Don't you just hate it when you finish writing a commentary on something and you are just about to save your work when your computer crashes. Okay, I have been brought up around computers and it has been drummed into me since I was a kid that we always have to save our work, but unfortunately there is only so many times that we can save our work and still get work done (though I notice that at my actual workplace our work is constantly being saved, and backedup, and so on and so forth).
Anyway, when I came to write up on this particular graphic novel I was under the impression that I had already written a commentary on the actual play only to discover that despite the fact that I have read it something like five times I have not actually got around to writing a commentary on it. This is something that I am going to have to rectify, but once again since it is one of Shakespeare's plays, and that it is actually one of my favourite plays, then I am going to have to read it again before I go and write a commentary on it. I don't believe that I have written one on [book:Romeo and Juliet] either, but that is beside the point considering it is one that I will get around to sometime but am in no rush to do so.
Anyway, I think I will comment on this particular book first and then write a few thoughts about the play as a whole, though I will leave a fuller commentary for when I get around to the actual play. Now, this is a part of a series called 'The Manga Shakespeare' and I have noticed that there are two series in this vein. I have not seen the other series yet, though I do note that some are available at the various lending libraries here in Melbourne (though they tend to be Macbeth and Hamlet, even though a lot of the other plays have been published as well). The idea behind the novel was to present Shakespeare in an accessible way and that I believe is a good thing. I have pondered the idea of translating Shakespeare into a graphic novel format and it seems that it has been done already. However, I must say that even though I love the play I found that the art work in this particular version was not the best. Okay, it did have a modern theme, and also involved gunships and tanks, but I felt that the graphic novel itself was quite rushed and that it was not really all that presentable. I would be interested in reading one from the other series, though I have no real intention of running out and actually purchasing any of them.
As for the play itself, it is based upon the Life of Ceaser by the Greco-Roman author Plutarch. Plutarch actually wrote a huge work (which I have in my book collection) called The Lives of Eminent Greeks and Romans, and he goes through a whole collection of ancient Greek and Roman statesmen, looking at their lives, their achievements, and the legacy that they left behind. Shakespeare only wrote from three of these lives: Ceaser, Mark Antony, and Coriolanus. He also only selected specific events from their lives to work into a tragedy, and a tragedy this play definitely is.
The interesting thing with this particular play is that we will automatically think that it is the tragedy of Julius Ceaser when in fact it is not – the tragic hero in this play is actually Marcus Brutus of the 'et tu Brutai' fame. The reason I suggest this (and I am not going back on my belief that the whole concept of the tragic flaw of the Shakespearian tragic hero is a load of bunk) is that Brutus is facing a lot of pressures to turn and betray his friend. Now we will notice in the play that after the conspirators commit their deed they run out of the Senate building screaming 'freedom' and 'liberty' and are not cut down by the Roman Constabulary (as would no doubt happen today if we were to do the same thing against one of our leaders). The reason for that is that if a ruler were to get to the point where they were seen as a tyrant then it was the responsibility of the people, with the intention of protecting the freedom of the Republic, to assassinate the tyrant.
However, the problem is, and this comes out in the play, is that one person's tyrant is another person's saviour. We see this happen today when you have one group protesting against a leader and then an opposing group that actually supporting the leader (no doubt because they benefit personally from this leader). Even in the modern United States there is a belief that the citizenry must act to remove a tyranical leader (and we see this in one particular play called Americans where Leon Czolgosh defends his actions in assassinating William McKinley because he believed that it was his right, as an American citizen, to kill what he believed to be a tyrant).
This comes more to the front in Julius Ceaser where, after defeating his opponent Pompey in the Civil War, Ceaser comes into Rome triumphant. In fact the people of Rome throw him a massive party (called a Triumph) celebrating his victory (which was something only great heroes received, and to receive a Triumph was a sign of your accomplishment, though one aspect of it was that a slave would stand next to you in your chariot reminding you that you are still a mere mortal). However, we also have Ceaser being offered a crown (a symbol of Kingship) which he turns down, and the reason for that happening can be considered political manipulation (in saying that he will not accept the crown because he has no intention of becoming a tyrant).
Now, the problem with Brutus is that not only is he being persuaded by the co-conspirators to make a move against Ceaser, they are also calling up his namesake, and ancestor, another Brutus, who was responsible for killing the king Tarquin and establishing Rome as a republic. The question that is raised though was whether Ceaser could really be considered a tyrant, and whether moving against him in that manner was the right thing to do. As it turns out Mark Anthony managed to persuade the people of Rome (in his famous 'Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears' speech) that their actions were not the actions of liberators but rather the actions of criminals, which ends up shattering the fragile peace of Rome and throwing the republic back into civil war. In fact what ends up happening is that this action that is performed to protect the Republic ends up backfiring and sending Rome into a lengthy period where it is ruled by emperors and the old Republic is never again re-established.