How's my Luck now?

Reflections, views and descriptions during my stay at IIM Lucknow from July 2004 to March 2006

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Location: India

Saturday, December 24, 2005

'Julius Caesar' and Asimov

During the term break, I watched the Hollywood classic 'Cleopatra' at home. This reignited interest in knowing the exact story of Julius Caesar, Mark Antony & Cleopatra. After coming back, I decided to satisfy this curiosity by reading my first Shakespeare play in the original - 'Julius Caesar'. I chose to read the play rather than find a historical source directly because I have an electronic version of 'Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare' in 2 volumes, wherein sci-fi great Isaac Asimov annotates, in lucid and interesting detail, each of Shakespeare's plays. In these two wonderful volumes, Asimov fills in historical and mythological details not obvious from Shakespeare's plays, explains finer points in Shakespeare's use of language, provides nuggets of trivia, points out anachronisms, etc.

This simultaneous reading of the play and the annotations has now made the events of the pre-Caesar, Caesarian, and post-Caesar periods and the role of different characters in these clear to me. The way Julius Caesar rose to prominence late in life, was killed as much due to fear of his ambition as due to envy, the tremendous vanity and consequent foolishness of Brutus, and the end of the conspirators achieved by Antony and Octavius are fascinating to read about. One does feel sympathetic towards Caesar because of the egregious way in which he was betrayed, even though he was a dictator and had ambitions to proclaim himself king.

Much of the play is based by Shakespeare on Plutarch's original version of the events. The play has several famous lines and passages, and it coins some phrases which are in common use now. Cleopatra does not enter the play, and Asimov only mentions that when in Egypt, Caesar met Cleopatra. The film shows that Caesar had a son by Cleopatra and that Cleopatra had entered Rome in a triumph as ordered by Caesar. These do not seem to be historically correct. To complete the story which the film covers, I will read Shakespeare's 'Antony & Cleopatra' next, but not immediately.

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