THE AUTHOR AND HIS TIMES – Julius Caesar is a play about a political assassination. The question it asks is: is it ever right to use force to remove a ruler from power You, as readers, can answer that question in terms of your own experience in the last quarter of the 20 th century. But if you ” re going to figure out what Shakespeare thought, you ” ll have to know something about the values and concerns of the Elizabethan world in which he lived. History plays were popular during Shakespeare’s lifetime (1564-1616) because this was the Age of Discovery, and English men and women were hungry to learn about worlds other than their own. But the Elizabethans also saw history as a mirror in which to discover themselves and find answers to the problems of their lives. A play like Julius Caesar taught the Elizabethans about Roman politics; it also offered an object lesson in how to live.
What was Shakespeare trying to teach his contemporaries To answer that question, let’s take a look at Elizabethan attitudes toward (a) monarchy and (b) order. (A) MONARCHY Today we believe in democracy and are suspicious of anyone who seeks unlimited power. We know what can happen when a Hitler or a Stalin takes control of a government, and we know just how corrupting power can be. But Shakespeare and his contemporaries had no such prejudice against strong rulers. Their queen, Elizabeth I, ruled with an iron hand for forty-five years (from 1558 to 1603), yet her subjects had great affection for her. Under her rule the arts flourished and the economy prospered.
... to his torture and downfall. Work Cited Page Shakespeare, William. Othello. Oxford School Shakespeare. Ed. Roma Gill Oxford: Oxford University Press, ... loyalty to him. The constant charm by Iago and the question surrounding Desdemona eventually lead to Othello to fully trust Iago ... believe anything said by Iago. Throughout the novel, racism plays a crucial role in persuading Othello to think he is ...
While the rest of Europe was embroiled in war, mostly between Catholics and Protestants, England enjoyed a period relatively free from civil strife. Elizabeth’s reign- and the reign of othe Tudor monarchs, beginning with Henry VII in 1485- brought an end to the anarchy that had been England’s fate during the Wars of the Roses (1455-84).
To Shakespeare and his contemporaries the message was clear: only a strong, benevolent ruler could protect the peace and save the country from plunging into chaos again. Shakespeare would probably not have approved of the murder of Caesar. – (B) ORDER – In 1599, when Julius Caesar was first performed, Elizabeth was old and failing.
She had never married and had no children to succeed her. Shakespeare and his contemporaries must have worried greatly that someone (like Brutus like Cassius) would try to grab power and plunge the country into civil war. When the Elizabethans spoke of order, they didn’t just mean political or social order. Though they lived during what we call today the English Renaissance, they still held many medieval views about man and his relation to the universe.
They knew the world was round, and that the earth was one of many planets spinning in space. And they knew from explorers that there were continents besides their own. But most believed, as people in the Middle Ages believed, that the universe was ruled by a benevolent God, and that everything, from the lowest flower to the angels on high, had a divine purpose to fulfill. The king’s right to rule came from God himself, and opposition to the king earned the wrath of God and threw the whole system into disorder. Rulers had responsibilities, too, of course: if they didn’t work for the good of the people, God would hold them to account. No one in this essentially medieval world lived or functioned in isolation.
Everyone was linked together by a chain of rights and obligations, and when someone broke that chain, the whole system broke down and plunged the world into chaos. What destroys the divine harmony in Julius Caesar- Cassius’ jealousy, Caesar’s ambition, or the fickleness of the mob- is something you ” ll have to decide for yourself. But whatever the cause, the results offend the heavens and throw the entire country into disarray. Today a sense of hopelessness and despair hangs over us: a mistake, a simple misunderstanding, and the bomb may drop and destroy life on earth. Our fate, we feel, is out of our control. But the Elizabethans were much more optimistic.
... them ARTEMIDORUS and the Soothsayer. Flourish. Enter CAESAR, BRUTUS, CASSIUS, CASCA, DECIUS BRUTUS, METELLUS CIMBER, TREBONIUS, CINNA, ANTONY, ... BRUTUS Cassius, be constant: Popilius Lena speaks not of our purposes; For, look, he smiles, and Caesar doth not change. CASSIUS Trebonius knows his time ... ; for, look you, Brutus. He draws ...
Forget chance: if something went wrong, then someone had broken God’s laws, the laws of the universe. Many would suffer, but in the end the guilty would be punished and order restored. Julius Caesar begins with a human act that, like a virus, infects the body of the Roman state. No one is untouched; some grow sick, some die. But in time the poison works its way out of the system and the state grows healthy again. In Shakespeare’s world, health, not sickness, is the natural condition of man in God’s divine plan.
THE PLAY – THE PLOT – The working people of Rome are overjoyed: Julius Caesar has beaten Pompey’s sons in battle, and everyone’s getting a day off from work to celebrate Caesar’s triumphant return. But two Roman officers, Flavius and Marullus, chase the crowds away: how dare the citizens support a tyrant who threatens to undermine hundreds of years of Republican (representative) rule! Don’t they know that Caesar wants to be king Caesar parades by in full glory, just in time to help celebrate the races on the Feast of Lupercal. A soothsayer bids him “Beware the ides of March” (March 15), but Caesar- anxious not to show fear in public dismisses the man as a dreamer. The procession passes by, leaving behind two Roman Senators: Cassius, a long-time political enemy of Caesar, and Brutus, Caesar’s friend. Like other members of the Senate, Brutus and Cassius are aristocrats who fear that Caesar will take away their ancient privileges. Cassius now goes to work on Brutus, flattering him, reminding him of his noble ancestry, trying all the while to determine just how unhappy Brutus is with Caesar and just how willing Brutus is to join the conspiracy.
