Why not dust off a classic this summer?

May 29, 2009|By LISA PREJEAN

"Et tu, Brute?"

The question, uttered by William Shakespeare's title character in "Julius Caesar," cuts to the heart of close relationships even today. As he is surrounded and stabbed by conspirators, Julius Caesar struggles with accepting the betrayal of his close friend, Marcus Brutus.

In English, the question is "Even you, Brutus?"

Yes, he could accept the pain inflicted by the others, but Brutus? Not Brutus. He was a friend who could be trusted, wasn't he?

Apparently not.

What causes a friend to betray a friend? In this case, Brutus felt that Caesar was abusing his power.

In Caesar's time, the Roman civilization was a republic - a governing system based on elected representatives. And if a republic is to thrive, its elected leader should not have aspirations to become a king, as Brutus thought Caesar did. There needs to be a system of checks and balances so leaders are held accountable for their decisions.


Unfortunately, Brutus and the others who attacked Caesar resorted to violence to achieve their goals. In their minds, the end justified the means.

As my students and I ponder the timeless truths in Shakespeare, it never ceases to amaze me how we can relate to a play that was first performed more than 400 years ago.

The intrigue alone of "Julius Caesar" would be enough to capture and keep the attention. However, this play is also interesting to read because it is one of the most quoted pieces of English literature. Many familiar phrases originated from this play.

Take "the live-long day" for example. Shakespeare uses this expression in Act I, Scene II: "Your infants in your arms, and there have sat the live-long day with patient expectation to see great Pompey pass the streets of Rome."

Or, if someone is confused, he might say, "That's Greek to me." This line is also from "Julius Caesar": "But those that understood him smiled at one another and shook their heads; but for mine own part, it was Greek to me." (Act I, Scene 2)

You might have heard "When beggars die, there are no comets seen," or "Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once;" both of these are from Act II, Scene 2I.

Then there are references to "The Ides of March," which originally meant the 15th day of March. Over time, this phrase has taken on an ominous meaning. The plot to kill Caesar was carried out on March 15.

Brutus speaks the words "Ambition's debt is paid." (Act III, Scene 1) He was referring to Caesar's death being caused by excessive ambition. The warning here is to not want more power than is necessary to get a job done.

Brutus again attempts to justify his actions by claiming that he acted on his country's behalf: "Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more." (Act III, Scene 2)

The words of Marc Antony warn those who think their evil deeds will be forgotten when they die: "The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones." (Act III, Scene 2)

The expression "itching palm" can be found in Act IV, Scene 3: "Let me tell you, Cassius, you yourself are much condemned to have an itching palm."

Perhaps your palm is itching to read a classic this summer. Dust off those old-school books and take a literary journey. You might be pleasantly surprised at what you'll find along the way.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at .

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