Summary Of Julius Caesar by William shakespeare
The action begins in February 44 BC. Julius Caesar had just reentered Rome in triumph after a victory in Spain over the sons of his old enemy, Pompey the Great. A spontaneous celebration had begun and had been broken up by Flavius and Marullus, two political enemies of Caesar. It soon becomes apparent from their words that powerful and secret forces are working against Caesar.
Caesar appears, attended by a train of friends and supporters, and is warned by a soothsayer to “beware the ides of March,” but he ignores the warning and leaves for the games and races marking the celebration of the feast of Lupercal.
After Caesar’s departure, only two men waited behind — Marcus Brutus, a close personal friend of Caesar, and Cassius, a long time political foe of Caesar’s. Both men are of aristocratic origin and see the end of their ancient privilege in Caesar’s political reforms and conquests. Envious of Caesar’s power and prestige, Cassius cleverly probes to discover where Brutus’ deepest sympathies lie.
As a man of highest personal integrity, Brutus opposes Caesar on principle, despite his friendship with him. Cassius cautiously inquires about Brutus’ feelings if a conspiracy were to unseat Caesar; he finds Brutus not altogether against the notion; that is, Brutus shares “some aim” with Cassius but does not wish “to be any further moved.” The two men part, promising to meet again for further discussions.
In the next scene, it is revealed that the conspiracy Cassius spoke of in veiled terms is already a reality.
He has gathered together a group of disgruntled and discredited aristocrats who are only too willing to assassinate Caesar. Partly to gain the support of the respectable element of Roman society, Cassius persuades Brutus to head the conspiracy, and Brutus agrees to do so. Shortly afterwards, plans are made at a secret meeting in Brutus’ orchard. The date is set: It will be on the day known as the ides of March, the fifteenth day of the month. Caesar is to be murdered in the Senate chambers by the concealed daggers and swords of the assembled conspirators.
After the meeting is ended, Brutus’ wife, Portia, suspecting something and fearing for her husband’s safety, questions him. Touched by her love and devotion, Brutus promises to reveal his secret to her later.
The next scene takes place in Caesar’s house. The time is the early morning; the date, the fateful ides of March. The preceding night has been a strange one — wild, stormy, and full of strange and unexplainable sights and happenings throughout the city of Rome. Caesar’s wife, Calphurnia, terrified by horrible nightmares, persuades Caesar not to go to the Capitol, convinced that her dreams are portents of disaster. By prearrangement, Brutus and the other conspirators arrive to accompany Caesar, hoping to fend off any possible warnings until they have him totally in their power at the Senate. Unaware that he is surrounded by assassins and shrugging off Calphurnia’s exhortations, Caesar goes with them.
Despite the conspirators’ best efforts, a warning is pressed into Caesar’s hand on the very steps of the Capitol, but he refuses to read it. Wasting no further time, the conspirators move into action. Purposely asking Caesar for a favor they know he will refuse, they move closer, as if begging a favor, and then, reaching for their hidden weapons, they kill him before the shocked eyes of the senators and spectators.
Hearing of Caesar’s murder, Mark Antony, Caesar’s closest friend, begs permission to speak at Caesar’s funeral. Brutus grants this permission over the objections of Cassius and delivers his own speech first, confident that his words will convince the populace of the necessity for Caesar’s death. After Brutus leaves, Antony begins to speak. The crowd has been swayed by Brutus’ words, and it is an unsympathetic crowd that Antony addresses.
Using every oratorical device known, however, Antony turns the audience into a howling mob, screaming for the blood of Caesar’s murderers. Alarmed by the furor caused by Antony’s speech, the conspirators and their supporters are forced to flee from Rome and finally, from Italy.
At this point, Antony, together with Caesar’s young grandnephew and adopted son, Octavius, and a wealthy banker, Lepidus, gathers an army to pursue and destroy Caesar’s killers. These three men, known as triumvirs, have formed a group called the Second Triumvirate to pursue the common goal of gaining control of the Roman Empire.
