Julius Caesar by Southern Pat

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From this point of view, Egeon’s fatalistic detachment, his resignation to the embrace of the sea that names him, represents the relaxation into a foreign element that makes swimming possible. Egeon’s narrative shows Shakespeare groping toward what Melville would explore in Moby-Dick, the utopian fantasy of a fully maritime human. In Shakespeare’s plays, however, Egeon’s partial accommodation with the sea remains a minority position. The clearest example of the opposite attitude, in which water must always be fought, comes in the description of Ferdinand swimming to shore in The Tempest.

At this moment, Iago resembles the sea. He no longer speaks the language of mariners who work on the waves, but instead represents the ocean as such: wordless, malign, opaque, amoral. His final lines vary the biblical cadences of his opening self-definition. Now that “I am not that I am” has modulated into “What you know, you know,” the evacuation of Iago’s humanity 32 At the Bottom of Shakespeare’s Ocean has become complete. He stretches out before us, at our mercy but finally untouchable. Iago’s manipulative power lies miniaturized in these two resonant lines.

The sea-storm in Othello creates a crisis of meaning that hastens the play’s insistent drive toward violence. The immediate narrative resolution of the storm, however, mirrors neither Maximus’s acceptance of the sea’s destabilizing intimacy with the land nor Lucretius’s Stoic ju-jitsu, in which the ocean’s violence stimulates reason’s victory over the fear of death. Instead, the Venetian survivors transform the near-disaster into a familiar early modern maritime story, the arrival of a treasure galleon.

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