“Cry ‘Havoc!’”

jc 001 jc 004

Straightening out some bookshelves, I discovered that we own this 1908 copy of Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare.  I suppose I had some inkling of it being there all along, but having never read JC before (favouring the likes of tragedies rather than the histories) I had tucked away a small collection of these pocket sized editions, not realizing that they were indeed so old, nor that JC was among them. We obtained these books a number of years ago at a library sale in a small town called Hanover.

Why the sudden interest on my part? Well, you may recall our little side-trip to Stratford just prior to St. Patrick’s Day when Kevin and I stayed in the room fit for a king (or Caesar, for that matter).While there, we purchased tickets for a performance in June (around the time of our wedding anniversary).  That play is Julius Caesar and I am extremely keen to see it as one of my favourite actors, Geraint Wyn Davies, will be taking the role of JC himself. 

I loved Shakespeare’s works when I was in high school.  I read all the usual popular plays: Romeo and Juliet, MacBeth, Hamlet, King Lear, Twelfth Night, As You Like It, Antony and Cleopatra, A Midsummer Night’s Dream,The Two Gentlemen of Verona and the The Tempest.  Since Stratford was only an hour and a half away, our school would annually attend a performance at the Festival or Avon theatres.  My English class saw Twelfth Night in Grade 12 and Macbeth in Grade 13. Macbeth is my favourite of all.

Grade 13 was a fantastic time for me as a lover of literature, because I was able to take a course devoted exclusively to Shakespeare, taught by an amazing teacher, Mrs. Ross.  We were given extra credit if we memorized and performed passages from some of Shakespeare’s plays.  It may not surprise you to learn that my soliloquy of choice was Ophelia’s mad scene– just before she commits suicide– from Hamlet.

In University, I had occasion to read some of the history plays by the bard and they were not nearly as appealing to me, being heavy with politics and warfare. Times change.

Now to Julius Caesar.  I have not picked up a  Shakespeare play in decades (more’s the pity). Yesterday, when I came across the copy of JC, I immediately began to peruse it, and reading the introduction by someone called F.J. Furnivall, I was straight away swept up in the world of the Roman Empire and the world of Shakespeare himself.  I was enjoying it so much that I made Kevin sit and listen to the entire thing (my argument being he would need to have some background knowledge for when we see the play).

Afterwards, I kept on reading – getting absorbed in the machinations of Cassius and the misguided loyalties of Brutus – waiting for the big scene where Julius Caesar is murdered by his cohort.  I can see things I never would have noticed years ago.  I am even formulating essay ideas that might have been fun to explore in Grade 13.  I can’t WAIT to see the play in June!

Here’s part one of a poem that I’m working on.  This part is up to and including Julius Caesar’s assassination.  I will finish the second part when I finish reading the play. It is untitled at this point.



Ent’ring with his entourage
Triumphant Caesar, deems homage
Whilst Cassius him, plots soon to end
Using Brutus, loyal friend.

Friend to Rome with good intent
To save the Empire, by dissent.
(Cassius, Iago–Macbeth’s wife
Each goad on, to take a life. )

A crown declined– thrice thrust away
Giveth Cassius, guile to sway.
Brutus’ appetite, him fails
For food and sleep, yet ill prevails.

The night with tempest never seen
Portends a most unnatural scene
Where dogs of war, drag lion down
And leave dumb mouths on Caesar’s gown.

Kathleen Mortensen©2009

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20 thoughts on ““Cry ‘Havoc!’”

  1. Ah! One of my favorites, simply because I have it memorized from teaching it so often. Also my solace when I gain a few pounds – don't want to look like “Yon Cassius… Such men are dangerous!!!”Aside: two years ago, I was at Caesar's grave on the Ides of March. How cool is that?


  2. Wow, Karen. I didn't know Caesar had a known grave. Why wouldn't I have considered that?Kat, Colm Feore's doing a couple at Stratford this year, Cyrano and a Shakespeare I think. I'm embarrassed to say I've never been.


  3. Sounds like you found a treasure on your bookshelf, and good idea to get reacquainted with JC before the June performance.What is Grade 13? I've not heard of that before.Wonderful post, Kat, and you've got a great poem going there!