Does Brutus know where Cassius is leading him It’s hard to tell. Brutus admits only that he’s dissatisfied, and agrees to discuss the matter further. Caesar, now back from the races, tells his friend Antony that he doesn’t trust a man like Cassius, with his “lean and hungry look.” He has good reason to be suspicious. Casca tells Brutus and Cassius how the Roman people three times offered Caesar the crown, and how three times he refused it. Perhaps Caesar doesn’t want to be king- that’s what his friends would argue; but to his enemies, Caesar was merely playing on the gullibility of the people, pretending to be humble in order to win their support. On a stormy night full of mysterious omens, Cassius converts Casca to his cause and arranges for Cinna, a fellow-conspirator, to throw a message through Brutus’ window.
... do fear the people choose Caesar as their king." Cassius continues his pursuit to convince Brutus to join the conspirators. He thinks the best ... gives, to every several man, seventy-five drachmas." Antony was trying to make Caesar look like a great hero, rather than a ... Caesar, both friends and enemies use flattery and manipulation to obtain their goals. The first main use of flattery is used by Cassius ...
The note will, he hopes, win the noble Senator to their side. Alone in his garden, Brutus tries to justify the part he is about to play in the murder of his friend, Caesar. He decides finally that Caesar’s ambition poses a grave danger to the future of the Republic and that Caesar should be destroyed, not for what he is, but for what he’s likely to become. The conspirators arrive at Brutus’ house and agree to murder Caesar the next day at the Capitol. They would like to murder Antony, too, but Brutus, anxious to keep his hands clean and to preserve his precious honor, insists that Antony be spared.
After the conspirators leave, Brutus’ wife Portia enters. She wants to know what’s happening. Brutus worries that the news may be too frightening for her to bear, but nevertheless confides in her. Caesar has had a restless night, too. His wife Calpurnia tries to keep him home- she senses evil in the air- and at first he relents. But the conspirators arrive and persuade him to go to the Senate as planned.
What would happen to his reputation if his public thought the mighty Caesar was swayed by a superstitious wife! Calpurnia’s fears turn out to be more than superstitions, for the day is March 15, the ides of March. Caesar ignores two more warnings and, after delivering a speech full of extravagant self-praise, he is stabbed by the conspirators and dies. Antony, learning of the murder of his dearest friend, begs the conspirators to let him speak at the funeral. Believing that right is on his side, Brutus agrees, over the objections of his more realistic friends. Left alone, Antony vows to revenge the death of Caesar, even if it means plunging his country into civil war. In the meantime, Caesar’s adopted son and heir, Octavius, has arrived on the outskirts of Rome, and Antony advises him to wait there till he can gauge the mood of the country.
... doesn’t want to murder Caesar. Cassius is a deceiving, selfish man. He knows that the conspirators need Brutus to be successful, so he ... constantly, and both have strong opinions. Cassius is furious at Brutus for publicly disgracing a friend of his for taking bribes from the ... the conspiracy will be defeated by Mark Antony, and suggests that they kill him too. Brutus resists, saying, “Let’s be ...
Brutus’ funeral oration is a measured, well-reasoned speech, appealing to the better instincts of the people and to their abstract sense of duty to the state. For a moment he wins them over. But then Antony inflames the crowds with an appeal to their emotions. Showing them Caesar’s bloody clothes turns them into an angry mob, hungry for revenge. Blind with hate, they roam the streets and tear apart the innocent poet Cinna. Antony and Octavius now join forces with Lepidus to pursue and destroy the conspirators, who have fled from Rome.
Anyone who might endanger their cause is coldly put to death. Brutus and Cassius await this new triumvirate at their camp near Sardis in Asia Minor. Should Cassius let an officer take bribes Brutus, standing on his principles, says no, and vents his anger on his friend. At the root of his anger, however, is his unspoken sorrow at the death of his beloved wife Portia. Apparently unable to deal with such an unsettling situation, she went mad and took her life by swallowing hot coals. Sadness over her death brings Brutus and Cassius back together again, closer perhaps than before.
At night Brutus is visited by the ghost of Caesar, who vows to meet him again on the battlefield at Philippi in Greece. The next day the two armies- the army of Brutus and Cassius, and the army of Antony and Octavius- stand in readiness at Philippi while the four generals battle each other with words. In the first encounter, Brutus’ troops defeat Octavius’, and Antony’s troops overcome Cassius’. Cassius, retreating to a nearby hill, sends his trusted friend Titinius to find out whether approaching troops are friends or foes. Is Titinius captured It appears so; and Cassius, believing he has sent his good friend to his death and that the battle is lost, takes his life. If only Cassius hadn’t acted so rashly he might have saved his life, for the reports turn out to be false and Titinius still lives.
Brutus, not the enemy, arrives, and mourns the death of his friend. The tide now turns against Brutus. Sensing defeat, and unwilling to endure the dishonor of capture, he runs on his sword and dies. Like Caesar and Cassius, he thinks in his final moments not of power or personal glory, but of friendship. Antony delivers a eulogy over Brutus’ body, calling him “the noblest Roman of them all.” Octavius agrees to take all of Brutus’ men into his service, a gesture of reconciliation that bodes well for the future. THE CHARACTERS – JULIUS CAESAR In order to discuss Shakespeare’s play intelligently you have to make up your mind about (1) Caesar’s character, and (2) Caesar’s threat to the Roman Republic.