Months pass, during which the conspirators and their armies are tracked relentlessly into the far reaches of Asia Minor. When finally they decide to stop at the town of Sardis, Cassius and Brutus quarrel bitterly over finances. Their differences are resolved, however, and plans are made to meet the forces of Antony, Octavius, and Lepidus in one final battle.
Against his own better judgment, Cassius allows Brutus to overrule him: Instead of holding to their well-prepared defensive positions, Brutus orders an attack on Antony’s camp on the plains of Philippi. Just before the battle, Brutus is visited by the ghost of Caesar. “I shall see thee at Philippi,” the spirit warns him, but Brutus’ courage is unshaken and he goes on.
The battle rages hotly. At first, the conspirators appear to have the advantage, but in the confusion, Cassius is mistakenly convinced that all is lost, and he kills himself. Leaderless, his forces are quickly defeated, and Brutus finds himself fighting a hopeless battle. Unable to face the prospect of humiliation and shame as a captive (who would be chained to the wheels of Antony’s chariot and dragged through the streets of Rome), he too takes his own life.
As the play ends, Antony delivers a eulogy over Brutus’ body, calling him “the noblest Roman of them all.” Caesar’s murder has been avenged, order has been restored, and, most important, the Roman Empire has been preserved.
JULIUS CAESAR THEME OF PERSUASION
Persuasion is a concept at the centre of this play. Everyone seems to be trying to convince someone else of something: Caesar tries to build an image in the public’s mind of his crowing (an ancient form of spin doctoring); Cassius finds the best way to manipulate each man he seeks to bring to his side; and Brutus, whom the reader hopes will refuse to engage, takes longer than the others to respond to Cassius’ manipulations, but eventually does respond and even finishes the job for him by persuading himself (see his soliloquy in Act II, Scene I). This pivotal scene, when Brutus joins the conspirators, is also interesting because Portia, Brutus’ wife, serves as the voice of Brutus’ conscience.
JULIUS CAESAR THEME OF FATE VERSUS FREE WILL
Julius Caesar raises many questions about the force of fate in life versus the capacity for free will. Cassius refuses to accept Caesar’s rising power and deems a belief in fate to be nothing more than a form of passivity or cowardice. He says to Brutus : “Men at sometime were masters of their fates. / The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, / But in ourselves, that we are underlings” (I.ii. 140– 142).
Cassius urges a return to a more noble, self-possessed attitude toward life, blaming his and Brutus’s submissive stance not on a predestined plan but on their failure to assert themselves. Ultimately, the play seems to support a philosophy in which fate and freedom maintain a delicate coexistence. Thus Caesar declares: “It seems to me most strange that men should fear, / Seeing that death, a necessary end, / Will come when it will come” (II.ii. 35– 37).
In other words, Caesar recognizes that certain events lie beyond human control; to crouch in fear of them is to enter a paralysis equal to, if not worse than, death. It is to surrender any capacity for freedom and agency that one might actually possess. Indeed, perhaps to face death head-on, to die bravely and honourably, is Caesar’s best course: in the end, Brutus interprets his and Cassius’s defeat as the work of Caesar’s ghost— not just his apparition, but also the force of the people’s devotion to him, the strong legacy of a man who refused any fear of fate and, in his disregard of fate, seems to have transcended it.
JULIUS CAESAR THEME OF LEADERSHIP
Shakespeare took the potential for upheaval in Julius Caesar and used it to examine a leadership theme.bConcentrating on the responsibilities of the ruling class, he looked at what could happen if that class no longer had a unified vision and hand lost sight of what it meant to be Roman.
In fact, the characters of the play lose touch with the tradition, glory, integrity, and stoicism of their past. As you read the play, note the way that Cassius use the memory of that glorious past to persuade men to become conspirators, and the way the actions of the conspirators do or do not return Rome to its golden age.
