Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

Table of Contents

1. Julius Caesar: Introduction

2. Julius Caesar: William Shakespeare Biography

3. Julius Caesar: Summary

4. Julius Caesar: Reading Shakespeare

5. Julius Caesar: List of Characters

6. Julius Caesar: Historical Background

Julius Caesar: Summary and Analysis

¨ Act 1, Scene 1: Summary and Analysis

¨ Act I, Scene 2: Summary and Analysis

¨ Act I, Scene 3: Summary and Analysis

¨ Act II, Scene 1: Summary and Analysis

¨ Act II, Scene 2: Summary and Analysis

¨ Act II, Scenes 3 and 4: Summary and Analysis

¨ Act III, Scene 1: Summary and Analysis

¨ Act III, Scenes 2 and 3: Summary and Analysis

¨ Act IV, Scene 1: Summary and Analysis

¨ Act IV, Scenes 2 and 3: Summary and Analysis

¨ Act V, Scene 1: Summary and Analysis

¨ Act V, Scenes 2 and 3: Summary and Analysis

¨ Act V, Scenes 4 and 5: Summary and Analysis


Julius Caesar: Critical Commentary

¨ Act I Commentary

¨ Act II Commentary


Julius Caesar 1

¨ Act III Commentary

¨ Act IV Commentary

¨ Act V Commentary

Julius Caesar: Quizzes

¨ Act I, Scene 1: Questions and Answers

¨ Act I, Scene 2: Questions and Answers

¨ Act I, Scene 3: Questions and Answers

¨ Act II, Scene 1: Questions and Answers

¨ Act II, Scene 2: Questions and Answers

¨ Act II, Scenes 3 and 4: Questions and Answers

¨ Act III, Scene 1: Questions and Answers

¨ Act III, Scenes 2 and 3: Questions and Answers

¨ Act IV, Scene 1: Questions and Answers

¨ Act IV, Scenes 2 and 3: Questions and Answers

¨ Act V, Scene 1: Questions and Answers

¨ Act V, Scenes 2 and 3: Questions and Answers

¨ Act V, Scenes 4 and 5: Questions and Answers


Julius Caesar: Essential Passages

¨ Essential Passage by Character: Brutus

¨ Essential Passage by Character: Antony vs. Brutus


11. Julius Caesar: Themes

Julius Caesar: Character Analysis

¨ Antony (Character Analysis)

¨ Brutus (Character Analysis)

¨ Julius Caesar (Character Analysis)

¨ Cassius (Character Analysis)

¨ Other Characters (Descriptions)


13. Julius Caesar: Principal Topics

Julius Caesar: Essays

¨ The Political Dilemma in Julius Caesar

¨ The Character of Brutus: Is He an Honorable Man?

¨ The Character of Marc Antony

¨ Speechmaking in Act III, Scene ii

¨ The Role of Omens in Julius Caesar

¨ The Protagonists and Antagonists of Julius Caesar

¨ Women in Julius Caesar


Julius Caesar: Criticism

¨ Overviews

¨ Roman Politics

¨ Public and Private Values

¨ Ritual

¨ Imagery and Language

¨ Julius Caesar

¨ Brutus

¨ Cassius

¨ Mark Antony


16. Julius Caesar: Selected Quotes

17. Julius Caesar: Suggested Essay Topics

18. Julius Caesar: Sample Essay Outlines

19. Julius Caesar: Modern Connections

20. Julius Caesar: FAQs

eNotes: Table of Contents 2

¨ Why did Shakespeare call this play Julius Caesar?

¨ What motivates the conspirators to assassinate Caesar?

¨ Why does Shakespeare insert the death of the poet Cinna into Julius Caesar?

¨ What are we to make of Antony's funeral oration for Brutus?

21. Julius Caesar: Bibliography and Further Reading

22. Julius Caesar: Pictures

23. Copyright

Julius Caesar: Introduction

    Probably written in 1599, Julius Caesar was the earliest of Shakespeare's three Roman history plays. Like Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus, Julius Caesar is a dramatization of actual events, Shakespeare drawing upon the ancient Roman historian Plutarch's Lives of Caesar, Brutus, and Mark Antony as the primary source of the play's plot and characters. The play is tightly structured. It establishes the dramatic problem of alarm at Julius Caesar's ambition to become "king" (or dictator) in the very first scene and introduces signs that Caesar must "beware the Ides of March" from the outset. Before its midpoint, Caesar is assassinated, and shortly after Mark Antony's famous funeral oration ("Friends, Romans, and countrymen … "), the setting shifts permanently from Rome to the battlefields on which Brutus and Cassius meet their inevitable defeat. Julius Caesar is also a tragedy; but despite its title, the tragic character of the play is Brutus, the noble Roman whose decision to take part in the conspiracy for the sake of freedom plunges him into a personal conflict and his country into civil war.

     Literary scholars have debated for centuries about the question of who exactly is the protagonist of this play. The seemingly simple answer to this question would be Julius Caesar himself—after all, the play is named after him, and the events of the play all relate to him. However, Caesar only appears in three scenes (four if the ghost is included), thus apparently making him an unlikely choice for the protagonist who is supposed to be the main character. Meanwhile, Brutus, who is in the play much more often than Caesar (and actually lasts until the final scene), is not the title character of the play and is listed in the dramatis personae not only after Caesar but after the entire triumvirate and some senators who barely appear in the play. Determining the protagonist is one of the many engaging issues presented in the play.

Julius Caesar: William Shakespeare Biography

The Life and Work of William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare (1564–1616) is perhaps the most widely read English poet and dramatist in the world.

His plays and poems have been translated into every major language, and his popularity, nearly 400 years

after his death, is greater now than it was in his own lifetime. Yet very little is known about his personal and

professional life.

He was born in Stratford-on-Avon, a rural town in War¬wick¬shire, England. The exact date of his birth is

unknown, but he was baptized in Holy Trinity Church on April 26, 1564, and was probably born on April 23.

His father, John Shakespeare, was a leather tanner, glover, alderman, and bailiff in the town. His mother,

Mary, was the daughter of Robert Arden, a well-to-do gentleman farmer.

It is assumed that young William attended the Stratford Grammar School, one of the best in rural England,

where he received a sound classical training. When he was 13, his father’s fortunes took a turn for the worse,

and it is likely that Shakespeare was apprenticed to some local trade as a butcher, killing calves. He may even

have taught school for a time before he married Anne Hathaway, a woman eight years older than he, in 1582.

Shakespeare was 18 years old at the time. Their oldest child, Susanna, was born and baptized six months later

in May 1583. One year and nine months later, twins, Hamnet and Judith, were christened in the same church.

Julius Caesar: Introduction 3

They were named for Shakespeare’s friends, Hamnet and Judith Sadler.

Little more is known about these early years, but in 1587 or 1588, he left Stratford and arrived in London to

become an actor and a writer. By 1592, at the age of 28, he began to emerge as a playwright. He evoked

criticism in a book published by playwright Robert Greene, who referred to Shakespeare as an “upstart crow”

who is “in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in the country.”

Shakespeare’s first published work, the long poem Venus and Adonis, appeared in 1593. Its success was

followed by another poem, The Rape of Lucrece, in 1594. These narrative poems were written in the years

when the London theaters were closed because of the plague, a highly contagious disease that had devastated

most of Europe.

In 1594, when the theaters reopened, records indicate that Shakespeare had become a leading member of the

Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a company of actors for which he wrote for the rest of his 20-year career.

It was in the 1590s that Shakespeare wrote his plays on English history, several comedies, and the tragedies

Titus Andronicus and Romeo and Juliet. In 1599, the year he wrote Julius Caesar, Shakespeare’s company

built a theater across the Thames River from London—the Globe. Between 1600 and 1606, Shakespeare

completed his major tragedies, Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth. His plays were performed at court

for Queen Elizabeth I, and after her death in 1603, for King James I.

He wrote very little after 1612, the year that he completed King Henry VIII. It was during a performance of

this play in 1613 that the Globe caught fire and burned to the ground. Sometime between 1610 and 1613,

Shakespeare returned to Stratford, where he owned a large house and property, to spend his remaining years

with his wife, two daughters and their husbands. Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet, had died in 1596.

In March of 1616, Shakespeare revised his will, leaving his daughter Susanna the bulk of his estate, and his

wife “the second best bed and the furniture.” A month after his will was signed, on April 23, 1616,

Shakespeare died—ironically, on his birthday, like Cassius in Julius Caesar. He was buried in the floor near

the altar of Holy Trinity Church on April 25.

The wry inscription on his tombstone reads:

Good Friend, for Jesus’ sake, forbear

To dig the dust enclosed here;

Blest be the man that spares these stones

And curst be he that moves my bones.

Julius Caesar: Summary

Summary of the Play

The play begins in Rome in 44 B.C. on the Feast of Lupercal, in honor of the god Pan. Caesar has become the

most powerful man in the Roman Republic and is eager to become king. Caesar, however, has many enemies

who are planning his assassination. When Caesar and his entourage appear, a soothsayer warns him to

“Beware the ides of March,” (March 15), but Caesar is unconcerned.

Cassius tries to convince Brutus that Caesar is too ambitious and must be assassinated for the welfare of

Rome. Cassius is determined to win Brutus to his cause by forging letters from citizens and leaving them

where Brutus will find them. The letters attack Caesar’s ambition and convince Brutus that killing Caesar is

for the good of Rome.

Julius Caesar: William Shakespeare Biography 4

For a month, Brutus struggles with the problem; and on the morning of the ides of March, he agrees to join the

others. The conspirators escort Caesar to the Senate and stab him to death.