... he did not want a king to rule. Cassius augments Brutus's fear that Caesar, as king will have too much power and ... knows that the plot to kill Caesar, would be against the principles of the Roman citizens. Because Brutus is so highly respected, if ... the affairs of men, / Which, taken at the flood, lead on to fortune; / Omitted, all the voyage of their life/ Is bound ...
Either Caesar deserves to be assassinated, or he doesn’t. On your answer hangs the meaning of the play. On one hand, Caesar is a tyrant whose ambition poses a real danger to the Republic. In that case, the hero of the play is Brutus. On the other hand, Caesar may be vain and arrogant, but he is the only ruler strong enough to hold the Roman Republic together, and a flawed ruler is better than none at all. In that case, Brutus becomes an impractical idealist who is manipulated by a group of scheming politicians.
Whatever your position, there’s no doubt that Shakespeare wants to show us the private side of a public man, and to remind us that our heroes are, like the rest of us, only human. In public, Caesar is worshipped like a god; in private, he is superstitious, deaf, and subject to fits of epilepsy (falling sickness).
Caesar’s public image is like a mask he wears to hide his weaknesses from others and from himself. Yet at the moment of death his mask slips, and we see another Caesar who values friendship above all. Let’s look at Caesar in three different ways. – 1.
Caesar’s personal shortcomings are one reason to remove him from power. Another is his ambition, which threatens to undermine the power of the people and their elected representatives. It’s true that Antony calls Caesar “the noblest man / That ever lived in the tide of times” (Act III, Scene i, lines 256-257), but why believe Antony- a man blindly devoted to his master, who is so bad a judge of character that he says of Cassius: – Fear him not, Caesar, he’s not dangerous; Act I, Scene ii, line 196 – Caesar’s refusal to accept the crown is no more than a cynical political gesture to impress the masses. His speech comparing himself to the North Star is the height of arrogance and blasphemy. His refusal to pardon Publius Climber is the mark of a man incapable of justice or pity. Such a man is a tyrant who knows no limits and deserves to be destroyed.
... his supposed morals. In Julius Caesar Cassius approached Brutus with the idea of assassinating Caesar. Cassius needed Brutus because of his renowned heroic ... kill Antony, Caesar's loyal friend. Caesar's spirit lived on in Antony who causes Brutus's dreadful fate. Although Brutus's ... same qualities that he despised in Caesar. "Shakespeare's tragic heroes will be men of rank, and the calamities ...
– 2. Caesar may be ambitious, but what of it Ambition in itself is neither good nor bad. Today, in our democratic age, we are suspicious of politicians who seek unlimited power, but the Elizabethans in Shakespeare’s time lived under a strong monarchy and would have had no such prejudice against strong rulers. If Shakespeare had wanted to show that Caesar was unfit to rule, he could have found evidence to support that point of view in Elizabethan history books; but nowhere in the play does he show Caesar suppressing civil liberties. Brutus himself is forced to admit: – and, to speak truth of Caesar, I have not known when his affections swayed More than his reason.
Act II, Scene i, lines 19-21 – A politician should be judged for his accomplishments, not for his private life. Even if Caesar is inflexible, the times demand such behavior. In his personal life, Caesar is considerate to his wife, courteous to the conspirators, and generous to the Roman people. He may be vain, but he has something to be vain about. Friends and enemies alike praise his courage and his accomplishments on the battlefield- can they all be wrong 3.
Caesar may be neither a hero nor a villain, but, like people in real life, a mixture of both. Educated theater-goers in Shakespeare’s time had this double image of Caesar, and Shakespeare may have enjoyed reinforcing and undercutting their preconceptions without ever resolving them. Shakespeare had one other reason to make Caesar a mixture of good and evil: if Caesar were too noble, Brutus would become a simple villain; if Caesar were too evil, Brutus would become a simple hero. In either case the moral dilemma raised by the assassination would no longer exist.
How you yourself react to Caesar will perhaps say as much about you as it says about him. People with a strong need for political order in their lives may want to defend him. Those of you with a more democratic faith in the individual may prefer to see him as a threat to the people, and sympathize with Brutus. – BRUTUS Scholars, actors, students- all have disagreed about Brutus and will continue to disagree as long as Julius Caesar is being read and performed.
You can view Brutus as a man of high principles and integrity- a man who is defeated, not by any personal shortcomings, but by the underhandedness of Cassius, the fickleness of the mob, and the inevitable march of Roman history from a republic to a monarchy. You can also see Brutus as a windbag- an unfeeling, self-righteous bore who cloaks his evil deeds in high principles and plunges his country into civil war. Which is the “real” Brutus It depends in part on whether you think the assassination was necessary. It also depends on whether you think Brutus uses language to convey the truth, or to hide from it. Take these lines of his: For let the gods so speed me, as I love The name of honor more than I fear death. Act I, Scene ii, lines 88-89 Brutus thinks he is telling the truth- but is he Would a truly honorable man need to call attention to his honor One point is indisputable: Brutus believes in his principles, and his principles do, to some extent, control his behavior.
He stands apart from all the other characters in the way he is influenced by ideas, rather than by feelings or the wish for personal gain. Cassius assassinates Caesar because he is jealous of him; Brutus acts only for what he considers the best interests of the state. Antony is a man of action who pauses only to consider the best way of getting from A to B; Brutus is a man of ideas who weighs his behavior in terms of Right and Wrong. Antony believes that brute strength and passion rule the world, and manipulates people accordingly; Brutus believes that reason rules the world, and that people can be swayed by the power of truth and logic.