JULIUS CAESAR THEME OF PUBLIC SELF VERSUS PRIVATE SELF
Much of the play’s tragedy stems from the characters’ neglect of private feelings and loyalties in favor of what they believe to be the public good.
Similarly, characters confuse their private selves with their public selves, hardening and dehumanizing
themselves or transforming themselves into ruthless political machines.
Brutus rebuffs his wife, Portia when she pleads with him to confide in her; believing himself to be acting on the people’s will, he forges ahead with the murder of Caesar, despite their close friendship. Brutus puts aside his personal loyalties and shuns thoughts of Caesar the man, his friend; instead, he acts on what he believes to be the public’s wishes and kills Caesar the leader, the imminent dictator.
Cassius can be seen as a man who has gone to the extreme in cultivating his public persona. Caesar, describing his distrust of Cassius, tells Antony that the problem with Cassius is his lack of a private life—his seeming refusal to acknowledge his own sensibilities or to nurture his own spirit. Such a man, Caesar fears, will let nothing hinder with his ambition. Indeed, Cassius lacks all sense of personal honour and shows himself to be a ruthless schemer. Ultimately, neglecting private sentiments to follow public concerns brings Caesar to his death. Although Caesar does briefly agree to stay home from the Senate in order to please Calpurnia, who has dreamed of his murder, he gives way to ambition when Decius tells him that the senators plan to offer him the crown. -Caesar’s public self again takes precedence.
Sadly, he no longer sees the difference between his omnipotent, immortal public image and his
vulnerable human body. Just preceding his death, Caesar refuses Artemidorus’s pleas to speak with
him, saying that he gives last priority to his most personal interests. He thus endangers himself by believing that the strength of his public self will
defend his private self.
JULIUS CAESAR THEME OF
When it seems evident to the conspirators in Shakespeare’s play that Julius Caesar is headed for absolute power, he becomes a threat to the ideals and values of the Roman Republic.bThey assassinate Caesar before he can be crowned king. The irony is that Caesar’s death results in civil war. As two factions with questionable motives grab for power, chaos ensues and the Republic is never the same again.
See what happens when you don’t plan ahead? By dramatizing the historical circumstances surrounding Caesar’s assassination, Shakespeare asks a set of questions relevant to his 16th-century audience and readers today: How should cities and countries be governed? What makes a good leader? What happens when a political leader’s power is unchecked? What happens when the leader dies without a suitable replacement lined up? And who really did let the dogs out?
JULIUS CAESAR THEME OF MISINTERPRETATIONS AND MISREADINGS
Much of the play deals with the characters’ failures to interpret correctly the omens that they encounter. As Cicero says, “Men may construe things after their fashion, / Clean from the purpose of the things themselves” (I.iii. 34– 35). Thus, the night preceding Caesar’s appearance at the Senate is full of portents, but no one reads them accurately: Cassius takes them to signify the danger that Caesar’s impending coronation would bring to the state, when, if anything, they warn of the destruction that Cassius himself threatens.
There are calculated misreadings as well: Cassius manipulates Brutus into joining the conspiracy by means of forged letters, knowing that Brutus’s trusting nature will cause him to accept the letters as authentic pleas from the Roman people.
JULIUS CAESAR THEME OF
FATE AND FREE WILL
Men at some time are masters of their fates: The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings. (1.2.138-140) That’s what Cassius says to Brutus as the two contemplate removing Caesar from power. Although Cassius claims that men are “masters of their fates” as a way to motivate the conspirators to action against Caesar, there’s a lot of evidence to suggest he’s wrong.
The play is full of omens and prophesies that come true, which undermines the sense that characters can exercise free will and shape the outcomes of their lives. We should also keep in mind that Julius Caesar dramatizes historical events that have, by definition, already happened. As characters struggle with questions of fate vs. free will, the audience already knows what their futures hold. This tends to create a lot of dramatic irony.