Brutus addresses the agitated crowd and tells them why Caesar had to be killed. Then Mark Antony delivers

his funeral oration and stirs the crowd to mutiny against Brutus, Cassius, and the others. The mob runs

through the streets looking to avenge Caesar’s death. A civil war breaks out.

Brutus and Cassius escape to Greece where they raise an army and prepare to fight Octavius and Antony in a

decisive battle.

When Cassius believes he has lost the war, he convinces his servant, Pindarus, to stab him. After Brutus is

defeated in a second battle, he commits suicide by running on his own sword rather than being taken prisoner

back to Rome.

The play ends with the restoration of order, as Octavius and Antony become the two most powerful men in


Estimated Reading Time

The play should take the reader about five hours to complete. Since it is a five-act play, you should allocate

about an hour for each act, although the time may vary depending on the number of scenes in each act. The

final two acts of the play read more quickly and they may be covered in less than an hour.

(Note: All line number references in his book are based on the 1992 New Folger Library edition. If you are

using a different edition, the line number references may differ slightly.)

Julius Caesar: Reading Shakespeare

In this section:

· Shakespeare’s Language

· Shakespeare’s Sentences

· Shakespeare’s Words

· Shakespeare’s Wordplay

· Shakespeare’s Dramatic Verse

· Implied Stage Action

Shakespeare’s Language

Shakespeare’s language can create a strong pang of intimidation, even fear, in a large number of modern-day

readers. Fortunately, however, this need not be the case. All that is needed to master the art of reading

Shakespeare is to practice the techniques of unraveling uncommonly-structured sentences and to become

familiar with the poetic use of uncommon words. We must realize that during the 400-year span between

Shakespeare’s time and our own, both the way we live and speak has changed. Although most of his

vocabulary is in use today, some of it is obsolete, and what may be most confusing is that some of his words

are used today, but with slightly different or totally different meanings. On the stage, actors readily dissolve

these language stumbling blocks. They study Shakespeare’s dialogue and express it dramatically in word and

in action so that its meaning is graphically enacted. If the reader studies Shakespeare’s lines as an actor does,

looking up and reflecting upon the meaning of unfamiliar words until real voice is discovered, he or she will

suddenly experience the excitement, the depth and the sheer poetry of what these characters say.

Julius Caesar: Summary 5

Shakespeare’s Sentences

In English, or any other language, the meaning of a sentence greatly depends upon where each word is placed

in that sentence. “The child hurt the mother” and “The mother hurt the child” have opposite meanings, even

though the words are the same, simply because the words are arranged differently. Because word position is

so integral to English, the reader will find unfamiliar word arrangements confusing, even difficult to

understand. Since Shakespeare’s plays are poetic dramas, he often shifts from average word arrangements to

the strikingly

unusual so that the line will conform to the desired poetic rhythm. Often, too, Shakespeare

employs unusual word order to afford a character his own specific style of speaking.

Today, English sentence structure follows a sequence of subject first, verb second, and an optional object

third. Shakespeare, however, often places the verb before the subject, which reads, “Speaks he” rather than

“He speaks.” Solanio speaks with this inverted structure in The Merchant of Venice stating, “I should be

still/Plucking the grass to know where sits the wind” (Bevington edition, I, i, ll.17-19), while today’s

standard English word order would have the clause at the end of this line read, “where the wind sits.”

“Wind” is the subject of this clause, and “sits” is the verb. Bassanio’s words in Act Two also exemplify this

inversion: “And in such eyes as ours appear not faults” (II, ii, l. 184). In our normal word order, we would

say, “Faults do not appear in eyes such as ours,” with “faults” as the subject in both Shakespeare’s word

order and ours.

Inversions like these are not troublesome, but when Shakes–peare positions the predicate adjective or the

object before the subject and verb, we are sometimes surprised. For example, rather than “I saw him,”

Shakespeare may use a structure such as “Him I saw.” Similarly, “Cold the morning is” would be used for

our “The morning is cold.” Lady Macbeth demonstrates this inversion as she speaks of her husband: “Glamis

thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be/What thou art promised” (Macbeth, I, v, ll. 14-15). In current English word

order, this quote would begin, “Thou art Glamis, and Cawdor.”

In addition to inversions, Shakespeare purposefully keeps words apart that we generally keep together. To

illustrate, consider Bassanio’s humble admission in The Merchant of Venice: “I owe you much, and, like a

wilful youth,/That which I owe is lost” (I, i, ll. 146-147). The phrase, “like a wilful youth,” separates the

regular sequence of “I owe you much” and “That which I owe is lost.” To understand more clearly this type

of passage, the reader could rearrange these word groups into our conventional order: I owe you much and I

wasted what you gave me because I was young and impulsive. While these rearranged clauses will sound like

normal English, and will be simpler to understand, they will no longer have the desired poetic rhythm, and the

emphasis will now be on the wrong words.

As we read Shakespeare, we will find words that are separated by long, interruptive statements. Often subjects

are separated from verbs, and verbs are separated from objects. These long interruptions can be used to give a

character dimension or to add an element of suspense. For example, in Romeo and Juliet Benvolio describes

both Romeo’s moodiness and his own sensitive and thoughtful nature:

I, measuring his affections by my own,

Which then most sought, where most might not be found,

Being one too many by my weary self,

Pursu’d my humour, not pursuing his,

And gladly shunn’d who gladly fled from me. (I, i, ll. 126-130)

In this passage, the subject “I” is distanced from its verb “Pursu’d.” The long interruption serves to provide

information which is integral to the plot. Another example, taken from Hamlet, is the ghost, Hamlet’s father,

who describes Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius, as

Julius Caesar: Reading Shakespeare 6

…that incestuous, that adulterate beast,

With witchcraft of his wit, with traitorous gifts—

O wicked wit and gifts, that have the power

So to seduce—won to his shameful lust

The will of my most seeming virtuous queen. (I, v, ll. 43-47)

From this we learn that Prince Hamlet’s mother is the victim of an evil seduction and deception. The delay

between the subject, “beast,” and the verb, “won,” creates a moment of tension filled with the image of a

cunning predator waiting for the right moment to spring into attack. This interruptive passage allows the play

to unfold crucial information and thus to build the tension necessary to produce a riveting drama.

While at times these long delays are merely for decorative purposes, they are often used to narrate a particular

situation or to enhance character development. As Antony and Cleopatra opens, an interruptive passage

occurs in the first few lines. Although the delay is not lengthy, Philo’s words vividly portray Antony’s

military prowess while they also reveal the immediate concern of the drama. Antony is distracted from his

career, and is now focused on Cleopatra:

…those goodly eyes,

That o’er the files and musters of the war

Have glow’d like plated Mars, now bend, now turn

The office and devotion of their view

Upon a tawny front…. (I, i, ll. 2-6)

Whereas Shakespeare sometimes heaps detail upon detail, his sentences are often elliptical, that is, they omit

words we expect in written English sentences. In fact, we often do this in our spoken conversations. For

instance, we say, “You see that?” when we really mean, “Did you see that?” Reading poetry or listening to

lyrics in music conditions us to supply the omitted words and it makes us more comfortable reading this type

of dialogue. Consider one passage in The Merchant of Venice where Antonio’s friends ask him why he seems

so sad and Solanio tells Antonio, “Why, then you are in love” (I, i, l. 46). When Antonio denies this, Solanio

responds, “Not in love neither?” (I, i, l. 47). The word “you” is omitted but understood despite the confusing

double negative.

In addition to leaving out words, Shakespeare often uses intentionally vague language, a strategy which taxes

the reader’s attentiveness. In Antony and Cleopatra, Cleopatra, upset that Antony is leaving for Rome after

learning that his wife died in battle, convinces him to stay in Egypt:

Sir, you and I must part, but that’s not it:

Sir you and I have lov’d, but there’s not it;

That you know well, something it is I would—

O, my oblivion is a very Antony,

And I am all forgotten. (I, iii, ll. 87-91)

In line 89, “…something it is I would” suggests that there is something that she would want to say, do, or have

done. The intentional vagueness leaves us, and certainly Antony, to wonder. Though this sort of writing may

appear lackadaisical for all that it leaves out, here the vagueness functions to portray Cleopatra as rhetorically

sophisticated. Similarly, when asked what thing a crocodile is (meaning Antony himself who is being

compared to a crocodile), Antony slyly evades the question by giving a vague reply:

It is shap’d, sir, like itself, and it is as broad as it hath breadth.

It is just so high as it is, and moves with it own organs.

It lives by that which nourisheth it, and, the elements once out of it, it transmigrates. (II, vii,

Julius Caesar: Reading Shakespeare 7

ll. 43-46)

This kind of evasiveness, or doubletalk, occurs often in Shakespeare’s writing and requires extra patience on

the part of the reader.

Shakespeare’s Words

As we read Shakespeare’s plays, we will encounter uncommon words. Many of these words are not in use

today. As Romeo and Juliet opens, we notice words like “shrift” (confession) and “holidame” (a holy relic).

Words like these should be explained in notes to the text. Shakespeare also employs words which we still use,

though with different meaning. For example, in The Merchant of Venice “caskets” refer to small, decorative

chests for holding jewels. However, modern readers may think of a large cask instead of the smaller,

diminutive casket.

Another trouble modern readers will have with Shakespeare’s English is with words that are still in use today,

but which mean something different in Elizabethan use. In The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare uses the

word “straight” (as in “straight away”) where we would say “immediately.” Here, the modern reader is

unlikely to carry away the wrong message, however, since the modern meaning will simply make no sense. In

this case, textual notes will clarify a phrase’s meaning. To cite another example, in Romeo and Juliet, after

Mercutio dies, Romeo states that the “black fate on moe days doth depend” (emphasis added). In this case,

“depend” really means “impend.”