Cassius and Antony see life as a game or competition in which rewards go to the strongest or swiftest; Brutus sees life as a confrontation of ideas in which rewards go to the just. He is such a private and self-contained man that he won’t even share the news of his wife’s death with his good friend Cassius. Brutus is high-minded, but his principles do not seem to prepare him very well for dealing with a corrupt world. He cannot recognize motives that are less noble than his own, and is therefore preyed upon by unscrupulous politicians.
As Cassius himself says behind Brutus’ back: Well, Brutus, thou art noble; yet I see Thy honorable mettle may be wrought From that it is disposed; therefore it is meet That noble minds keep ever with their likes; For who so from that cannot be seduced Act I, Scene ii, lines 308-312 Brutus’ principles force him to spare Antony’s life and to let Antony speak at Caesar’s funeral. His own speech lacks power (compared to Antony’s) because he assumes that people can be led by reason. An honorable man, he uses language to communicate the truth rather than to stir up the emotions of the people; he doesn’t understand that people want to be led- if not by Caesar, then by someone else. Some readers see Brutus as a bookish man who can function only in a world of ideas.
True, he is not much of a politician; but is it fair to describe him as a man whose head is in the clouds Cassius, after all, is constantly asking and taking his advice. It is Brutus who calls for action and who takes the offensive at Philippi; and it is Brutus, not Antony, who wins the battle. Brutus does make some unwise decisions, but does that mean he is incapable of functioning in the world Almost all the characters in Julius Caesar struggle to be better than they are, and Brutus is no exception. He, too, falls short of his ideals.
Although he insists on living by the loftiest principles, Cassius gets him to join the conspiracy by flattering him and appealing to his sense of family pride. Brutus tries to live by reason alone, yet he cannot sleep at night, and is so plagued by a guilty conscience that Caesar’s ghost appears to him in a dream. In his argument with Cassius, Brutus is reduced to a squabbling child- perhaps because he is mad with grief (though he tries not to show it) over the death of his wife. In the end Brutus takes his own life, in violation of his Stoic philosophy, which demands that he accept whatever fate holds in store for him. Is Brutus a hero, then- or is he a villain Let’s look at him in both lights. – 1.
Brutus is a man who cares more about principles than people- who uses principles to justify the murder of a friend. He is so blinded by ideals that he cannot see into his own heart, or recognize the needs of the world. He is a moral snob who dislikes debate or compromise and always insists on getting his own way. This Brutus knows exactly what Cassius is up to, but lets himself be led in order to keep his own hands clean. He is a hypocrite who hides behind lofty principles and pretty phrases. Despite his reputation for honor, he is easily flattered and concerned about his reputation.
His pride causes him to dismiss Cicero- a potential rival- even though Cicero is the greatest orator of the times. In his refusal to accept his human limitations, Brutus is as vain and dangerous as Caesar. 2. Brutus is simply too noble for the world he lives in.
He sacrifices his friend Caesar to do what is best for his country. He remains faithful to his principles to the end. Everyone, even Caesar, admires him and seeks his friendship. He is a tragic figure only because he tries to be better than he can, and falls. Hero or villain- could Brutus possibly be both Does the world need more men of principle, or less Shakespeare forces us to ask these questions, but lets us find answers for ourselves. CASSIUS There are many sides to Cassius.
This makes him difficult to pin down or sum up in a phrase- but it also makes him true to life. Here are two opinions of Cassius. From Caesar: Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look; He thinks too much: such men are dangerous. Act I, Scene ii, lines 194-195 From Brutus: The last of all the Romans, fare thee well! It is impossible that ever Rome Should breed thy fellow [equal]. Act V, Scene iii, lines 99-101 Both judgments are true- and false, for Cassius is different men to different people. Depending on how a person treats him, he can be loving or ruthless, gentle or hard, passionate or aloof.
One moment he is deceiving his dear friend Brutus; the next, he is craving affection from him. When we first meet Cassius, he is busy lying, flattering, forging letters, subverting the principles of his good friend Brutus. Caesar’s opinion of him seems right on target. He’s not motivated by the best interests of Rome, but by the desire for revenge on a man who doesn’t like him, Jealousy moves him- jealousy of the fame and power of a man he considers no more worthy than himself.
Caesar calls Cassius a “lean and hungry” man, and you may want to take this as the final word on Cassius and interpret all his actions in this light. But Caesar’s verdict is not the only one. Cassius’ love for Brutus, for instance, seems quite genuine- particularly after the assassination. Cassius has many admirers and friends who are willing to fight and die for him. After the argument with Brutus, Cassius shows good-natured tolerance for the Poet. As death approaches, Cassius realizes that he is not the measure of all things, and that there are forces at work in the universe beyond his understanding and control.
He takes his life, not because he has lost the battle, but because he believes (mistakenly) that he has caused the death of a friend. Almost everything Cassius says and does, both before and after the assassination, can be interpreted as a direct, emotional reaction to people. He responds to people as Brutus responds to ideas. Whether he is conspiring to kill Caesar or asking for Brutus’ love, Cassius is motivated by a boyish need for affection, and by a boyish hatred of those who refuse it.
His reasons for killing Caesar seem to be strictly personal. Caesar, his close boyhood friend, has rejected him. “Caesar doth bear me hard,” he says- Caesar bears a grudge against me and therefore must be destroyed. When Cassius meets Brutus, he is disturbed by the absence of “that gentleness / And show of love as I was wont [accustomed] to have” (Act I, Scene ii, lines 33-34).