JULIUS CAESAR THEME OF INFLEXIBILITY VERSUS COMPROMISE
Both Brutus and Caesar are stubborn, rather inflexible people who ultimately suffer fatally for it. In the play’s aggressive political landscape, individuals succeed through adaptability, bargaining, and compromise. Brutus’s rigid though honourable ideals leave him open for manipulation by Cassius. He believes so thoroughly in the purpose of the assassination that he does not perceive the need for excessive political manoeuvring to justify the murder.
Equally resolute, Caesar prides himself on his steadfastness; yet this constancy helps bring about his death, as he refuses to heed ill omens and goes willingly to the Senate, into the hands of his murderers. Antony proves perhaps the most adaptable of all of the politicians: while his speech to the Roman citizen’s centres on Caesar’s generosity toward each citizen, he later searches for ways to turn these funds into cash in order to raise an army against Brutus and Cassius.
Although he gains power by offering to honour Caesar’s will and provide the citizens their rightful money, it becomes clear that ethical concerns will not prevent him from using the funds in a more politically expedient manner. Antony is a successful politician—yet the question of morality remains. There seems to be no way to reconcile firm moral principles with success in politics in Shakespeare’s rendition of ancient Rome; thus each character struggles toward a different solution.
JULIUS CAESAR THEME OF FRIENDSHIP
Like ostriches and Lake Titicaca,
Men in the play must to choose between loyalty to their friends and loyalty to the Roman Republic, which leads to some of the most famous examples of manipulation and violent disloyalty in Western literature. This is especially true for Brutus, who chooses to join the conspirators’ assassination plot when it seems clear to him that his BFF, Julius Caesar, is headed for absolute power. Wow Brutus, not cool.
JULIUS CAESAR THEME OF DEFINING MASCULINITY
While gender itself is not a central point to this play, questions of Masculinity and effeminacy are. Caesar’s weakness — his effeminacy — makes him vulnerable. On the other hand, the incorporation of the so-called feminine traits of compassion and love into the friendship between Brutus and Cassius paradoxically allows the men to show greater strength and allows the audience to have greater sympathy for them.
JULIUS CAESAR THEME OF
ART AND CULTURE
Hold onto your people—we’re about to get meta in here. Just about all of Shakespeare’s works contain self-referential, or “metatheatrical” moments, but in Julius Caesar Shakespeare takes it to the next level by forging a relationship between the theatre and politics. In the play, politicians know they’re like actors performing on a very public stage, and they measure their speeches and actions accordingly.
At other times, characters even seem aware that their historical actions will be dramatized over a thousand years later on the Elizabethan stage. What are they, psychic or something? The play is also full of self-conscious references to the kinds of public and political roles that poets (like Shakespeare) can play in the world.
JULIUS CAESAR THEME OF
In Julius Caesar, manipulation is almost a professional sport. Politicians use their rhetorical skills to gain power and to influence large, fickle crowds, and seeming friends lie outright to each other. Persuasion and suggestion are rhetorical skills that play central roles in Julius Caesar, but they also highlight the willingness of individuals in hard times to hear what they want to hear (remind you at all of our own day and age?).
It’s often unclear whether characters are manipulated by others, or do they simply find in the speech of others an inspiration to do what they might otherwise have been too afraid to do.
JULIUS CAESAR THEME OF
When it comes to pride, Julius Caesar takes the gold.
He’s the most outwardly arrogant—and considering some of the other characters we’re introduced to, that’s saying a lot. Caesar’s total lack of humility seems to be his tragic flaw. His prideful arrogance is a blinding force that prevents him from seeing the harm he’s doing and the harm being planned against him. When Brutus is humble about what others call his greatness, he sets himself up in sympathetic contrast to Caesar. We like Brutus because he isn’t all He also seems wiser than Caesar for being more aware of the world around him and genuinely more concerned for it.