  4. What a nice find– it's a really great play I think– in that delicious space between tragedy & history. & I loved the beginning of the new poem– can't wait for the thrilling conclusion.


  5. Karen – You have all the great speeches memorized, I'll bet. It's amazing how many book titles have been born of Shakespeare's words.I do recall you saying you were at Caesar's grave. How cool, indeed!CP – I've looked at length at the Stratford schedule and I did see that Feore is playing in Cyrano and Macbeth. That would be something! You really must get there!Jeannelle – Grade 13 doesn't exist anymore, but we used to go beyond Grade 12 for a final year before college or university. How does your system work?John – Ooh! Thanks. I hope I can deliver. You are very correct in defining it as that “delicious space between tragedy and history”.Kat


  6. I like your poem. I never gained the proper appreciation of Shakespeare in high school. I was a dumb cluck at times. Grade 13? Was that mandatory? We don't have any such thing, but it might be a good idea for some.


  7. An inspiring find. I adore old books. The smell, the texture, and best of all the imagined history of the book itself. Not to mention the words on the page.


  8. I read this yesterday and read it again today just so I could take it all in like a good dessert. One day I will visit the master's home (how lucky you are to have experienced that, my dear), but until then I enjoy all of his books and extraordinaire characters as precious companions of many hours of reading. And to read Shakespeare's words in old books such as those you have…what a treat!


  9. Sparky – Yes. The English language has an allure. I imagine some of the other languages would be just as fascinating – if I knew any of them well enough!Neetzy – As you get older and have experienced more in life, things on the printed page that were once daunting do not seem to be as much. You should give Shakespeare another go – I think you'd like him! Grade 13 was mandatory, but they have since cancelled it.Carolyn – So true. Old books are often the best books, for so many reasons.ibeati – It is worth remembering, certainly.Lenore – A real find, indeed – and it was there all along!Isabel – Although I've been to England a few times, I've never been to the real Stratford. The Stratford of which I speak is in Ontario, although it is very well known and attracts many fine British actors itself.Kat


  10. Oh Kat what a treasure! Is it a first edition? What a history lesson also!In answer to your question……I read at night for maybe an hour or so in bed.Last night it was more like three hours, it's a great read! I did get some done during all the rain Sunday too! Carol


  11. Oh I'm with Neetzy. I think school killed my interest in Shakespeare. Forced to study Julius Caesar and Macbeth for exams. Even seeing the RSC's Richard 11 didn't do it for me.Quite enjoyed reading A Midsummer Night's Dream though. Maybe one of these days I'll give it another go.


  12. Carol, I could read in bed for hours, if only my husband would let me, but he cannot sleep if I have any light on and since he's getting up to go for work I need to accommodate him. As it is, I only manage about 20 minutes or so before lights out.Winifred – You'll really be surprised how differently you see Shakespeare as an adult. I'm actually looking forward to getting to the Final Act later tonight. It is action-packed!Kat


  13. Kat, the poem is excellent!! Okay, I know you say it's just a beginning. But it's great. I love that last line, too. I'm glad to see all that you're doing. You were so wise to cut out all of the other “extra” things in your life. I'm glad you're still here, though. I love Shakespeare. I can read the plays over and over and come away with a new “discovery” every time.


  14. Wow, what a fine little treasure, Kat. WT performed quite a bit of Shakespeare way back in college days, so you know I have a soft spot. I really like what you're doing with the poem here. Can't wait to read the finished version.


  15. Julie – My husband thought the last line was too obtuse, but you know it actually gets repeated in the play and I like it! I hope I can live up to expectation with the second part.Willow – You have such a cultured family! I'm glad you like the piece so far. I'm still reading the play and may reread it before I write part II.Kat


  16. Hi Kat!Thanks for dropping by today … I had a wonderful week away visiting my son and daughter-in-law and grandson. I forgot how much energy babies require! It was fun!I enjoy Shakespeare and I'm envious of the antique book you own…what a treasure!My favorite WS was “The Merchant of Venice,” and I still can recall long passages from it.Your poem is wonderful, as always. I'd like to see how it ends when you finish it!


  17. You certainly rose to the challenge of your epic theme. Memories of wading through Shakespeare in high school English class….but I could not then or now have pulled off anything remotely as good as this poetry!


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