In the quarrel scene, Cassius tells Brutus, like a pouting child, “You love me not” (Act IV, Scene iii, line 88).
What upsets Cassius most are not Brutus’ accusations but the fact that Brutus does not have “love enough” to bear with him.
Cassius’s pitifulness and his craving for affection are childlike. He seems genuinely perplexed that Caesar, a man no stronger than himself, could become so powerful. He behaves like a boy who discovers that his idol has clay feet, and destroys it rather than live with its imperfections. “Such men as he be never at heart’s ease” (Act I, Scene ii, line 208), says Caesar.
If you reread Cassius’s speech against Caesar (Act I, Scene ii, lines 90-161), you ” ll see how Cassius equates worthiness with such traditionally masculine traits as physical strength and endurance. Perhaps because he has so little sense of himself, and of his own worth, he suffers from a sensitive ego, and measures himself not against some abstract standards of right and wrong (as Brutus does), but against others. Cassius blames himself for giving Caesar so much power: The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings. Act I, Scene ii, lines 140-141 These are the words of a spiritual outcast, who sees himself alone in the universe. Only as death nears does Cassius recognize himself as part of a divine plan, and achieve some measure of peace. Cassius, we learn from Caesar, “hears no music.” Here’s what Lorenzo in Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice says about his type: The man that hath no music in himself, Nor is not mov’d with concord of sweet sounds, Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils; The motions of his spirit are dull as night, And his affections dark as Erebus.
Let no such man be trusted Act V, Scene i, lines 83-88 To Shakespeare, an inability to hear music was, quite literally, an inability to hear the harmonies of the universe. The fact that Cassius hears no music does not in itself make him evil, but it does reveal a lack of inner harmony, and a restlessness that can never be satisfied. Cassius and Caesar are enemies in life, but the two are almost indistinguishable at the moment of death. Both let their masks slip, and reveal the gentleness that lies beneath. At this moment of truth, there is no masculine talk of revenge- no war cries or curses- but a simple lament for the betrayal of friends. ANTONY There are many “Antony.” One of them is passionate and impulsive; the other is in complete control of his emotions.
One can cry over the death of his dear friend Caesar; the other condemns his associates to death without batting an eyelash. One makes a powerful political speech with perfect understanding of human nature; the other can be so mistaken about human nature that he calls Cassius “not dangerous.” Can such opposites exist within the same man It’s possible that Shakespeare couldn’t make up his mind about Antony, and painted an unfinished portrait of him. It’s also possible that Shakespeare was trying to portray the many sides of an opportunist. An opportunist is a person who adjusts his values to suit his purposes; who uses people and events to get what he wants, regardless of principles or consequences.
If Antony is such a man, it is understandable that, like a chameleon, he would change colors from one moment to the next. How different Antony is from Brutus! Brutus stands behind his principles, refusing to be swayed by circumstance; Antony never lets principles stand in the way of success. Brutus’ conscience keeps him up at night; tactics, manoeuvres, schemes- these are what concern Antony. A modern man, Antony takes the world as he finds it and uses whatever means are necessary to get what he wants. Life for him is a game- serious, but a game nonetheless- and he is a skillful player who knows how to win. Antony is an opportunist, yes, but is he evil Look closely at his words and actions, and you can find evidence to support that point of view.
In his famous funeral oration, for instance, nothing could be more offensive than the way he fires up the masses by appealing to their basest emotions. And nothing could be more irresponsible than the way he unleashes the “dogs of war”- bringing death and destruction to innocent and guilty alike. Antony is cynical, callous and unprincipled, yet he is motivated not by personal ambition but by the desire to revenge the death of a friend. His almost dog-like devotion to Caesar reveals a deep capacity for loyalty and affection.
He is cunning, but, unlike Brutus, completely honest with himself. He may manipulate people, but he speaks with conviction, and what he says is deeply felt. His funeral oration is more effective than Brutus’ because he speaks from the heart. In the end, Antony (with Octavius’ help), triumphs. Is Shakespeare suggesting that realists like Antony are the hope of the future Perhaps Shakespeare is merely pointing out that Antony and his kind are more likely to succeed in a world as imperfect as the one we live in.
OCTAVIUS Octavius- Caesar’s adopted son- is more important a character than his appearances (only four) and his lines (only 30) would indicate, since the fate of Rome rests in his hands after the death of the conspirators. From such limited information, we have to decide whether Rome has been left in good hands. What we should be able to agree on is this: Octavius is a capable soldier who accomplishes the work at hand by whatever means are needed to achieve it. Honorable men like Brutus can be dangerous; perhaps Rome needs pragmatists like Octavius to reestablish order. The first time Octavius appears (Act IV, Scene i, line 2) he is busy checking off names of people who must die- including the brother of his friend Lepidus. Is he a cold-blooded murderer, then Perhaps.
But he is also a hardened soldier, who knows that it is sometimes necessary to sacrifice individuals for the sake of victory. Like Brutus, he kills for what he considers the greater good; but, unlike Brutus, he has no qualms about it. Moments later (Act IV, Scene i, lines 27-28), Octavius tries to save Lepidus’ life. Since he showed no mercy to Lepidus’ brother, we can assume he is not just being a good guy, but that he recognizes the practical value of having a “tried and valiant soldier” in his ranks. Yet Octavius lets Antony decide Lepidus’ fate. Is this a sign of weakness Or is it the wise decision of a practical man, who knows the issue isn’t worth fighting over The second time Octavius appears (Act V, Scene i, lines 1-20), he ignores Antony’s wishes and insists on keeping his forces to the right side of the battlefield.
