Sunday, March 6, 2011

Parallels - Julius Caesar 2 of 3

Julius Caesar   Part 2 of 3

Now let us look at the latter part of the quote from the play mentioned in the previous post:

CASCA. ... and still as he
    refused it, the rabblement hooted and clapped their chopped hands
    and threw up their sweaty nightcaps and uttered such a deal of
    stinking breath because Caesar refused the crown that it had
    almost choked Caesar, for he swounded and fell down at it. And
    for mine own part, I durst not laugh for fear of opening my lips
    and receiving the bad air.
  CASSIUS. But, soft, I pray you, what, did Caesars wound?
  CASCA. He fell down in the marketplace and foamed at mouth and was
  BRUTUS. 'Tis very like. He hath the falling sickness.
  CASSIUS. No, Caesar hath it not, but you, and I,
    And honest Casca, we have the falling sickness.

Caesar was known to be an epileptic ("the falling sickness"), but there is no historical source for his fainting when offered the crown. But Shake-Speare makes him swoon owing to the "stinking breath" of the mob. This was Bacon's eccentric theory that epilepsy was caused by gross vapours entering the cells of the brain.
In his Natural History Bacon wrote:

"It hath long been received and confirmed by divers trials that the root of the male peony dried, tied to the neck, doth help the falling sickness; and likewise the incubus which we call the mare. The cause of both these diseases, and especially of the epilepsy from the stomach, is the grossness of the vapours which rise and enter into the cells of the brain".

And Bacon thought that the smells which were most harmful were human smells. In the same work he wrote:

"If such smells be made by art and by the hand, they consist chiefly of man's flesh or sweat putrified; for they are not those stinks which the nostrils straight abhor and expel that are most perniciious but such airs as have some similitude with man's body, and so insinuate themselves and betray the spirits. There may be great danger in using such compositions in great meetings of people within houses, as in churches, at arraignments, at plays and solemnities and the like. And these empoisonments of air are the more dangerous in meetings of people, because the much breath of people doth further the infection. Therefore, when any such thing is feared, it were good those public places were perfumed before the assemblies"

Shake-Speare's "such a deal of stinking breath" corresponds to Bacon's "the much breath of people". And Shake-Speare has "sweaty" and "stinking" while Bacon uses "sweat" and "stinks". and Casca's "for fear of opening my lips and receiving the bad air" is echoed by Bacon's observation that breath "doth further the infection".

end of part 2 of 3

No comments:

Post a Comment