and Cassius are arguing, and Cassius is about to offer his own breast for Brutus to stab, he says, “O, I could weep // My spirit from mine eyes!” (IV.ii.153-4),

When Caesar’s ghost appears to Brutus, the apparition responds to Brutus’ question of what he is by saying, “Thy evil spirit, Brutus” (IV.ii.333). When it disappears, Brutus calls it an “ill spirit” (IV.i.339).

In the lead-up to the Battle of Philippi, Cassius says that his army is “ready to give (up) the ghost” (V.i.88), something he believes only partly because he is “fresh of spirit, and resolved // To meet all perils” (V.i.89-90).

Later, when Brutus finds Cassius dead body, he exclaims,

O Julius Caesar, thou art mighty yet.
Thy spirit walks abroad, and turns our swords
In our own proper entrails.
  • V.iii.93-5

Finally, when about to ask Volumnius to help him commit suicide, Brutus admits that “the ghost of Caesar hath appeared” to him (V.v.17).

That’s a whole lot of spirit in that Julius Caesar.

With the meanings of “spirit” and “ghost” used in the play ranging from “The disembodied soul of a (deceased) person, regarded as a separate entity” to “Mettle; vigor of mind; ardor; courage; disposition or readiness to assert oneself or to hold one’s own” (“spirit, n.; 2.b and 13.a, respectively”. OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2014. Web. 9 December 2014.) and from “The soul or spirit, as the principle of life” to “An apparition; a specter” (“ghost, n.; 1 and 8.c, respectively”. OED.), there’s no doubt that this concept of a living entity beyond the corporal body is an important one in the play.

In fact, if you combine the uses of “ghost” and “spirit”–and you know, O readers, I have–there are more references in Julius Caesar than in any other play:

4 “ghost”s and 23 “spirit”s.

Hamlet comes  close with 7 “ghost”s and 19 “spirits”s.

But Caesar is the king, the kaiser, the tsar/czar/tzar, of Shakespearean Ghost (ly reference)s.

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