“I do not cross you,” he tells Antony, “but I will do so.” Octavius seems to be behaving like a willful young Caesar, insisting on his natural right to rule. Whether his tone is spiteful, or firm but polite, you ” ll have to decide for yourself. Only moments later (line 24), Octavius asks Antony if they should attack, and this time he gives in to Antony’s wishes. Once again you ” ll have to decide: is Octavius incapable of important decisions- or is he simply smart enough to listen to someone with more experience The four generals now confront each other before the battle (lines 27-66) – Octavius and Antony on one side, Brutus and Cassius on the other.
Antony, Brutus and Cassius squabble like children- only Octavius keeps his perspective. “Come, come, the cause,” he says- let’s keep our sights on what’s important and get to the matter at hand. The third time we see Octavius (Act V, scene v, line 60), he offers to take all of Brutus’ men into his service. This may be an act of charity, but from what we know of Octavius, he is probably motivated by the practical need to end the war and bring both sides together under his single rule.
His intentions may not matter so much as the fact that he is trying to end the bloodshed and reestablish order. As the successor to Caesar, Octavius is given the final words of the play. It is as a soldier, not as a noble man, that Octavius praises Brutus, for nobility is a quality Octavius seems indifferent to. His tribute to Brutus may not be genuine- he is probably only doing what is expected of him- but whatever his motives, he seems to have no interest in revenge. His desire to reunite the country bodes well for the future of Rome. (The historic Octavius did restore order.
He also restored the Republic- but more in name than in fact. The Senate retained its forms and privileges, but the power resided in Octavius, who controlled the army. In 27 B. C.
Antony took the name of Augustus and became the first Roman Emperor. Shakespeare portrays him principally as a soldier, yet during his reign he became more interested in peace than in war, and his rule became known as the golden age of Roman literature and architecture. ) – PORTIA There are two ways to view Portia. Let’s look at them. – 1. Portia is often seen today as a champion of women’s rights- a feminist living nearly four centuries ahead of her time.
According to this view, Portia is a woman who demands equality with her husband. She insists on being treated as an individual, not as an object or an idea. She speaks of herself and Brutus as “one” (Act II, Scene i, lines 261-278), and of Brutus himself as “your self, your half.” She demands to know his secret, however painful it may be. She will not be condescended to; she will not be treated as a child. This Portia is strong-willed but modest, dignified but tender. She is one of the few characters in the play who uses language to communicate the truth rather than to hide from it.
She has an innate sense of wisdom that lets her see through words to the very heart of things. (When Brutus attributes his moodiness to bad health, for instance, Portia immediately knows he is lying to protect her. ) Though Portia is high-minded and independent, she is also a loving and devoted wife, who kills herself rather than live alone. – 2.
That is one view of Portia- there is another. According to this less flattering view, Portia makes the mistake of trying to be more than a woman, fails miserably, and brings about her own destruction. Portia points proudly to her self-inflicted wound (Act II, Scene i, lines 299-302) to prove to Brutus just how capable she is of functioning in a world of men. She also prides herself on being the daughter of Cato, a man famous for his integrity, who took his own life rather than be taken prisoner (in the civil war between Caesar and Pompey).
Says Portia: Think you I am no stronger than my sex, Being so fathered and so husbanded Act II, Scene i, lines 296-297 Brutus takes her at her word, confides his secret to her, and what happens Portia goes mad with grief, and eventually takes her own life. Portia’s mistake is to confuse her private self with her public image as Cato’s daughter. Like Brutus and Caesar, she tries to live up to her name and be someone she is not- with disastrous results. In her death- as in Brutus’ and Caesar’s- we see the danger of wearing a public mask, and forgetting whom we are underneath. Note that Portia wants to be Brutus’ equal only so that she can be more a part of his life; nowhere does she suggest that she expects him to be part of hers.
The very fact of losing him drives her mad. Portia thus sums herself up best: Ay me, how weak a thing The heart of woman is! Act II, Scene iv, lines 39-40 Is this Shakespeare’s unhappy view of women, and the final word on Portia Or are the other critics right- the ones who see her as the ideal, modern woman, who dies for love Either interpretation can be correct- depending on how you choose to view her. CALPURNIA Caesar’s wife speaks only 26 lines, so we never get to know her very well. There are at least two ways to view her- one of them more flattering than the other.
On one hand, she is undignified, nervous, and weak. She is also superstitious and haunted by unreasonable fears, and Caesar cannot be blamed for treating her like a child. On the other hand, Calpurnia is a devoted wife- as concerned about Caesar’s well-being as Portia is about Brutus’. True, she has strange dreams, but all of them come true. Perhaps in her intuitive, female way she is closer to the truth than Caesar. Whichever way you view Calpurnia, you will have to admit that her relationship with Caesar is less than ideal.
Calpurnia’s talk with Caesar follows closely on Portia’s meeting with Brutus, as if Shakespeare were drawing attention to the differences between the two relationships. Portia greets her husband with respect as “my lord” (Act II, Scene i, line 234).
She may be flattering him to get what she wants, but she at least follows the forms of courtesy. Brutus is as concerned about her health as she is about his.
