Caesar's Fall

Michael Drayton, Thomas Middleton, Anthony Munday and John Webster (1602)

Historical records


To playwrights in Philip Henslowe's diary

Lent unto the company the 22 of maij
1602 to geue vnto antoney monday &
mihell drayton webester & the Rest [interlined: mydelton] in
earneste of a Boocke called sesers ffalle
the some of vll (Greg I, 166)

Theatrical provenance

Henslowe's diary attributes this play to the Admiral's Men. They would have performed it at the Fortune (Wiggins 4:382).

Probable Genre(s)

Tragedy (Harbage).

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

The civil war between Caesar and Pompey was available to early modern playwrights through a plethora of sources such as Appian's Civil Wars, Plutarch's Lives, Lucan's Civil War, Suetonius's Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Cassius Dio's Roman History and Caesar's own Civil War. However, it is impossible to determine which source (or sources) may have been chosen for this play.

For a summary of the main events of the conflict between Caesar and Pompey, see "Caesar and Pompey".

Wiggins notes that although Julius Caesar is the most obvious subject for the play, the word 'Caesar' could refer to any Roman emperor, or indeed Caesar Borgia (4:382).

References to the Play

None known.

Critical Commentary

Relationship with Two Shapes

W.W. Greg identified this play with the lost "Two Shapes", recorded in the diary one week later. Henslowe paid out £3 for "Two Shapes" and attributed it to Dekker, Drayton, Middleton, Webster and Munday. Although Dekker's name does not appear in the Caesar's Fall record, Greg argued that the close correspondence between the dramatists and the payments make this identification "beyond doubt" (Greg II, 222).

Subsequent commentators have followed suit in treating these two plays as the same. However, Martin Wiggins argues that Two Shapes was more likely a separate play from Caesar's Fall, representing two projects undertaken by the same writing team . He notes that the (almost) identical writing team is the only evidence in favour of the identification, whereas contrary evidence includes the title Two Shapes, which "does not relate to anything in the likely narrative of a play about Caesar", and the fact that Henslowe's payments for Two Shapes and Caesar's Fall "add up to the anomalously large sum of £8, a third more than the usual top price for a script", although he acknowledges that Henslowe did sometimes pay unusually high prices (4:381).

Relationship with other Caesar plays

Doris Feldmann and Kurt Tetzeli von Rosador (328-329) note that "Caesar's Fall" may have belonged to a fashion for dramatizations of Julius Caesar's life that ran throughout the 1590s in all kinds of theatrical venues, including Samuel Daniel's Cleopatra and the Trinity College play Caesar's Revenge as well as the public theatre plays such as Shakespeare's Julius Caesar (328).

Furthermore, they note that the Admiral's Men themselves had already produced a two-part anonymous "Caesar and Pompey" (see Caesar and Pompey, Parts 1 and 2) and the lost (possibly unfinished) "Catiline's Conspiracy" by Henry Chettle and Robert Wilson. With "Caesar's Fall", they would have therefore

built up a dramatic tradition of good commercial value (having laid in stock, according to Henslowe's inventory of 1598, "1 senator's gown, 1 hood, and 5 senator's capes"). And they would have completed a Caesarean project of some magnitude, showing Caesar in the round: the martial hero out-manoeuvring and defeating Pompey the Great and, in the sequel, Sextus, his son; the powerful rhetorician and wily statesman of Catiline’s conspiracy; and the destined fate of the mighty, inescapably subject to the de casibus pattern, to the inevitable rise and fall brought about either by a turn of blind Fortune’s wheel or the retribution of the gods. In accordance with a tradition of mighty lines and mighty acting the Admiral’s Men would have highlighted the central figure — in contrast and rivalry with the marginalized centrality of that other Julius Caesar, put on in 1599 by their competitors, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.

How the Caesar of the Admiral’s Men would have been presented is not clear. Neither can the writings of any of the five dramatists be read as containing a single, fixed image of Caesar, nor can even the smallest common denominator be discerned between the works. The condemnation of Caesar’s assassins implied in I Sir John Oldcastle (1599), in which Drayton had a hand, is simply not compatible with the condemnation of Caesar’s “ambitious ends” in his Poly-Olbion of 1612 (X, 299); and Dekker’s praise of James I as a “second Caesar” (The Wonderful Year, 1603), was followed by Middleton’s presentation of Caesar’s life as subject of a "motion" in Father Hubburd’s Tales (1604), to be totally subverted by Web-ster’s Menippean satire of a "Julius Caesar making hair buttons" (The White Devil, 5.6.109-10).

For What It's Worth

See "Caesar and Pompey, Parts 1 and 2".

Works Cited

Feldmann, Doris and Kurt Tetzeli von Rosador. "Lost Plays: A Brief Account." Thomas Middleton: The Collected Works. Ed. Gary Taylor and John Lavagnino. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2007. 328-333. Print.

Site created and maintained by David Nicol, Dalhousie University, and Domenico Lovascio, University of Genoa; updated 4 August, 2015.