Shakespeare’s Wordplay

All of Shakespeare’s works exhibit his mastery of playing with language and with such variety that many

people have authored entire books on this subject alone. Shakespeare’s most frequently used types of

wordplay are common: metaphors, similes, synecdoche and metonymy, personification, allusion, and puns. It

is when Shakespeare violates the normal use of these devices, or rhetorical figures, that the language becomes


A metaphor is a comparison in which an object or idea is replaced by another object or idea with common

attributes. For example, in Macbeth a murderer tells Macbeth that Banquo has been murdered, as directed, but

that his son, Fleance, escaped, having witnessed his father’s murder. Fleance, now a threat to Macbeth, is

described as a serpent:

There the grown serpent lies, the worm that’s fled

Hath nature that in time will venom breed,

No teeth for the present. (III, iv, ll. 29-31)

Similes, on the other hand, compare objects or ideas while using the words “like” or “as.” In Romeo and

Juliet, Romeo tells Juliet that “Love goes toward love as schoolboys from their books” (II, ii, l. 156). Such

similes often give way to more involved comparisons, “extended similes.” For example, Juliet tells Romeo:

‘Tis almost morning,

I would have thee gone,

And yet no farther than a wonton’s bird,

That lets it hop a little from his hand

Like a poor prisoner in his twisted gyves,

And with silken thread plucks it back again,

So loving-jealous of his liberty. (II, ii, ll. 176-181)

An epic simile, a device borrowed from heroic poetry, is an extended simile that builds into an even more

elaborate comparison. In Macbeth, Macbeth describes King Duncan’s virtues with an angelic, celestial simile

Julius Caesar: Reading Shakespeare 8

and then drives immediately into another simile that redirects us into a vision of warfare and destruction:

…Besides this Duncan

Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been

So clear in his great office, that his virtues

Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongued, against

The deep damnation of his taking-off;

And pity, like a naked new-born babe,

Striding the blast, or heaven’s cherubim, horsed

Upon the sightless couriers of the air,

Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye,

That tears shall drown the wind…. (I, vii, ll. 16-25)

Shakespeare employs other devices, like synecdoche and metonymy, to achieve “verbal economy,” or using

one or two words to express more than one thought. Synecdoche is a figure of speech using a part for the

whole. An example of synecdoche is using the word boards to imply a stage. Boards are only a small part of

the materials that make up a stage, however, the term boards has become a colloquial synonym for stage.

Metonymy is a figure of speech using the name of one thing for that of another which it is associated. An

example of metonymy is using crown to mean the king (as used in the sentence “These lands belong to the

crown”). Since a crown is associated with or an attribute of the king, the word crown has become a

metonymy for the king. It is important to understand that every metonymy is a synecdoche, but not every

synecdoche is a metonymy. This is rule is true because a metonymy must not only be a part of the root word,

making a synecdoche, but also be a unique attribute of or associated with the root word.

Synecdoche and metonymy in Shakespeare’s works is often very confusing to a new student because he

creates uses for words that they usually do not perform. This technique is often complicated and yet very

subtle, which makes it difficult of a new student to dissect and understand. An example of these devices in

one of Shakespeare’s plays can be found in The Merchant of Venice . In warning his daughter, Jessica, to

ignore the Christian revelries in the streets below, Shylock says:

Lock up my doors; and when you hear the drum

And the vile squealing of the wry-necked fife,

Clamber not you up to the casements then… (I, v, ll. 30-32)

The phrase of importance in this quote is “the wry-necked fife.” When a reader examines this phrase it does

not seem to make sense; a fife is a cylinder-shaped instrument, there is no part of it that can be called a neck.

The phrase then must be taken to refer to the fife-player, who has to twist his or her neck to play the fife. Fife,

therefore, is a synecdoche for fife-player, much as boards is for stage. The trouble with understanding this

phrase is that “vile squealing” logically refers to the sound of the fife, not the fife-player, and the reader

might be led to take fife as the instrument because of the parallel reference to “drum” in the previous line.

The best solution to this quandary is that Shakespeare uses the word fife to refer to both the instrument and the

player. Both the player and the instrument are needed to complete the wordplay in this phrase, which, though

difficult to understand to new readers, cannot be seen as a flaw since Shakespeare manages to convey two

meanings with one word. This remarkable example of synecdoche illuminates Shakespeare’s mastery of

“verbal economy.”

Shakespeare also uses vivid and imagistic wordplay through personification, in which human capacities and

behaviors are attributed to inanimate objects. Bassanio, in The Merchant of Venice, almost speechless when

Portia promises to marry him and share all her worldly wealth, states “my blood speaks to you in my veins…”

(III, ii, l. 176). How deeply he must feel since even his blood can speak. Similarly, Portia, learning of the

penalty that Antonio must pay for defaulting on his debt, tells Salerio, “There are some shrewd contents in

Julius Caesar: Reading Shakespeare 9

yond same paper/That steals the color from Bassanio’s cheek” (III, ii, ll. 243-244).

Another important facet of Shakespeare’s rhetorical repertoire is his use of allusion. An allusion is a

reference to another author or to an historical figure or event. Very often Shakespeare alludes to the heroes

and heroines of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. For example, in Cymbeline an entire room is decorated with images

illustrating the stories from this classical work, and the heroine, Imogen, has been reading from this text.

Similarly, in Titus Andronicus characters not only read directly from the Metamorphoses, but a subplot

re-enacts one of the Metamorphoses’s most famous stories, the rape and mutilation of Philomel. Another way

Shakespeare uses allusion is to drop names of mythological, historical and literary figures. In The Taming of

the Shrew, for instance, Petruchio compares Katharina, the woman whom he is courting, to Diana (II, i, l. 55),

the virgin goddess, in order to suggest that Katharina is a man-hater. At times, Shakespeare will allude to

well-known figures without so much as mentioning their names. In Twelfth Night, for example, though the

Duke and Valentine are ostensibly interested in Olivia, a rich countess, Shakespeare asks his audience to

compare the Duke’s emotional turmoil to the plight of Acteon, whom the goddess Diana transforms into a

deer to be hunted and killed by Acteon’s own dogs:


That instant was I turn’d into a hart,

And my desires, like fell and cruel hounds,

E’er since pursue me. […]


But like a cloistress she will veiled walk,

And water once a day her chamber round…. (I, i, l. 20 ff.)

Shakespeare’s use of puns spotlights his exceptional wit. His comedies in particular are loaded with puns,

usually of a sexual nature. Puns work through the ambiguity that results when multiple senses of a word are

evoked; homophones often cause this sort of ambiguity. In Antony and Cleopatra, Enobarbus believes “there

is mettle in death” (I, ii, l. 146), meaning that there is “courage” in death; at the same time, mettle suggests

the homophone metal, referring to swords made of metal causing death. In early editions of Shakespeare’s

work there was no distinction made between the two words. Antony puns on the word “earing,” (I, ii, ll.

112-114) meaning both plowing (as in rooting out weeds) and hearing: he angrily sends away a messenger,

not wishing to hear the message from his wife, Fulvia: “…O then we bring forth weeds,/when our quick minds

lie still, and our ills told us/Is as our earing.” If ill-natured news is planted in one’s “hearing,” it will render

an “earing” (harvest) of ill-natured thoughts. A particularly clever pun, also in Antony and Cleopatra, stands

out after Antony’s troops have fought Octavius’s men in Egypt: “We have beat him to his camp. Run one

before,/And let the queen know of our gests” (IV, viii, ll. 1-2). Here “gests” means deeds (in this case, deeds

of battle); it is also a pun on “guests,” as though Octavius’ slain soldiers were to be guests when buried in


One should note that Elizabethan pronunciation was in several cases different from our own. Thus, modern

readers, especially Americans, will miss out on the many puns based on homophones. The textual notes will

point up many of these “lost” puns, however.

Shakespeare’s sexual innuendoes can be either clever or tedious depending upon the speaker and situation.

The modern reader should recall that sexuality in Shakespeare’s time was far more complex than in ours and

that characters may refer to such things as masturbation and homosexual activity. Textual notes in some

editions will point out these puns but rarely explain them. An example of a sexual pun or innuendo can be

found in The Merchant of Venice when Portia and Nerissa are discussing Portia’s past suitors using innuendo

to tell of their sexual prowess:

Julius Caesar: Reading Shakespeare 10


I pray thee, overname them, and as thou namest them, I will describe them, and according to

my description level at my affection.


First, there is the Neapolitan prince.


Ay, that’s a colt indeed, for he doth nothing but talk of his horse, and he makes it a great

appropriation to his own good parts that he can shoe him himself. I am much afeard my lady

his mother played false with the smith. (I, ii, ll. 35-45)

The “Neapolitan prince” is given a grade of an inexperienced youth when Portia describes him as a “colt.”

The prince is thought to be inexperienced because he did nothing but “talk of his horse” (a pun for his penis)

and his other great attributes. Portia goes on to say that the prince boasted that he could “shoe him [his horse]

himself,” a possible pun meaning that the prince was very proud that he could masturbate. Finally, Portia

makes an attack upon the prince’s mother, saying that “my lady his mother played false with the smith,” a

pun to say his mother must have committed adultery with a blacksmith to give birth to such a vulgar man

having an obsession with “shoeing his horse.”

It is worth mentioning that Shakespeare gives the reader hints when his characters might be using puns and

innuendoes. In The Merchant of Venice, Portia’s lines are given in prose when she is joking, or engaged in

bawdy conversations. Later on the reader will notice that Portia’s lines are rhymed in poetry, such as when

she is talking in court or to Bassanio. This is Shakespeare’s way of letting the reader know when Portia is

jesting and when she is serious.