How does Calpurnia greet Caesar With an order: – Think you to walk forth You shall not stir out of your house today. Act II, Scene i, lines 8-9 And Caesar replies: Caesar shall forth. Calpurnia is foolish enough to turn her request into a battle of wills. She makes the mistake of treating her husband in public as the mortal he is; and Caesar, to preserve his public image, has to take a stand against her. Caesar, of course, has been equally tactless or unfeeling- announcing to all the world (Act I, Scene ii, lines 6-9) that his wife is sterile.
Can you blame a wife for treating her husband as a mortal and not as a god The fact that she can see the man behind the mask points up her strength- or her weakness. SETTING All scenes through Act IV, Scene i are set in Rome. Act IV, Scenes ii and iii, take place near Sardis in Asia Minor. All of Act V is set near the plains of Philippi in Greece. The play begins on February 15, 44 B. C.
, on the Feast of Lupercal; continues through the assassination of Caesar a month later; and concludes with the Battle of Philippi in 42 B. C. , when Brutus and Cassius commit suicide and Caesar’s heir, Octavius, assumes power. Shakespeare, of course, was a dramatist, not a playwright, and in order to preserve the dramatic unity of the action he telescoped a period of three years into six days.
THEMES Here is a list of the major themes of Julius Caesar. They will be studied in depth in the scene-by-scene discussion of the play. Notice that some themes contradict each other- since critics disagree, it’s up to you to decide which ones are true. This book will help you find evidence to support your position. 1.
A PORTRAIT OF CAESAR OR OF BRUTUS Caesar The play is a portrait of Caesar- why else would Shakespeare name the play after him Though Caesar is killed in the third act, his spirit- what he stands for- dominates the action of the play until Brutus’ death, and then is reborn in the person of Octavius. Brutus The play is a portrait of Brutus- why else would Shakespeare end the play with Brutus’ death, and with the opposition’s tributes to him Brutus is studied in greater depth than any other character, and the action of the play revolves around his role in the assassination. Shakespeare called his play Julius Caesar only because he was writing about the period in Roman history when Caesar reigned. 2. FRIENDSHIP Friendship is at the center of Shakespeare’s vision of an ordered, harmonious world.
Disloyalty and distrust cause this world to crumble. Relationships suffer when people put their principles ahead of their affections, and when they let their roles as public officials interfere with their private lives. As death approaches, characters forget their worldly ambitions, and speak about the loyalty of friends. 3. LANGUAGE We think of language as a way of sharing our thoughts and feelings, and of communicating the truth; but in Julius Caesar people use language to disguise their thoughts and feelings, and to distort the truth. Language is used to humiliate and flatter.
Words are powerful weapons that turn evil into good and throw an entire country into civil war. 4. A STUDY OF HISTORY Shakespeare is dramatizing an important period in Roman history, when Rome developed from a republic (with a representative form of government) to a monarchy (with a single ruler).
He is not blaming or praising anyone, but objectively portraying the major factors that contributed to this development: Caesar’s ambition; the frustrations of a weakened and divided Senate; and the needs and wishes of the Roman people. 5. THE PRIVATE LIVES OF PUBLIC FIGURES We like to think that our political heroes are free from ordinary human weaknesses.
Shakespeare reminds us that behind their masks of fame are mortals like the rest of us- with the same prejudices, physical handicaps, hopes, and fears. When these public figures try to live up to their own self-images, they bring destruction on themselves, and on the world. 6. FATE AND THE SUPERNATURAL A sense of fate hangs over the events in Julius Caesar- a sense that the assassination is inevitable and that the fortunes of the characters have been determined in advance.
The characters are foolish to ignore prophecies and omens, which invariably come true; yet they are free to act as though the future were unknown. They are the playthings of powers they can neither understand nor control, yet they are held accountable for everything they do. 7. PRAGMATISTS AND MEN OF PRINCIPLE Shakespeare is comparing two types of people: the man of fixed moral standards, who expects others to be as honorable as himself; and the pragmatist, who accepts the world for what it is and does everything necessary to achieve his goals.
The pragmatist is less admirable, but more effective. Shakespeare is either (a) pointing out the uselessness of morals and principles in a corrupt world, or (b) dramatizing the tragedy of a noble man destroyed by a world less perfect than he is. 8. THE ASSASSINATION The Murder Is Just A ruler forfeits his right to rule when he oversteps the heaven-appointed limits to his power.
Caesar deserves to die on two counts: first, he considers himself an equal to the gods; and second, he threatens to underline hundreds of years of republican (representative) rule. Brutus sacrifices his life to preserve the freedom of the people, and to save his country from the clutches of a tyrant. The Murder Is Unjust Shakespeare’s contemporaries respected strong rulers, who could check the dangerous impulses of the masses and protect their country from civil war. They believed that order and stability were worth preserving at any price.
Shakespeare’s play may therefore be a warning against the use of violence to overthrow authority. The assassination destroys nothing but the conspirators themselves, since Caesar’s spirit lives on in the hearts of the people. STYLE There’s not much poetry in Julius Caesar. Perhaps because the action takes place in Rome, the characters all seem to speak like orators. On the battlefield, or even with friends, they ” re always making speeches! Read some of the longer ones aloud; you ” ll see how alike everyone sounds, how everyone speaks clearly and simply and says exactly what he thinks. The men in Shakespeare’s play are politicians who avoid flowery language and metaphor; they express themselves often in one-syllable words strung together in simple, declarative sentences.
