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Herbert, E.T. (1970). Myth and Archetype in “Julius Caesar”. Psychoanal. Rev., 57(2):303-308.

(1970). Psychoanalytic Review, 57(2):303-308

Myth and Archetype in “Julius Caesar”

Edward T. Herbert, Ph.D.

Though it is Shakespeare's practice to name his tragedies after their central figures, much criticism has concerned itself with the aptness of having Julius Caesar's name appear in the title of this play. Citing Anthony's famous eulogy at the conclusion, many critics have suggested that Brutus is the real protagonist and, thus, that the play could more appropriately be called The Tragedy of Brutus. This argument, however, loses much of its force when the play is regarded as a myth, and a close study of Julius Caesar lends plausibility to a mythic interpretation of the play.

In bare outline, the plot is a dramatization of an archetypal situation such as that discussed by Freud in Totem and Taboo. Speculating on the origins of religion, Freud reconstructs the conditions of the primal horde and discusses the attitude toward the ruler. He finds a strain of mistrust pervading the members of the clan towards their ruler, whom they worship as a god one day and slay as a criminal the next. Similarly, in Shakespeare's play, Julius Caesar is alternately deified and vilified, and Cassius is undoubtedly expressing the attitude of all the plotters when he says of Caesar that “this man is now become a god” (I, ii, 115-6).

According to Freud, there is no confidence that the ruler will use his enormous power to the advantage of his subjects.

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