Shakespeare’s Dramatic Verse

Finally, the reader will notice that some lines are actually rhymed verse while others are in verse without

rhyme; and much of Shakespeare’s drama is in prose. Shakespeare usually has his lovers speak in the

language of love poetry which uses rhymed couplets. The archetypal example of this comes, of course, from

Romeo and Juliet:

The grey-ey’d morn smiles on the frowning night,

Check’ring the eastern clouds with streaks of light,

And fleckled darkness like a drunkard reels

From forth day’s path and Titan’s fiery wheels.

(II, iii, ll. 1-4)

Here it is ironic that Friar Lawrence should speak these lines since he is not the one in love. He, therefore,

appears buffoonish and out of touch with reality. Shakespeare often has his characters speak in rhymed verse

to let the reader know that the character is acting in jest, and vice-versa.

Perhaps the majority of Shakespeare’s lines are in blank verse, a form of poetry which does not use rhyme

(hence the name blank) but still employs a rhythm native to the English language, iambic pentameter, where

every second syllable in a line of ten syllables receives stress. Consider the following verses from Hamlet, and

note the accents and the lack of end-rhyme:

The síngle ánd pecúliar lífe is bóund

With áll the stréngth and ármor óf the mínd (III, iii, ll. 12-13)

Julius Caesar: Reading Shakespeare 11

The final syllable of these verses receives stress and is said to have a hard, or “strong,” ending. A soft ending,

also said to be “weak,” receives no stress. In The Tempest, Shakespeare uses a soft ending to shape a verse

that demonstrates through both sound (meter) and sense the capacity of the feminine to propagate:

and thén I lóv’d thee

And shów’d thee áll the quálitíes o’ th’ ísle,

The frésh spríngs, bríne-pits, bárren pláce and fértile. (I, ii, ll. 338-40)

The first and third of these lines here have soft endings.

In general, Shakespeare saves blank verse for his characters of noble birth. Therefore, it is significant when

his lofty characters speak in prose. Prose holds a special place in Shakespeare’s dialogues; he uses it to

represent the speech habits of the common people. Not only do lowly servants and common citizens speak in

prose, but important, lower class figures also use this fun, at times ribald variety of speech. Though

Shakespeare crafts some very ornate lines in verse, his prose can be equally daunting, for some of his

characters may speechify and break into doubletalk in their attempts to show sophistication. A clever instance

of this comes when the Third Citizen in Coriolanus refers to the people’s paradoxical lack of power when

they must elect Coriolanus as their new leader once Coriolanus has orated how he has courageously fought for

them in battle:

We have power in ourselves to do it, but it is a power that we have no power to do; for if he

show us his wounds and tell us his deeds, we are to put our tongues into those wounds and

speak for them; so, if he tell us his noble deeds, we must also tell him our noble acceptance of

them. Ingratitude is monstrous, and for the multitude to be ingrateful were to make a monster

of the multitude, of the which we, being members, should bring ourselves to be monstrous

members. (II, ii, ll. 3-13)

Notice that this passage contains as many metaphors, hideous though they be, as any other passage in

Shakespeare’s dramatic verse.

When reading Shakespeare, paying attention to characters who suddenly break into rhymed verse, or who slip

into prose after speaking in blank verse, will heighten your awareness of a character’s mood and personal

development. For instance, in Antony and Cleopatra, the famous military leader Marcus Antony usually

speaks in blank verse, but also speaks in fits of prose (II, iii, ll. 43-46) once his masculinity and authority have

been questioned. Similarly, in Timon of Athens, after the wealthy lord Timon abandons the city of Athens to

live in a cave, he harangues anyone whom he encounters in prose (IV, iii, l. 331 ff.). In contrast, the reader

should wonder why the bestial Caliban in The Tempest speaks in blank verse rather than in prose.

Implied Stage Action

When we read a Shakespearean play, we are reading a performance text. Actors interact through dialogue, but

at the same time these actors cry, gesticulate, throw tantrums, pick up daggers, and compulsively wash

murderous “blood” from their hands. Some of the action that takes place on stage is explicitly stated in stage

directions. However, some of the stage activity is couched within the dialogue itself. Attentiveness to these

cues is important as one conceives how to visualize the action. When Iago in Othello feigns concern for

Cassio whom he himself has stabbed, he calls to the surrounding men, “Come, come:/Lend me a light” (V, i,

ll. 86-87). It is almost sure that one of the actors involved will bring him a torch or lantern. In the same play,

Emilia, Desdemona’s maidservant, asks if she should fetch her lady’s nightgown and Desdemona replies,

“No, unpin me here” (IV, iii, l. 37). In Macbeth, after killing Duncan, Macbeth brings the murder weapon

back with him. When he tells his wife that he cannot return to the scene and place the daggers to suggest that

the king’s guards murdered Duncan, she castigates him: “Infirm of purpose/Give me the daggers. The

sleeping and the dead are but as pictures” (II, ii, ll. 50-52). As she exits, it is easy to visualize Lady Macbeth

Julius Caesar: Reading Shakespeare 12

grabbing the daggers from her husband.

For 400 years, readers have found it greatly satisfying to work with all aspects of Shakespeare’s

language—the implied stage action, word choice, sentence structure, and wordplay—until all aspects come to

life. Just as seeing a fine performance of a Shakespearean play is exciting, staging the play in one’s own

mind’s eye, and revisiting lines to enrich the sense of the action, will enhance one’s appreciation of

Shakespeare’s extraordinary literary and dramatic achievements.

Julius Caesar: List of Characters

Julius Caesar—Dictator of Rome

Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony)—Friend of Caesar and one of the leaders of Rome after Caesar’s death

Marcus Brutus—Friend of Caesar who kills him “for the good of Rome”

Cassius—Leader of the conspiracy against Caesar and brother-in-law of Brutus

Casca—The first conspirator to stab Caesar

Trebonius—Member of the conspiracy against Caesar

Caius Ligarius—Final member of the conspiracy, a sick man who joins them when Brutus asks him to help

make Rome well

Decius Brutus—Conspirator who uses flattery to get Caesar to the Senate House

Metellus Cimber—Conspirator and brother of Publius Cimber who was banished from Rome

Cinna—Conspirator who urges Cassius to bring Brutus into the conspiracy to gain favorable public opinion

Flavius and Marullus—Tribunes who guard the rights of Roman citizens

Octavius Caesar—Nephew of Julius Caesar and first Roman Emperor

Lepidus—Ally of Antony and Octavius and one of the three rulers of Rome after Caesar’s assassination

Cicero—Roman senator and orator later killed by Antony, Octavius, and Lepidus

Publius—Elderly senator and witness to Caesar’s death

Popilius Lena—Senator who was opposed to Caesar

Calphurnia—Wife of Caesar who tried to keep her husband home on the day of his assassination

Portia—Wife of Brutus, daughter of Cato and sister of Young Cato

Lucilius—Officer in Brutus’ army who is captured by Antony

Titinius—Officer in Cassius’ army who commits suicide after Cassius’ death

Julius Caesar: List of Characters 13

Messala—Officer in Brutus’ army who gives Brutus information from Rome, including news of Portia’s


Young Cato—Brother-in-law of Brutus who dies in battle

Varro and Claudius—Soldiers under Brutus’ command who wait in his tent in Sardis before the battle at


Volumnius, Clitus, and Dardanus—Soldiers under Brutus’ command who refuse to help him commit suicide

after the battle of Philippi

Strato—Loyal friend of Brutus who assists him in his suicide

Lucius—Servant of Brutus

Pindarus—Servant of Cassius who helps his master commit suicide

Artemidorus—Friend of Caesar who writes a letter warning him of the plot

Soothsayer—Seer into the future who tries to warn Caesar about the plot to kill him

Cinna the Poet—Poet on his way to Caesar’s funeral who is killed by an angry mob out for revenge

Another Poet—Jester who enters Brutus’ tent while Brutus and Cassius are arguing

Labeo and Flavius—Soldiers in Brutus’ army

Julius Caesar: Historical Background

should be the creed of this splenetic solitary: but it is quite in character. Epicureanism appealed to some of the

noblest minds of Rome, not as a cult of enjoyment, but as a doctrine that freed them from the bonds of

superstition and the degrading fear of death ... And these are the reasons that Cassius is an Epicurean. At the

end, when his philosophy breaks down, he says:

Cassius 157

You know that I held Epicurus strong

And his opinion: now I change my mind,

And partly credit things that do presage.

[V. i. 76-8]

He has hitherto discredited them ...

Nor stony tower, nor walls of beaten brass,

Nor airless dungeon, nor strong links of iron,

Can be retentive to the strength of spirit:

But life, being weary of these worldly bars,

Never lacks power to dismiss itself.

[I. ill. 93-71]

Free from all superstitious scruples and all thought of superhuman interference in the affairs of men, he stands

out bold and self-reliant, confiding in his own powers, his own will, his own management:

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.

[I. ii. 139-41]

And the same attitude of mind implies that he is rid of all illusions. He is not deceived by shows. He looks

quite through the deeds of men. He is not taken in by Casca's affectation of rudeness. He is not misled by

Antony's apparent frivolity. He is not even dazzled by the glamour of Brutus' virtue, but notes its weak side

and does not hesitate to play on it. Still less does Caesar's prestige subdue his criticism. On the contrary, with

malicious contempt he recalls his want of endurance in swimming and the complaints of his sick-bed, and he

keenly notes his superstitious lapses. He seldom smiles and when he does it is in scorn. We only once hear of

his laughing. It is at the interposition of the poet, which rouses Brutus to indignation; but the presumptuous

absurdity of it tickles Cassius' sardonic humour [IV. iii. 124-38].