OMENS AND PORTENTS
Throughout the play, omens and portents manifest themselves, each serving to crystallize the larger themes of fate and misinterpretation of signs. Until Caesar’s death, each time an omen or nightmare is reported, the audience is reminded of Caesar’s
impending demise. The audience wonders whether these portents simply announce what is fated to
occur or whether they serve as warnings for what might occur if the characters do not take active steps
to change their behaviour. Whether or not individuals can affect their destinies, characters repeatedly fail to
interpret the omens correctly. In a larger sense, the omens in Julius Caesar thus imply the dangers of failing to perceive and analyze the details of one’s world.
The motif of letters represents an interesting counterpart to the force of oral rhetoric in the play. Oral rhetoric depends upon a direct, dialogic interaction between speaker and audience: depending on how the listeners respond to a certain statement, the orator can alter his or her speech and intonations accordingly. In contrast, the power of a written letter depends more fully on the addressee; whereas an orator must read the emotions of the crowd, the act of reading is undertaken solely by the recipient of the letter.
Thus, when Brutus receives the forged letter
from Cassius in Act II, scene I, the letter has an effect because Brutus allows it to do so; it is he who grants
it its full power. In contrast, Caesar refuses to read the letter that Artemidorus tries to hand him in Act III,
scene i, as he is heading to the Senate. Predisposed to ignore personal affairs, Caesar denies the letter any reading at all and thus negates the potential power of the words written inside.
Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
WOMEN AND WIVES
While one could try to analyze Calpurnia and Portia as full characters in their own right, they function primarily not as sympathetic personalities or sources of insight or poetry but rather as symbols for the
private, domestic realm. Both women plead with their husbands to be more aware of their private needs and
feelings (Portia in Act II, scene i Calpurnia in Act III, scene ii).
Caesar and Brutus rebuff the pleas of their respective wives, however; they not only prioritize public matters but also actively disregard their private emotions and intuitions. As such, Calpurnia and Portia are powerless figures, willing though unable to help and comfort Caesar and Brutus.
Poets and Teachers
These purveyors of words aren’t central to any of the play’s action, but they do stand out because of how widely they’re disregarded, even when they have important things to say. While Shakespeare’s work was considered important enough to get him royal patronage from King James I, poetry during Caesar’s time was decidedly different. The most important pieces of literature from that time, whether poetic or not, focus on history and tradition. Livy’s History of Rome, Caesar’s own Gallic Wars, Tacitus’ Histories, and Virgil’s Aeneid had history at their core. The idea of writing for writing’s sake wasn’t popular.
Within that context, the presentation of the men of letters in Julius Caesar makes a little more sense. The first and only person who can explicitly warn Caesar in detail of the plot to kill him is a teacher of rhetoric, Artemidorius. Caught up in his affairs of state, Caesar ignores this learned man’s teaching, which costs him his life.
Next we see Cinna the poet torn to shreds for having the wrong name. Even after the mob realizes he’s not that Cinna, they kill him anyway as punishment for his “bad verses.” (That the mob is ignorant enough to be this blood-lusty casts some doubt on whether they’re qualified to be literary critics.)
The final poet we meet shows up outside Brutus and Cassius’ tent after their quarrel. He asks them to love each other as brothers and suggests that they shouldn’t be alone together. (Probably a good idea, considering that they almost killed each other.) The poet points out that he has lived longer than they have and might have something to teach them. They just laugh at him, threaten him, and finally dismiss him.
In all three instances, men of words seem pretty randomly inserted into the play. There’s no real reason to have a scene solely devoted to killing Cinna, or for the strange little exchange with the poet at the end. None of those instances move the plot along.
Julius Caesar is full of cryptic omens: the soothsayer’s advice for Caesar to “beware the Ides of March,” bad weather, wacky animal behavior, scary dreams, and, of course, ghosts. We talk about each of these omens in more detail below but here are two overall points we want to make, so pay attention…or else something terrible might happen.
Point 1: Just about every omen in the play is subject to interpretation.