This is the language of people who are- or who try to be- in control of their emotions, and who use words not to create beauty, but to manipulate each other and to get things done. Shakespeare may be using language to mirror the restrained and formal mood of classical Rome. Perhaps, too, he wants to show how people use language to mask their feelings from themselves and from others. As readers, we have to look beneath these masks and ask ourselves: who are these people what do they really think, and what are they really saying SOURCES Shakespeare found his basic material for Julius Caesar in The Lives of the Noble Grecian’s and Romans, written by a Greek named Plutarch in the first century after Christ. Plutarch, like Shakespeare, wrote history as a guide for his contemporaries. It’s not surprising that Shakespeare was attracted to Plutarch, for Plutarch was more a biographer than an historian, and his tales are full of wonderful dramatic touches.
Shakespeare did not read Plutarch in Greek. The Lives was translated into French by Jacques Am yet in 1559 and then from French into English by Sir Thomas North in 1579. That was 20 years before the first production of Julius Caesar. Plutarch wrote separate biographies of Julius Caesar, Brutus, and Antony, and often gives three different accounts of the same events. It’s fun to read these biographies today to see which accounts Shakespeare followed, which he ignored, and which he transformed for his own dramatic purposes.
At times Shakespeare lifted material directly from Plutarch. Shakespeare’s Caesar, for example, says: Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look, He thinks too much: such men are dangerous. Act I, Scene ii, lines 194-195 Notice how close that is to Plutarch’s version: Caesar also had Cassius in great jealousy and suspected him much, whereupon he said on a time to his friends: “What will Cassius do, think ye I like not his pale looks.” Plutarch’s Brutus can do nothing wrong. Some of you will want to argue that Shakespeare thought less of Brutus; others will want to quote Plutarch to prove that Shakespeare’s Brutus was indeed a noble man.
As for Caesar, Plutarch’s portrait is close to Shakespeare’s: a ruler guilty of great pride and ambition, but also a benefactor of the people. Shakespeare’s portrait of Caesar may also have been influenced by Elizabethan attitudes toward him. Some saw Caesar as a hero; others, as a tyrant and a traitor. Shakespeare may have enjoyed exploiting these differences, playing them against each other without ever resolving them.
Shakespeare may also have drawn Caesar’s portrait from the vain and boastful heroes (such as Tamburlaine) brought to life on stage during his lifetime. AN HISTORICAL NOTE When you think of Senators, you naturally think of elected representatives of the people. But in ancient Rome the Senate was made up of wealthy aristocrats and conservatives who sought to defend their ancient privileges. Caesar was a reformer who wanted to reduce the power of the Senate, and to share their lands and privileges with the common people. Both Senators and reformers looked to the generals for support. Pompey represented the interests of the Senators, – Caesar defended the reformers.
In 47 B. C. Caesar crossed the Rubi can and defeated Pompey; two years later he defeated Pompey’s sons in Egypt. No wonder the Roman officers Flavius and Marullus (Act I, Scene i) are upset by Caesar’s triumphant return from battle! And no wonder the common people are overjoyed! Caesar may have wanted to be king or dictator, but it was he, not the Senators, who had the interests of the people at heart. Perhaps that’s why in Shakespeare’s play we never see Caesar depriving the Romans of their civil liberties, or the Senators discussing what they ” ll do for the people of Rome once Caesar is destroyed. ELIZABETHAN ENGLISH All languages change.
Differences in pronunciation and word choice are apparent even between parents and their children. If language differences can appear in one generation, it is only to be expected that the English used by Shakespeare four hundred years ago will diverge markedly from the English used today. The following information on Shakespeare’s language will help a modern reader to a fuller understanding of Julius Caesar. MOBILITY OF WORD CLASSES Adjectives, nouns and verbs were less rigidly confined to particular classes in Shakespeare’s day.
Verbs were often used as nouns. In Act II, Scene ii, line 16 ‘watch’ is used to mean ‘watchmen’: There is one within… Recounts most horrid sights seen by the watch. Nouns could be used as adjectives as when cross is used to mean crossed or forked: And when the cross blue lightning seemed to open The breast of heaven…
(I, iii, 50) and as verbs as when ‘joy’ is used to mean ‘rejoice’: My heart doth joy (V, v, 34).
Adjectives could be used as adverbs: … thou couldst not die more honourable (V, i, 60), as nouns: I’ll about And drive away the vulgar from the streets (I, i, 72) ‘Vulgar’ is the equivalent of ‘common people’. CHANGES IN WORD MEANING The meanings of words undergo changes, a process that can be illustrated by the fact that ‘chip’ extended its meaning from a small piece of wood to a small piece of silicon. Many of the words in Shakespeare still exist today but their meanings have changed. The change may be small, as in the case of ‘modestly’ meaning ‘without exaggeration’ in: I your glass Will modestly discover to yourself…
(I, ii, 68-69) or more fundamental, so that ‘naughty’ meant ‘worthless’ (I, i, 15), ‘tributaries’ meant ‘conquered rulers who paid tribute’ (I, i, 35), ‘shadow’ meant ‘reflection’ (I, ii, 58), ‘speed’ meant ‘prosper’ (I, ii, 88), ‘temper’ meant ‘constitution’ (I, ii, 129) and ‘sad’ meant ‘serious’: -… Casca, tell us what hath chanced today That Caesar looks so sad. (I, ii, 217) VOCABULARY LOSS Words not only change their meanings, but are frequently discarded from the language. In the past, ‘leman’ meant ‘sweetheart’, ‘regiment’ meant ‘government’, and ‘fond’ meant ‘foolish’. The following words used in Julius Caesar are no longer current in English but their meanings can usually be gauged from the contexts in which they occur. FAIN.