For there is no doubt that he takes pleasure in detecting the weaknesses of his fellows. He has obvious relish

in the thought that if he were Brutus he would not be thus cajoled, and he finds food for satisfaction in

Caesar's merely physical defects. Yet there is as little of self-complacency as of hero-worship in the man. He

turns his remorseless scrutiny on his own nature and his own cause, and neither maintains that the one is noble

or the other honourable, nor denies the personal alloy in his motives. This is the purport of that strange

soliloquy that at first sight seems to place Cassius in the ranks of Shakespeare's villains along with his Iagos

and Richards, rather than of the mixed characters, compact of good and evil, to whom nevertheless we feel

that he is akin.

Well, Brutus, thou art noble: yet, I see,

Thy honourable metal may be wrought

From that it is disposed: therefore it is meet

That noble minds keep ever with their likes:

For who so firm that cannot be seduced?

Caesar doth bear me hard: but he loves Brutus:

If I were Brutus now and he were Cassius,

He should not humour me.

[I. ii. 308-15]

Cassius 158

It frequently happens that cynics view themselves as well as others in their meaner aspects. Probably Cassius

is making the worst of his own case and is indulging that vein of self-mockery and scorn that Caesar observed

in him. But at any rate the lurking sense of unworthiness in himself and his purpose will be apt to increase in

such a man his natural impatience of alleged superiority in his fellows. He is jealous of excellence, seeks to

minimize it and will not tolerate it. It is on this characteristic that Shakespeare lays stress. Plutarch reports the

saying "that Brutus could evill away with the tyrannie and that Cassius hated the tyranne, making many

complayntes for the injuries he had done him"; and instances Caesar's appropriation of some lions that Cassius

had intended for the sports, as well as the affair of the city praetorship. But in the play these specific

grievances are almost effaced in the vague statement, "Caesar doth bear me hard"; which implies little more

than general ill-will. It is now resentment of pre-eminence that makes Cassius a malcontent. Caesar finds him

"very dangerous" just because of his grudge at greatness; and his own avowal that he "would as lief not be as

live to be in awe" [I. ii. 95-6] of a thing like himself, merely puts a fairer colour on the same unamiable trait.

He may represent republican liberty and equality, at least in the aristocratic acceptation, but it is on their less

admirable side. His disposition is to level down, by repudiating the leader, not to level up, by learning from

him. In the final results this would mean the triumph of the second best, a dull and uniform mediocrity in art,

thought and politics, unbroken by the predominance of the man of genius and king of men. And it may be

feared that this ideal, translated into the terms of democracy, is too frequent in our modern communities. But

true freedom is not incompatible with the most loyal acknowledgment of the master-mind ... (pp. 275-79)

Yet notwithstanding this taint of enviousness and spite, Cassius is far from being a despicable or even an

unattractive character. He may play the Devil's Advocate in regard to individuals, but he is capable of a high

enthusiasm for his cause, such as it is. We must share his calenture of excitement, as he strides about the

streets in the tempest that fills Casca with superstitious dread and Cicero with discomfort at the nasty weather.

His republicanism may be a narrow creed, but at least he is willing to be a martyr to it; when he hears that

Caesar is to wear the crown, his resolution is prompt and Roman-like:

I know where I will wear this dagger then:

Cassius from bondage will deliver Cassius.

[I. iii. 89-90]

And surely at the moment of achievement, whatever was mean and sordid in the man is consumed in his

prophetic rapture that fires the soul of Brutus and prolongs itself in his response.

Cassius. How many ages hence

Shall this our lofty scene be acted over

In states unborn and accents yet unknown!

Brutus. How many times shall Caesar bleed in sport

That now on Pompey's basis lies along

No worthier than the dust!

[III. i. 111-161]

And even to individuals if they stand the test of his mordant criticism, he can pay homage and admiration. The

perception that Brutus may be worked upon is the toll he pays to his self-love, but, that settled, he can feel

deep reverence and affection for Brutus' more Ideal virtue. Perhaps the best instance of it is the scene of their

dispute. Brutus ... is practically, if not theoretically, in the wrong, and certainly he is much the more violent

and bitter; but Cassius submits to receive his forgiveness and to welcome his assurance that he will bear with

him in future. This implies no little deference and magnanimity in one who so ill brooks a secondary role. But

he does give the lead to Brutus, and in all things, even against his better judgment, yields him the primacy.

And then it is impossible not to respect his thorough efficiency. In whatsoever concerns the management of

affairs and of men, he knows the right thing to do, and, when left to himself, he does it. He sees how needful

Cassius 159

Brutus is to the cause and gains him—gains him, in part by a trickery, which Shakespeare without historical

warrant ascribes to him; but the trickery succeeds because he has gauged Brutus' nature aright. He takes the

correct measure of the danger from Antony, of his love for Caesar and his talents, which Brutus so

contemptuously underrates. So, too, after the assassination, when Brutus says,

I know that we shall have him well to friend;

[III. i. 143]

he answers,

I wish we may: but yet I have a mind

That fear him much: and my misgiving still

Falls shrewdly to the purpose.

[III. i. 144-46]

Brutus seeks to win Antony with general considerations of right and justice, Cassius employs a more effective


Your voice shall be as strong as any man's

In the disposing of new dignities.

[III. i. 177-78]

He altogether disapproves of the permission granted to Antony to pronounce the funeral oration. He grasps the

situation when the civil war breaks out much better than Brutus:

In such a time as this it is not meet

That every nice offence should bear his comment.

[IV. ill. 7-8]

His plans of the campaign are better, and he has a much better notion of conducting the battle.

All such shrewd sagacity is entitled to our respect. Yet even in this department Cassius is outdone by the

unpractical Brutus, so soon as higher moral qualities are required, and the wisdom of the fox yields to the

wisdom of the man ... [however] passionate and wrong-headed Brutus may be in their contention, he has too

much sense of the becoming to wrangle in public, as Cassius begins to do. Another more conspicuous

example is furnished by the way in which they bear anxiety. (pp. 279-82)

[When Popilius Lena speaks with Caesar at the Capitol at the beginning of Act III, scene i,] Cassius believes

the worst, loses his head, now hurries on Casca, now prepares for suicide. But Brutus, the disinterested man, is

less swayed by personal hopes and fears, keeps his composure, urges his friend to be constant, and can calmly

judge of the situation. It is the same defect of endurance that brings about Cassius' death. Really things are

shaping well for them, but he misconstrues the signs just as he has misconstrued the words of Lena, and kills

himself owing to a mistake; as Messala points out:

Mistrust of good success hath done this deed.

[V. iii. 65]

This want of inward strength explains the ascendancy which Brutus with his more dutiful and therefore more

steadfast nature exercises over him, though Cassius is in many ways the more capable man of the two. They

both have schooled themselves in the discipline of fortitude, Brutus in Stoic renunciation, Cassius in

Epicurean independence; but in the great crises where nature asserts herself, Brutus is strong and Cassius is

Cassius 160

weak. And as often happens with men, in the supreme trial their professed creeds no longer satisfy them, and

they consciously abandon them. But while Cassius in his evil fortune falls back on the superstitions which he

had ridiculed Caesar for adopting on his good fortune, Brutus falls back on his feeling of moral dignity, and

gives himself the death which theoretically he disapproves.

Yet, when all is said and done, what a fine figure Cassius is, and how much both of love and respect he can

inspire. (pp. 282-83)

M. W. MacCallum, "Julius Caesar: The Remaining Characters," in his Shakespeare's Roman Plays and Their

Background?, 1910. Reprint by Russell & Russell, 1967, pp. 275-99.

Mark Antony

Harley Granville-Barker

[Granville-Barker maintains that on the surface Antony appears to be a "good sort," initially supporting the

conspirators after they have assassinated Caesar; but underneath he is really an instinctive politician, the

critic declares, who demonstrates his opportunism by manipulating the crowd to avenge Caesar's death.

Granville-Barker further contends that Antony's rousing the Roman populace is not altogether mischievous;

rather, it also reflects his empathy for them because he considers himself a common man whose sensibilities

are outraged at the injustice of Caesar's murder.]

There is a tide in the affairs of men

Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune ...

[IV. iii. 218-19]

Mark Antony cannot always talk so wisely, but he takes the tide that Brutus loses. He is a born opportunist,

and we see him best in the light of his great opportunity. He stands contrasted with both Cassius and Brutus,

with the man whom his fellows respect the more for his aloofness, and with such a rasping colleague as

Cassius must be. Antony is, above all things, a good sort.

Shakespeare keeps him in ambush throughout the first part of the play. Up to the time when he faces the

triumphant conspirators he speaks just thirty-three words. But there have already been no less than seven

separate references to him, all significant. And this careful preparation culminates as significantly in the

pregnant message he sends by his servant from the house to which it seems he has fled, bewildered by the

catastrophe of Caesar's death. Yet, as we listen, it is not the message of a very bewildered man. Antony, so

far, is certainly—in what we might fancy would be his own lingo—a dark horse. And, though we may father

him on Plutarch, to English eyes there can be no more typically English figure than the sportsman turned

statesman, but a sportsman still. Such men range up and down our history. Antony is something besides,

however, that we used to natter ourselves was not quite so English. He can be, when occasion serves, the

perfect demagogue. Nor has Shakespeare any illusions as to what the harsher needs of politics may convert

your sportsman once he is out to kill. The conspirators are fair game doubtless. But Lepidus, a little later, will

be the carted stag.

A barren-spirited fellow; one that feeds

On abject orts and imitations,

Which, out of use and staled by other men,

Begin his fashion: do not talk of him

But as a property ...

