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Cassius is eager to recruit Brutus for his preemptive strike on Julius Caesar, before Caesar's "ambition" may harm Rome by becoming the tyranny of a crown. The thundering and flaming ill omens warn everyone to take a quiet time out, but, although Brutus loves Caesar, he loves Rome more, and so joins the conspiracy. Perhaps Brutus' feeling for Caesar causes guilt to undermine his instinct for self-preservation, for after the Ides of March assassination, he makes some stunning errors regarding Mark Antony, for instance allowing him to give his famous "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears" rabble-rousing speech, punctuated by Antony's increasingly ironic claims that Brutus et al are honorable men, that it isn't the time or place to read Caesar's will, that he isn't an orator, and that he sure isn't inciting anyone to do anything violent against the conspirators. Then it's expeditiously on to the climactic Battle of the Four Armies at Philippi.
Shakespeare's play is fascinating in the complexity of its situation and characters. Cassius begins as a sneaky manipulator motivated from envy to kill Caesar and involve Brutus by any means necessary (including the tossing of fake incendiary letters through Brutus' window), but he becomes ennobled through love of Brutus and finally adopts Brutus' freedom from tyranny motive. Mark Antony begins as a feeling man motivated by grief and justice and ends a ruthless uber-politician greedy for power and capable of stirring up the masses, gloating, "Mischief, thou art afoot," and then having 70 or 100 senators executed to fund his army with their revenues. Brutus' words about his fears for Caesar's ambition apply most to Mark Antony: "The abuse of greatness is, when it disjoins/ Remorse from power." And of course at the center stews the self-destructively noble Brutus.
Along with many deservedly famous speeches and lines, Shakespeare's rich language reveals many neat insights into human nature: how people subjectively interpret signs; how power corrupts and selfishness taints any action; how violence begets chaos and more violence; how intense situations stress friendships; and how flawed is human nature ("The fault" lying "in ourselves"). He also keeps the action moving swiftly. Even though this is very much a man's play, there is a potent scene between Brutus and his wife Portia in which she tries to plumb what ails him: "Dwell I but in the suburbs of your good pleasure?"
Shakespeare writes doubling scenes that comment on each other. There are obvious pairs, like Caesar and Calpurnia's exchange followed by Brutus and Portia's, Brutus' speech followed by Mark Antony's, or Mark Antony and Ocatvius' tete-a-tete followed by Brutus and Cassius', as well as some less obvious ones that would be easy to miss were one simply reading the play but which the dramatized Naxos version highlights (as a good theater version would). My favorite example is the comical opening scene when some aristocrats interrogate a punning cobbler paired with the horrifying scene when the enraged mob interrogates a frightened poet.
Your name, sir, truly.
CINNA THE POET
Truly, my name is Cinna.
Tear him to pieces; he's a conspirator.
CINNA THE POET
I am Cinna the poet, I am Cinna the poet.
Tear him for his bad verses, tear him for his bad verses.
CINNA THE POET
I am not Cinna the conspirator.
It is no matter, his name's Cinna; pluck but his
name out of his heart, and turn him going.
Tear him, tear him! Come, brands ho! fire-brands:
to Brutus', to Cassius'; burn all: some to Decius'
house, and some to Casca's; some to Ligarius': away, go!
Hearing the terrified and confused Cinna, the ruthless and frenzied citizens, and the violent sound effects, hits home that we are witnessing a mob tearing someone apart limb from limb, confronting us with the results of Mark Antony's "mischief."
The sound effects of the Naxos audiobook production of the play enhance its moods and immerse the listener in the dramatic world: thunder on the eve of the Ides of March, ominous crowd shouting noises at Caesar's funeral, wine pouring when Brutus and Cassius make up, eerie background noise for Caesar's ghost, war trumpets and marching soldiers and galloping horses for the battle, and so on. David Timson directs a stellar cast of actors (many with experience acting in the Bard's plays). Standouts are Sean Barrett as Caesar, Paul Rhys as Brutus, Pip Carter as Cassius, and Roy McMillan as various men. Of course, if you haven't read much Shakespeare or haven't before seen or read Julius Caesar, it would help if you had the text handy when listening to this audiobook, but the quality of the voice acting is such that even without reading along with the play I could mostly follow the action and--thanks also to clues in the characters' speeches--could usually understand who was speaking. This version of Julius Caesar, then, is excellent.
I agree 100% with the other reviewers--even though it is an old recording and you can kind of hear a little static type noise in the background sometimes, the voices come through clear and loud and the occasional sound effects (martial drumming, ghostly wind blowing, fanfare trumpeting, grave digging, etc.) sound just right.
The cast is exceptional, everyone perfect for his/her role with, perhaps, two exceptions. I don't care for Ophelia's voice or manner somehow, for she sounds a bit too old and nasal, though when she sings her sad, mad songs, she's great. And Laertes is a little too nasal for my likings, too, though when he becomes enraged at Hamlet and out for his blood, he's great, too.
And John Gielgud! What a beautiful, liquid, bell-like, refined, flexible, measured, emotional, intelligent voice! Every word he says is honed perfection that at the same time feels like impromptu passion, as if he is saying the lines for the first tine instead of for the thousandth (as he must have done over the course of his many rehearsal performances of Hamlet). And the other actors are superb, Claudius, Gertrude, Horatio, King Hamlet, the grave diggers, R & G, the players, all perfect.
And of course the play itself is magnificent in its oddity and power and philosophy and raw emotion and spying and sneaking and acting and all...
Yes, it is a powerful pleasure listening to this audiobook, and I'm sure I'll come back to it repeatedly over the years