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Spectrality in Plutarch, Shakespeare, Freud and Derrida

Nicholas Meihuizen


Cassius’s exposition on the self-induced nature of visions, as presented in North’s Plutarch, is akin to Freud’s rational understanding of spectral visitations. Cassius’s consequent fall into superstitious thought is all the more notable. Shakespeare’s Brutus, in Julius Caesar, if not at the mercy of such mental swings as Cassius, is subject at one point in the play to a different type of indeterminacy, that regarding the nature of the future. On the day of the final battle he says: “O that a man might know/The end of this day’s business ere it come” (5.1.122–23). This “end”, however, is connected with the promised appearance of Caesar’s ghost. What does this future, containing both anticipated and unknown elements, mean to Brutus? Unlike the predictable future of everyday, this future (though involving the return of the ghost) cannot be prepared for, must remain unforeseen, as it depends on the fortunes of war. My article draws on Freud’s understanding of spectrality and Derrida’s linking of this to his sense of the unforeseen future, to examine Brutus’s relation to it, from the point of view of both classical antiquity’s daimonic lore and the dramatic sensibility of Shakespeare.