[IV. i. 36-40]

Mark Antony 161

to serve the jovial Antony's turn! This is your good sort, your sportsman, your popular orator, stripped very


The servant's entrance with Antony's message, checking the conspirators' triumph, significant in its

insignificance, is the turning point of the play. But Shakespeare plucks further advantage from it. It allows

him to bring Antony out of ambush completely effective and in double guise; the message foreshadows him as

politician, a minute later we see him grieving deeply for his friend's death. There is, of course, nothing

incompatible in the two aspects of the man, but the double impression is all-important. He must impress us as

uncalculatingly abandoned to his feelings, risking his very life to vent them. For a part of his strength lies in

impulse; he can abandon himself to his feelings, as Brutus the philosopher cannot. Moreover, this bold

simplicity is his safe-conduct now. Were the conspirators not impressed by it, did it not seem to obliterate his

politic side, they might well and wisely take him at his word and finish with him then and there. And at the

back of his mind Antony has this registered clearly enough. It must be with something of the sportsman's—and

the artist's—happy recklessness that he flings the temptation at them:

Live a thousand years,

I shall not find myself so apt to die:

No place will please me so, no mean of death,

As here by Caesar, and by you cut off,

The choice and master spirits of this age.

[III. i. 159-63]

He means it; but he knows, as he says it, that there is no better way of turning the sword of a so flattered

choice and master spirit aside. It is this politic, shadowed aspect of Antony that is to be their undoing; so

Shakespeare is concerned to keep it clear at the back of our minds too. Therefore he impresses it on us first by

the servant's speech, and Antony himself is free a little later to win us and the conspirators both.

Not that the politician does not begin to peep pretty soon. He tactfully ignores the cynicism of Cassius,

Your voice shall be as strong as any man's

In the disposing of new dignities.

[III. i. 177]

But by Brutus' reiterated protest that Caesar was killed in wise kindness what realist, what ironist—and Antony

is both—would not be tempted?

I doubt not of your wisdom.

Let each man render me his bloody hand ...

[III. i. 183-84]

And, in bitter irony, he caps their ritual with his own. It is the ritual of friendship, but of such a friendship as

the blood of Caesar, murdered by his friends, may best cement. To Brutus the place of honor in the compact;

to each red-handed devotee his due; and last, but by no means least, in Antony's love shall be Trebonius who

drew him away while the deed was done. And so to the final, most fitting apostrophe:

Gentlemen all!

[III. i. 190]

Emotion subsided, the politician plays a good game. They shall never be able to say he approved their deed;

but he is waiting, please, for those convincing reasons that Caesar was dangerous. He even lets slip a friendly

warning to Cassius that the prospect is not quite clear. Then, with yet more disarming frankness, comes the

Mark Antony 162

challenging request to Brutus to let him speak in the market place. As he makes it, a well-calculated request!

For how can Brutus refuse, how admit a doubt that the Roman people will not approve this hard service done

them? Still, that there may be no doubt at all, Brutus will first explain everything to his fellow-citizens

himself, lucidly and calmly. When reason has made sure of her sway, the emotional, the "gamesome," Antony

may do homage to his friend.

Be it so;

I do desire no more.

[III. i. 251-52]

responds Antony, all docility and humility, all gravity—though if ever a smile could sharpen words, it could

give a grim edge to these. So they leave him with dead Caesar.

In this contest thus opened between the man of high argument and the instinctive politician, between principle

(mistaken or not) and opportunism, we must remember that Antony can be by no means confident of success.

He foresees chaos. He knows, if these bemused patriots do not, that it takes more than correct republican

doctrines to replace a great man. But as to this Roman mob—this citizenry, save the mark!—whoever knows

which way it will turn? The odds are on the whole against him. Still he'll try his luck; Octavius, though, had

better keep safely out of the way meanwhile. All his senses are sharpened by emergency. Before ever

Octavius' servant can speak he has recognized the fellow and guessed the errand. Shakespeare shows us his

mind at its swift work, its purposes shaping.

Passion, I see, is catching, for mine eyes,

Seeing those beads of sorrow stand in thine,

Began to water.

[III. i. 283-85]

—from which it follows that if the sight of Csesar's body can so move the man and the man's tears so move

him, why, his own passion may move his hearers in the market place presently to some purpose! His

imagination, once it takes fire, flashes its way along, not by reason's slow process though in reason's terms.

To what he is to move his hearers we know: and it will be worth while later to analyze the famous speech, that

triumph of histrionics. For though the actor of Antony must move us with it also—and he can scarcely fail

to—Shakespeare has set him the further, harder and far more important task of showing us an Antony the mob

never see, of making him clear to us, moreover, even while we are stirred by his eloquence, of making clear to

us just by what it is we are stirred. It would, after all, be pretty poor playwriting and acting which could

achieve no more than a plain piece of mob oratory, however gorgeous; a pretty poor compliment to an

audience to ask of it no subtler response than the mob's. But to show us, and never for a moment to let slip

from our sight, the complete and complex Antony, impulsive and calculating, warm-hearted and callous,

aristocrat, sportsman and demagogue, that will be for the actor an achievement indeed; and the playwright has

given him all the material for it.

Shakespeare himself knows, no one better, what mere historionics may amount to. He has been accused of

showing in a later play [Coriolanus] (but unjustly, I hold) his too great contempt for the mob; he might then

have felt something deeper than contempt for the man who could move the mob by such means; he may even

have thought Brutus made the better speech. Antony, to be sure, is more than an actor; for one thing he writes

his own part as he goes along. But he gathers the ideas for it as he goes too, with no greater care for their

worth than the actor need have so long as they are effective at the moment. He lives abundantly in the present,

his response to its call is unerring. He risks the future. How does the great oration end?

Mark Antony 163

Mischief, thou are afoot;

Take thou what course thou wilt!

[in. ii. 260-61]

A wicked child, one would say, that has whipped up his fellow children to a riot of folly and violence. That is

one side of him. But the moment after he is off, brisk, cool and business-like, to play the next move in the

game with that very cool customer, Octavius.

He has had no tiresome principles to consult or to expound.

I only speak right on ...

he boasts;

I tell you that which you yourselves do know ...

[III. ii. 224]

An admirable maxim for popular orators and popular writers too! There is nothing aloof, nothing superior

about Antony. He may show a savage contempt for this man or that; he has a sort of liking for men in the

mass. He is, in fact, the common man made perfect in his commonness; yet he is perceptive of himself as of

his fellows, and, even so, content.

What follows upon his eloquent mourning for Caesar? When the chaos in Rome has subsided he ropes his

"merry fortune" into harness. It is not a very pleasant colloquy with which the fourth act opens.

Antony. These many then shall die; their names are pricked.

Octavius. Your brother too must die; consent you, Lepidus?

Lepidus. I do consent.

Octavius. Prick him down, Antony.

Lepidus. Upon condition Publius shall not live, Who is your sister's son, Mark


Antony. He shall not live; look, with a spot I damn him.

[IV. i. 1-6]

The conspirators have, of course, little right to complain. But four lines later we learn that Lepidus himself,

when his two friends have had their use of him, is to fare not much better than his brother—than the brother he

has himself just given so callously to death! Can he complain either, then? This is the sort of beneficence the

benevolent Brutus has let loose on the world.

But Antony finishes the play in fine form; victorious in battle, politically magnanimous to a prisoner or two,

and ready with a resounding tribute to Brutus, now that he lies dead. Not in quite such fine form, though; for

the shadow of that most unsportsmanlike young man Octavius is already moving visibly to his eclipse, (pp.


Harley Granville-Barker, "Antony," in Twentieth Century Interpretations of Julius Caesar: A Collection of

Critical Essays, edited by Leonard F. Dean, Prentice-Hall Inc., 1968, pp. 21-6.

Julius Caesar: Selected Quotes

Julius Caesar: Selected Quotes 164

For let the gods so speed me as I love

The name of honor more than I fear death.

(I, ii)

As explained in the thematic discussion there is much in the way of political dilemmas in the play. Brutus, in

this same scene, lets it be know that he fears the people will anoint Caesar as their king, subordinating their

liberty to him. In this quote, Brutus is explaining that his opposition to Caesar's rule is based on honorable

intentions, and not selfish motives.

...and this man

Is now become a god; and Cassius is

A wretched creature, and must bend his body,

If Caesar carelessly but nod on him

(I, ii)

Spoken by Cassius in the beginning of the play, the quote shows his motive of envy and resentment as the

driving force behind his desire to eliminate Caesar. His motives contrast with the honorable motives of


People and Senators, be not affrighted;

Fly not; stand still; ambition's debt is paid.

(III, i)

Spoken by Brutus directly after Caesar is slain, the quote points to one of the themes in the play: ambition.

Brutus believes Caesar has been too ambitious and power-hungry, and that this has caused his death.

O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,

That I am meek and gentle with these butchers!

(III, i)

Antony, in a soliliquoy at the end of Act III, scene i, anguishes over the death of Caesar, who he considers

"the noblest man that ever lived." The stage is set for the conflict between Antony and Brutus.

If then that friend demand why Brutus rose against Caesar, this is my answer,--

Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more.

Had you rather Caesar were living, and die all slaves, than that Caesar were dead, to live all


(III, ii)

Brutus explains to the crowd of Roman citizens at Caesar's funeral why he rose against Caesar, indicating that

it was for the good of Rome.

When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:

Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:

Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;

And Brutus is an honourable man.

(III, ii)

In a famous (or infamous) funeral oration, Antony cleverly turns the crowd against Brutus and the

conspirators. He disputes Brutus's claim that Caesar was ambitious, telling the crowd that Caesar cried upon

the deaths of poor people. In the final coup d'etat of the speech, Antony reads from Caesar's will, which

Julius Caesar: Selected Quotes 165

stipulates money and property for the common people. The people begin to mutiny.

His life was gentle, and the elements

So mix'd him that

Nature might stand up

And say to all the world: "This was a man!"

