Envy, Leanness, and Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar
Keywords:Julius Caesar, Source Study, Emotion, Envy
One of the most famous lines in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is Caesar’s ominous claim that ‘Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look’ (1.2.193). Understanding the implications of this line requires appreciating the extent it activates the early modern discourse of envy. Because Shakespeare makes his Cassius dispositionally envious — an invention not found in Plutarch — comprehending the full import of the enviousness his ‘lean and hungry look’ entails is vital to grasping the playwright’s characterization. Unpacking the association between leanness and envy in Renaissance literary culture reveals how Shakespeare’s handling of his source had immediate thematic resonance for his audience.
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