(Kind of like all of Shakespeare’s plays are subject to interpretation. And yes, we are most definitely drawing a parallel between how characters (mis)interpret omens and the way we perform literary analysis.) Take, for example, Calphurnia’s dream about a bunch of Romans standing around washing their hands in Caesar’s blood (2.2). Calphurnia correctly guesses that this is a bad thing but Decius convinces Caesar that the dream means he will be Rome’s savior. Of course, it turns out Calphurnia was right, but nobody believes her (partly because she’s a woman), so Caesar ends up getting stabbed 33 times.
The play is full of people running around misinterpreting omens.
Point 2: You’ve probably already figured out what our second point is, but we’ll say it anyway: the true meanings of the play’s omens tend to be lost on most of the characters until it’s too late to do anything about them. So does this mean we should talk about how dumb Caesar is to overlook Calphurnia’s scary dream or the soothsayer’s advice to “beware the Ides of March”? Should we criticize Cassius for failing to anticipate his own doom? Not necessarily.
As students of history and literature, we have an edge over the play’s characters.
First, we know how things will end in the play, because Shakespeare is writing about historical events. Second, it’s pretty easy for us as readers to recognize a bad omen when we see one. In literature, lousy weather pretty much always signals that something bad is going to happen, right?
The Ides of March
Historically and in Shakespeare’s play, the “Ides of March” refers to March 15, the day Julius Caesar was assassinated by the Roman conspirators. The term first appears in Julius Caesar when a soothsayer approaches Caesar and cryptically warns him (twice) to “beware the Ides of March” (1.2.21), which Caesar arrogantly dismisses as the meaningless ranting of a silly “dreamer” (1.2.29).
“Ides of March” is repeated no fewer than seven times in the play, which serves as an ominous reminder of Caesar’s impending doom.
The soothsayer’s warning raises an interesting question about the relationship between fate and free will, an important theme we discuss at length in this learning guide: if Caesar had actually heeded the warning to “beware the Ides of March,” could he have changed the course of his future?
This one’s kind of a no-brainer. As in most of Shakespeare’s tragedies, here’s the rule: where there’s lightning and thunder, bad stuff happens. (Just read Macbeth if you don’t believe us.) On the night Cassius and the conspirators are plotting to murder Caesar, thunder and lightning shake the streets like no one has ever seen. Casca interprets the weather as an omen of bad things to come: “Either there is a civil strife in heaven, / or else the world, too saucy with the gods, / Incenses them to send destruction” (1.3.11-13).
Hmm, that pretty much alerts us to the fact that the conspirators’ plot against Caesar will cause a big old civil war, don’t you think? But Cassius thinks the bad weather and other signs are a “warning” to the Romans about Caesar’s “monstrous state” of tyranny in Rome (1.3.73; 74). The important thing here is that you can interpret omens in different ways depending on what you want them to mean.
Every time there are bad omens in the play, animals, especially birds, center prominently.
When Casca talks about how fearsome the night that Cassius gathers the plotters is, there’s thunder and lighting, but there’s also the strange occurrence of a nocturnal bird showing up at the marketplace at high noon, shrieking doom.
Calphurnia warns Caesar not to go to the Capitol because she’s seen a war in the air, the domain of the birds.
Finally, when Cassius accepts that he has to die in the battle against Antony and Octavius, he knows it because two great eagles that fed from the hands of soldiers were replaced the next day by ravens, crows, and kites – dark birds that filled the air with shrieking and spread a shadow of death over the army. Cassius knows the eagles feeding on soldier’s hands symbolize him and Brutus, two noblemen whose fates rest with their armies. After the eagles fall, the black army of Antony and Octavius will spread the shadow of tyranny over the land, like those scavenger birds.
Other animals show up on occasion, such as the lions both Calphurnia and Casca see in visions. Calphurnia envisions a lioness giving birth in the streets, a strange location for this to take place. The lion that Casca saw walked by him sulkily without attacking. So the lion (king of the jungle) acts unnaturally in the play, perhaps symbolizing the fact that Caesar, who could become king (of men) will not reach this status.
