From Julius Caesar. Ed. Henry Norman Hudson. New York: Ginn and Co., 1908.
The characteristics of Shakespeare's blank verse -- the rhymeless, iambic
five-stress (decasyllabic) verse, or iambic pentameter, introduced into
England by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, about 1540 -- and its proportion
to rhyme and to prose have been much used in recent years to determine
the chronological order of the plays and the development of the poet's
art. In blank verse as used by Shakespeare we have really an epitome of
the development of the measure in connection with the English drama. In
his earlier plays the blank verse is often similar to that of
Gorboduc, the first English tragedy. The tendency is to adhere to the
syllable-counting principle, to make the line the unit, the sentence and
phrase coinciding with the line (end-stopped verse), and to use five
perfect iambic feet to the line. In plays of the middle period, such as
The Merchant of Venice and As You Like It, written between 1596 and
1600, the blank verse is more like that of Kyd and Marlowe, with less
monotonous regularity in the structure and an increasing tendency to
carry on the sense from one line to another without a syntactical or
rhetorical pause at the end of the line (run-on verse, enjambement).
Redundant syllables now abound and the melody is richer and fuller. In
Shakespeare's later plays the blank verse breaks away from all bondage
to formal line limits, and the organic continuity is found in a
succession of great metrical periods.
The verse of Julius Cæsar is less monotonously regular than that of
the earlier plays; it is more flexible and varied, more musical and
sonorous, but it lacks the superb movement of the verse in Othello,
The Winter's Tale, and The Tempest. End-stopped, normally regular
iambic pentameter lines often occur (as, for instance, I, i, 37, 41, 44,
62, 76), but everywhere are variations and deviations from the norm, and
there is an unusual number of short lines and interjectional lines of
two or three stresses. See Abbott's A Shakespearian Grammar, §§ 511,
Apart from the use of rhyme in songs, lyrics, and portions of masques
(as in The Tempest, IV, i, 60-138), a progress from more to less rhyme
is a sure index to Shakespeare's development as a dramatist and a master
of expression. In the early Love's Labour's Lost are more than one
thousand rhyming five-stress iambic lines; in The Tempest are only
two; in The Winter's Tale not one. In Julius Cæsar are found only
thirty-four rhyming lines.
If "of the soule the bodie forme doth take," it is small wonder that
attempts have been made to explain Shakespeare's distinctive use of
verse and prose. Of recent years there have been interesting discussions
of the question "whether we are justified in supposing that Shakespeare
was guided by any fixed principle in his employment of verse and prose,
or whether he merely employed them, as fancy suggested, for the sake of
variety and relief."1 It is a significant fact that in many of
Shakespeare's earlier plays there is little or no prose, and that the
proportion of prose to blank verse increases with the decrease of rhyme.
In Julius Cæsar three kinds of prose may be distinguished: (1) The
prose of homely dialogue, as in the talk of the common people in I, i,
and III, iii. (2) The prose of serious information as to the nature of a
situation, as in Casca's description of the offer of the crown to Cæsar.
This kind of prose reaches its highest development in Brutus's famous
speech, III, ii, with its dignified defense and laconic exposition of
his honesty of purpose. (3) The prose of formal documents, as in the
letter of Artemidorus, II, iii, 1-8.
Footnote 1: Professor J. Churton Collins's Shakespeare as a Prose
Writer. See Delius's Die Prosa in Shakespeares Dramen (Shakespeare
Jahrbuch, V, 227-273); Janssen's Die Prosa in Shakespeares Dramen;
Professor Hiram Corson's An Introduction to the Study of Shakespeare,
How to cite this article:
Shakespeare, William. Julius Caesar. Ed. Henry Norman Hudson. New York: Ginn and Co., 1908. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2009. (date when you accessed the information) < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/juliuscaesar/juliushudson.html >.