(V, v)

His previous doubts cast aside, Antony submits that Brutus' motives were pure, and that his concern was for

the Roman Republic, unlike the other conspirators. He was a true statesman.

Julius Caesar: Suggested Essay Topics

Act 1, Scene 1

1. Read through Caesar’s Commentaries, an account of his battles in Europe and write a brief history of

Caesar’s rise to power.

2. Research the first triumvirate—Caesar, Crassus and Pompey. What happened to it? What were the causes

and the results of the Roman Civil War?

3. The tribunes Flavius and Marullus are concerned about Caesar’s rise to power. Research the role of the

tribunes in Roman society and discuss their duties and responsibilities.

Act I, Scene 2

1. Read Plutarch’s The Life of Caesar and compare his account of the historical events with the events as they

are depicted in Shakespeare’s play.

2. History has been touched by political assassinations from Abraham Lincoln to Martin Luther King, Jr. Very

often the profile of the assassin is that of a loner, a misfit, who has no friends and does not conform to the

norms of society. Choose one political assassination and research the life and personality of the person

responsible. Compare him to the picture Shakespeare presents of Cassius in the play.

Act I, Scene 3

1. Superstition is an important part of the play and a significant factor in Roman life. Examine the superstition

and the supernatural events described in this scene. Research Roman mythology and Roman superstitions.

What did the Romans believe and what were they afraid of?

2. Compare the character of Casca as he is depicted in Scenes 1 and 2. How has he changed? What does the

audience learn from him and why is he an important character in the play?

Act II, Scene 1

1. Read Plutarch’s Life of Brutus and compare the historical account of Brutus to the character in

Shakespeare’s play.

2. A “tragic flaw” is a weakness of personality in a character that makes the character vulnerable, and leads to

his destruction. What were Caesar’s and Brutus’ “tragic flaws” and how do these flaws make them


Act II, Scene 2

1. Compare Caesar in Act I, Scene 2 to the Caesar that appears in this scene. How is he the same? How is he

Julius Caesar: Suggested Essay Topics 166

different? What does he fear and what are the forces that influence him?

2. Wives play a key role in Act II, Scenes 1 and 2. How do the wives of Brutus and Caesar try to influence

their husbands? Are they successful?

Act II, Scenes 3 and 4

1. Rome was a republic that depended on slavery similar to the United States until the 1860s. Research the

history of slavery in Rome. Where did the slaves come from? What roles did they play in the Republic? What

was a slave’s life like? What rights and responsibilities did they have? What were the rights and

responsibilities of Roman citizens?

2. Compare the characters of Calphurnia and Portia in terms of how they are portrayed by Shakespeare in this

act. How are the two women similar? Compare the two scenes involving these two wives and their husbands.

What purpose do the scenes serve?

Act III, Scene 1

1. A soliloquy is an important device to expose information and give the reader insight into a character. In a

soliloquy, the character speaks the truth. Read Antony’s soliloquy in this scene again. What truth does it

reveal about Antony who has just apparently reconciled with the men who killed his friend, Caesar?

2. How does Caesar’s “tragic flaw” of pride and ambition enable the events in this scene to occur? How

could these events have been prevented?

Act III, Scenes 2 and 3

1. Compare the funeral speeches of Brutus and Antony. What are their purposes? How effective is each

speech? How does each speech reveal important aspects of both characters?

2. The fickleness of the crowd is an important issue in the play. Brutus and Antony both depend on it. How

are they able to manipulate the crowd in this scene? What other devices do they use in their funeral speeches

to win the support of the crowd? Which speech is more effective and why? Give reasons for your opinions.

Act IV, Scene 1

1. What does this scene reveal about Octavius? What new insight does it give into Antony’s character, and

how does that effect your opinion of him?

2. Antony and Octavius will become the focus of attention for the remainder of the play and Shakespeare will

write about them again in Antony and Cleopatra. Little is said or known of Lepidus. Research the life of

Lepidus. What is his background? Where did he come from, and what happened to him after the civil war

with Brutus and Cassius?

Act IV, Scenes 2 and 3

1. Critics have said that Caesar has a stronger influence on the events, the outcome, and the characters in the

play after his death than he did when he was living. Explain why you agree or disagree with this, and give

reasons to support your opinions.

2. The critic G. Wilson Knight has described the importance of sleep in Julius Caesar. Sleep is mentioned by

Brutus in his soliloquy in the first scene of Act II. It is brought up by Portia, and Calphurnia’s dream is very

significant. Discuss the sleep imagery in the play and show how it is important.

Act V, Scene 1

1. In literature the climax is defined as the highest point of action in a story, where the conflict is resolved.

Julius Caesar: Suggested Essay Topics 167

The battle between Cassius and Brutus and Antony and Octavius would seem to be the climax of the play, but

this confrontation never takes place. When do you think the climax of the play occurs? Give reasons for your


2. Write a character sketch of Brutus, Cassius, Antony, Octavius and Caesar based on their actions, what they

say, and what others say about them. What are their strong points and their weaknesses? Which character is

the most interesting in your opinion and why?

Act V, Scenes 2 and 3

1. Caesar considered Cassius a threat, a dangerous man who thought too much. Brutus called his

brother-in-law “the last of all the Romans.” Research the life of Cassius. Whose evaluation of Cassius is

closer to the truth? Who is the real Cassius?

2. Who do you think makes a better leader, a pragmatist (a practical, political person like Cassius) or an

idealist (a man of principle such as Brutus)? Can a leader ever be both? Support your conclusions with

specific references to the events of the play.

Act V, Scenes 4 and 5

1. Some critics contend the play should have been titled Marcus Brutus instead of Julius Caesar because he is

the real tragic hero of the play. Discuss this idea in a short essay and give your reasons why you agree or


2. Caesar and Brutus had a great deal in common. Both men were misled and manipulated by their friends.

Show how this is true in terms of what happens to each of them in the course of the play.

3. According to some critics, Julius Caesar is misinterpreted by modern audiences who are concerned with

democracy and freedom. According to these critics, Shakespeare had a different view of things. He lived

under a monarch in a time of peace and prosperity, after a series of bloody civil wars. To Shakespeare, Brutus

was a villain in this play and not a hero. He murdered a popular ruler and destroyed the social order. Do you

agree or disagree with this interpretation of the play? Provide evidence from the play to support your opinions.

Julius Caesar: Sample Essay Outlines

The following paper topics are based on the entire play. Following each topic is a thesis and sample outline.

Use these as a starting point for your paper.

Topic #1

“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This statement by Lord Acton, sent in a

letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton on April 5, 1887, provides the basis for understanding the effects of power

on the heads of state, and it furnishes an insight into one of the main themes in the play Julius Caesar.

Write a paper that shows how power affects the characters, the events, and the outcome of the play.


I. Thesis Statement: Julius Caesar is a play that illustrates the theme expressed by Lord Acton that power

corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. This can be illustrated by studying the actions of the main

characters in the play.

II. Background

A. Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus rule Rome (triumvirate)

Julius Caesar: Sample Essay Outlines 168

B. Power struggle between Pompey and Caesar

C. Civil war ends with the death of Pompey

D. Caesar’s rise to power

III. Concern for the Republic and Caesar’s growing power

A. Flavius and Marullus disperse the crowd to minimize Caesar’s power base and protect the Roman


B. A view of Caesar’s power on the feast of Lupercal, how he deals with Calphurnia and Antony

IV. The Conspiracy against Caesar

A. Cassius and Brutus discuss what must be done to prevent Caesar from destroying Rome

1. Cassius—wants personal power

2. Brutus—wants the good of Rome

3. Cassius exploits his power over Brutus by forging letters that will sway him

B. Brutus joins the plot to prevent Caesar’s abuse of power and Brutus assumes the leadership, imposing his

wishes on the others

C. The conspirators have the power of life and death in Rome and they decide who will live and who will die

V. The Assassination

A. Caesar’s death causes a power struggle in Rome as the conspirators become the new leaders

B. Brutus’ funeral speech and his rise to power as the crowds want to make him king

C. Antony’s funeral speech and his rise to power unleashing the mob on Rome for his personal reasons

VI. The Aftermath in Rome

A. Antony, Octavius, and Lepidus are changed by their new- found power

1. They make a death list to consolidate their power in Rome

2. They change Caesar’s will and his generous legacy to Rome

3. Antony’s abuse of Lepidus for his political ends

B. The growing conflict between Antony and Octavius

VII. The Aftermath in Greece

A. The conflict between Brutus and Cassius

B. The impending war

VIII. The Civil War

A. The deaths of Brutus and Cassius

B. Antony and Octavius rise to power

Topic #2

Any analysis of Julius Caesar would not be complete without considering the matter of subjective

interpretation. Throughout the play characters and events are judged not by what is actually happening, but by

one or more characters’ interpretation of these things.

Write a paper that examines these subjective interpretations of characters and events throughout the play,

providing examples to support your conclusions.