Just to beat us over the head with the symbolism, Cassius refers to Caesar as “the lion in the Capitol” when he talks about the need to overthrow him. And when Caesar claims he’s more dangerous than danger itself, he says: “We are two lions littered in one day, And I the elder and more terrible.” By identifying himself with such a powerful and fearsome animal, Caesar forces the “hinds” (deer) of Rome to gang up against him.
Finally, as far as animals go, there’s also the unknown beast that Caesar has sacrificed, whose lack of a heart is definitely a bad omen. Again, Shakespeare reminds us that omens can be interpreted in many ways. Caesar takes it to mean that if he doesn’t go to the Capitol that day he is a coward. Caesar borrows here from the Latin word for “heart” (“cor”), from which we get the word “courage,” since the heart was thought to be the source of that particular passion. Of course, we readers know that the omen might better be interpreted as a sign that the conspirators don’t have hearts or mercy when they agree to take Caesar’s life..
Ghosts appear a few times in the play and are obvious symbols for bad news. On the fateful night before the Ides of March, Casca meets terrified women who claim the streets are filled with men in flames – visions no one else can see. Brutus is visited twice by a ghost, which he believes to be the ghost of Caesar. Obviously, this can’t be good – you don’t come all the way out of the grave to deliver a casual “howdy.”
Setting of Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
Where It All Goes Down Rome, around 45 B.C. The play takes place in ancient Rome, just after Julius Caesar has defeated Pompey and his sons and returned to Rome in triumph. (FYI – Pompey was a former co-ruler in the first Roman triumvirate or rule of three
men.) Though it’s not in the play Caesar’s power is growing. He’s been elected Consul (the highest office of the Roman Republic) for life, giving him unprecedented power. Though a lot of the actual events are crunched together for Shakespeare’s literary purposes, the general feeling is that it’s a time when Romans are happy to be recovering from the civil war – so happy that they don’t worry that the Republic is in danger of becoming an empire led by one king instead of elected representatives.
To give you a little context, Caesar was actually assassinated on March 15, 44 B.C., and Antony’s alliance with Octavius in the second triumvirate came to an end eleven years later, in 33 B.C., when a disagreement turned into a war. Power politics were beginning to become the norm in Rome, and Rome’s honour and tradition as a republic hung in the balance.
Tone of Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
Take a story’s temperature by studying its tone. Is it hopeful? Cynical? Snarky? Playful? Serious, Calm, Rational, Earnest Though the play opens with a little joke, the subject matter of the play remains serious throughout. The characters are never indulgent about their own gain. Rather, they speak constantly in the of what’s best for Rome.
All decisions are thought of calmly, executed calmly, and the consequences are faced with calm nobility that can at times be unnerving. (Like when Brutus calmly makes battle plans even though his wife has just died. He doesn’t do this
because he doesn’t love her, but because he’s bearing his burden as a stoic Roman.) Even though the characters don’t give the passionate, melodramatic speeches that are the staples of other plays, their calmness translates into an air of dignified nobility, which seeps into the play and makes the characters, if not likeable, then at least admirable folks.
Style of Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
At the beginning of our studies of the play Julius Caesar, we were asked to brainstorm why we thought Shakespeare’s plays are still studied today. Our class decided on many fair reasons, such as:
They explore human nature.
Concepts are relevant to prevent future conflicts.
Allows us to realise the mistakes people have made in the past through text.
However, after reading the play, I’m mostly convinced that the true reason is because of his powerful and vivid writing style, which I truly remembered the most. Although it was confusing at times, as his writing is unlike anything I’ve read before, once I understood a section, it became quite interesting and exciting to comprehend such intelligent ideas.
Throughout our reading, we noticed something fascinating about the way people spoke depending on their social class, which I thought was rather clever. The nobles spoke in iambic pentameter, or blank verse, while the Commoners spoke in prose.
