See you in hell, punk

Thomas Jones

  • Brutus: The Noble Conspirator by Kathryn Tempest
    Yale, 314 pp, £25.00, October 2017, ISBN 978 0 300 18009 1

Among Shakespeare’s tragedies Julius Caesar is unusual in not being named for its hero. By any conventional measure, the play is the tragedy of Brutus, over whose corpse his antagonist Antony declares at the end of Act V: ‘This was the noblest Roman of them all.’ Still, it makes sense that the tragedy of Brutus should be called Julius Caesar, since Caesar is the figure around whom Brutus’ story revolves. Without Brutus, Caesar would still be Caesar; without Caesar, Brutus would be nobody. The ghost that appears to him before the Battle of Philippi tells him that he is ‘Thy evil spirit, Brutus.’ That much is straight out of Plutarch. It’s Shakespeare’s invention to have Brutus later describe the phantom, his evil spirit, as ‘the ghost of Caesar’, which he sees again at Philippi in both a literal and a figurative sense: the spirit of Caesar lives on in the victorious army of Antony and Octavius. On seeing the ghost, Brutus realises that he has lost – ‘I know my hour is come’ – and the empire has won.

The full text of this book review is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.

You are not logged in