Iambic pentameter or black verse is where there are ten syllables in each line, of which five are stressed and the remaining are unstressed. The first line of Antony’s famous speech (III, ii, 75-109) is “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.” You may notice that this line sounds much like a poem. That’s because of the way it’s written, in iambic pentameter. On the other hand,
Prose is just the way you and I talk – in no special rhythm or pattern. When the First Citizen reacts to Antony’s speech, he says, “Me thinks there is much reason in his sayings,” which seems like ordinary and normal speech. The effect of iambic pentameter and prose does differentiate the nobles from the commoners, and it also allows us to notice when a character falls. For example, in Brutus’ speech before Mark Antony’s:
“Romans, countrymen, and lovers! Hear me for my cause,
and be silent, that you may hear: believe me for mine…” (III, ii, 15-17)
His fall has begun so Brutus wasn’t given the dignity of poetry; while prior to this, he often spoke in poetry.
Shakespeare uses images and descriptions to help influence the audience. When Cassius describes Caesar in I, ii, 135-138, Cassius says:
“Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves”
These lines show Cassius’ thoughts on how Caesar is so honourable and good, while the other petty men just follow his orders and look forward to dying dishonourably as slaves, and as Caesar becomes more important, the importance of the other nobles diminishes. Besides this, you may have recognised the powerful imagery in these lines. The strong images, firstly allows the viewer to understand the context visually, and then affects how the audience perceives Caesar as a character, especially when it says how he powerfully dominates the entire “narrow world” and how the petty men have no position in this world.
The play Julius Caesar is loaded with figurative language, especially metaphors to enrich the language of his play, which makes it even more relevant and valuable to study today. Although this was probably the dominating factor of why I found it difficult to understand the context sometimes, most phrases do deserve the credit they’re given just by us studying them. For example, when Caesar states to Anthony:
“Let me have men about me that are fat,
Sleek-headed men, and such sleep o’-nights:
Young Cassius has a lean and hungry look;
He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.”
Here, Caesar suspects that Cassius might do something against him so he should be fed well to not envy the power that Caesar has. Shakespeare compares Cassius to a wolf because his is physical appearance denotes his dangerous and shifty nature.
Furthermore, similes are often used too in Julius Caesar, as in Caesars line:
“But I am constant as the northern star” (III, i, 60)
Caesar explains that he doesn’t change his mind on things when they request to banish Cimber, after defining the three omens, warning him that his life will soon be in danger if he goes to the Senate on the Ides of March. This line shows his excessive pride and self-importance, which only increases by the following lines:
“Of whose true-fix’d and resting quality
There is no fellow in the firmament.” (III, i, 61-62)
“Hence! Wilt though lift up Olympus?” (III, i, 73)
This line is a metaphor, where he, annoyed, states that he is as steady as Olympus, a mountain in Greece home to the gods, and therefore immovable. It is also an example of irony as he says it at the edge of dying, when he compares himself to an immortal God before the conspirators kill him. This refers to his excessive ego when he compares himself to the brightest star of all.
“Et tu, Brute! Then fall, Caesar!”
These are the last words of the Roman dictator Julius Caesar. “Et tu Brute!” translates to “And you, Brutus!” The famous line, uttered by Caesar when he spots his best friend, Brutus, among the conspirators, signifies the betrayal by a friend. Caesar thought of Brutus as the last person to betray him, so he has no one left to trust. He’d rather fall than live to see his best friend stab him, which again, shows his self-importance.
Thus, I continue to believe that Shakespeare’s unique, clever writing style is the reason why we still study his plays today. Many quotes from popular movies arise from Shakespeare’s phrases. They are still so relevant in society today and with the added powerful language, they are even more valuable. Through techniques, like iambic pentameter, prose and figurative language, the viewer is able to read between the lines and realise that the way he wrote each, single word is deliberate and has a reason – a valuable one too.