I. Thesis Statement: Understanding Julius Caesar depends on realizing that the audience’s attitude toward

the characters, and the events of the play, are not rooted in reality, but in a subjective interpretation of


Julius Caesar: Sample Essay Outlines 169

II. Act I

A. Flavius and Marullus paint a biased and negative picture of Caesar based on their support of Pompey

1. What did Pompey do that was so good?

2. What did Caesar do that was so bad?

B. Caesar is revealed in his exchanges with Antony, Cal¬phur¬nia, and the soothsayer

C. Cassius describes Caesar to Brutus as physically weak and unfit to rule Rome

1. Cassius saved Caesar’s life while swimming

2. Caesar cried like a sick girl in Spain

D. Caesar’s assessment of Cassius as a dangerous man is the opposite of Antony’s opinion that Cassius is “a

noble Roman, and well given.” (Act I, Sc. 2, 197)

E. Caesar’s behavior off stage is not seen by the audience but by Casca’s biased account of events at the


F. Cassius describes Caesar to Casca as a monster, whose abuse of power is shown by the gods sending

supernatural omens and storms to warn Rome


A. Brutus bases his decision to kill Caesar not on what he has done, but on what he might do

1. Cassius has been influencing him for a month

2. Brutus has received many anonymous letters opposing the tyrant Caesar

B. The conspirators assessment of Antony is also subjective

1. To Cassius he is a danger to be eliminated

2. To Brutus he is only a “limb of Caesar” ( Act II, Sc. 1, 165)

C. The interpretation of supernatural events

1. Calphurnia’s dream is a sign that Caesar will be killed

2. Caesar sees it as a warning from the gods that he is a coward if he stays at home

3. Decius interprets it as Caesar being the strength, power, and lifeblood of Rome and it is his view that

influences Caesar


A. Caesar’s opinion of himself as “constant as the Northern Star,” (Act III, Sc. 1, 66) incapable of changing

his mind or making mistakes, although he has made several mistakes in judgment to this point

B. To Cinna and Cassius the death of Caesar is a source of “Liberty, freedom and enfranchisement” (Act III,

Sc.1, 81)

C. To Antony, his death is the “ruins of the noblest man / That ever lived in the tide of times.” (Act III, Sc. 1,

296–257) and the first step on the path to anarchy and bloody civil war

D. Brutus’ funeral speech attempts to cast Caesar an ambitious tyrant who would have destroyed the

Republic and made slaves of everyone

E. Antony’s funeral speech shows a compassionate Caesar, who cried for suffering Romans, and a generous

man who left money and land in his will for every citizen

F. Antony’s account of the murder of Caesar, although he did not witness it, stirs the angry mob to want


V. Act IV

A. Antony’s assessment of Lepidus as being unfit to rule Rome

B. Octavius’ opinion that he is a “tried and valiant soldier” (Act IV, Sc. 1, 29)

C. Cassius’ reasons for not going to Philippi

D. Brutus’ opinions that the must go or lose the opportunity for success

VI. Act V

A. In the parley before the battle both sides see themselves as true Romans and the others as the traitors

B. Pindarus gives his subjective account of Titinius being captured by the enemy, and it results in Cassius’

Julius Caesar: Sample Essay Outlines 170


C. Antony’s opinion of Brutus as “the noblest Roman of them all” (Act V, Sc. 5, 69) is in sharp contrast with

his earlier view of Brutus as a murderer and flatterer

Topic #3

Superstition, in the opinion of Polybius, a Greek writer, was an important force in Rome and it plays a major

part in Julius Caesar. Many decisions in the daily lives of the Romans were referred to the augurers, who

could determine the will of the gods through ritual and sacrifice. Augurers decided the Roman calendar, and

what days, were and were not suitable for conducting business. Caesar himself was an augurer, a position of

influence in Roman society.

Write a paper that examines Roman superstition, and show the effects it had on the events and the outcome of

the play.


I. Thesis Statement: Superstition is an important factor in determining the events and the outcome of Julius

Caesar, a significant force throughout the course of the entire play.

II. The Feast of Lupercal

A. The play begins on a festival in honor of the god Pan, the god of fertility

B. Caesar indicates his superstition by directing Antony to touch Calphurnia during the race, to make her

fertile and enable her to provide Caesar with an heir

C. The soothsayer provides a look into the future and a warning for Caesar

III. The Omens of Nature

A. Casca’s account to Cicero of the unnatural events he has witnessed, which he interprets as the gods in a

state of civil war, or intent on destroying the world

B. Cassius’s account of the message from the gods, warning Rome of Caesar’s growing power and the threat

he poses for the Republic

IV. The Sacrifice of the Augurers

A. Finding no heart in the beast is a warning to Caesar to remain home

B. To Caesar it is a rebuke from the gods that he is a coward if he does not go out

V. Calphurnia’s Dream—Caesar’s statue spouting blood

A. Calphurnia’s interpretation it is a warning of Caesar’s impending death

B. Decius’ favorable interpretation of the dream as a sign of Caesar’s stature in Rome and the respect all the

Romans have for him

VI. Signs before the Battle

A. Caesar’s ghost, an omen of Brutus’ death

B. The eagles on the ensign replaced by ravens and kites, a sign that Cassius and Brutus will lose the battle

and die

Julius Caesar: Modern Connections

One of the major issues Julius Caesar deals with is the overthrow of a ruler. In this play, Shakespeare raises

the question of whether this is ever justified and if so, under what circumstances. At the time Shakespeare was

writing, a commonly held view on this topic was that the overthrow of any ruler—good or bad—was morally

wrong. This view is prevalent in Dante's The Inferno (a part of a longer work completed between 1308 and

1321). In the poem, Dante (an Italian poet) put Brutus and Cassius in the lowest level of Hell as punishment

Julius Caesar: Modern Connections 171

for their rebellion. This concept was well-known in Shakespeare's time through literature such as The Inferno

and through the views of England's rulers. The two English monarchs during Shakespeare's lifetime, Queen

Elizabeth and King James I, shared the view that an attack on the ruler was deeply immoral and dangerous to

the kingdom. James I felt that even a bad ruler should not be overthrown, for such a person was sent by God

to test and mature the character of the Christian subject of the ruler. Hence, in no situations should the subject

turn to rebellion. Both Elizabeth and James were the targets of plots against them, but both survived the plots.

A view opposite to the medieval one of Dante was put forward by some Renaissance thinkers in their

writings. Two Renaissance writers who supported the overthrow of a tyrant ruler were the Italian political

writer Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) and the French essayist Michel Eyquem Montaigne (1533-92). In

their philosophical arguments, they discussed the causes which would lead people to seek to overthrow a

ruler. Additionally, some Catholic and Protestant polemicists advocated the overthrow and assassination of an

unjust ruler when specific circumstances, such as lack of religious toleration in the kingdom, applied.

In Julius Caesar, Brutus argues that Caesar was killed because of his ambition. He worries about the change

that Caesar might undergo if he were to acquire more power. The historical Julius Caesar was able to achieve

a level of personal power exceeding that which the ancient Roman political system was designed to allow.

The main governing body in Rome in Caesar's time was the Senate. In Julius Caesar, most of the central

characters—Caesar, Brutus, Mark Antony—are members of the Senate. The principal officials of the Senate

were known as consuls. Two consuls were elected from the Senate by the general public. These two consuls

served alternate months during the same year. The power of a consul was intended to be checked by the

presence of the second consul and by the short term of office. However, in a period of civil wars, many

exceptions to these rules were made for the victorious military leader, Caesar. The Senate awarded additional

honors and power beyond that of a consul to Caesar due to his successful military exploits. Later, Caesar

claimed even more power for himself.

Like the ancient Roman legal system, the modern democratic system is one in which officials are elected by

the general public and in which checks and balances are incorporated into the governing process. In a

democracy, people have the power to vote out of office individual leaders who are not representing their

views in the passing of laws. A system of checks and balances exists with the division of the U.S. government

into three branches: legislative, judicial, and executive. Informal checks are also in place which prevent one

person from amassing too much power. Such checks include regularly scheduled elections, campaign laws,

independent media, a system of public education, well-trained lawyers and a jury system, separation of church

and state, and lobbyists for various constituencies.

Another area of interest for the modern audience is the difference between the historical record, mainly as

found in the writings of Greek biographer Plutarch (died c. 120 A.D.), and Shakespeare's use of the record.

Much of Shakespeare's story for Julius Caesar is found in Plutarch. However, Shakespeare omits a number of

things: 1) reference to Portia's first marriage or her offspring from that marriage 2) the fact that Caesar saved

Brutus's life after the battle of Pharsalus 3) the comment that Brutus stabbed Caesar in the "privities."

Suetonius, a Roman biographer/historian and contemporary of Plutarch, reported on a tradition that Brutus

was Caesar's illegitimate son, another aspect of Roman record which is not mentioned in the play. It has been

suggested that perhaps Shakespeare omitted such information in order to depict Brutus in a sympathetic

manner. Additionally, there are a number of other differences between Plutarch's historical record and

Shakespeare's play, including compressions of time. Similarly, modern artists rely on historical or official

records for inspiration. The artist—whether he or she is a poet, an author, a playwright, a director—may

interpret or embellish aspects of such documents for any number of reasons, including theatrical or political

purposes. One modern example of variation between the record of an event and an artist’s interpretation of

that event is the difference between the Warren Commission Report on the assassination of President John F.

Kennedy and the movie version depicted by film director Oliver Stone.

Julius Caesar: Modern Connections 172

Julius Caesar: FAQs

Why did Shakespeare call this play Julius Caesar?

Brutus, not Julius Caesar, is the main protagonist of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and so the play's title appears

to be misleading. Caesar dies before the mid-point of the play is reached and Shakespeare does not provide

the Roman Emperor with a single memorable speech. On the other hand, it is Caesar's ambition to become

absolute dictator of Rome that provides the dramatic conflict for Brutus's participation in the assassination

conspiracy, and it is Caesar's decision to disregard the warnings of both his wife Calpurnia and the Soothsayer

about the Ides of March that furnishes the conspirators with their opportunity. In the end, however,

Shakespeare may have elected to call his Roman tragedy Julius Caesar for commercial reasons. While his

audiences may not have been familiar with Brutus, they certainly recognized Caesar's name. Composed at a

relatively early juncture in Shakespeare's career, the title of Julius Caesar may well have been chosen to

appeal to an audience that was not yet ready to attend a play solely on the basis of Shakespeare's own


What motivates the conspirators to assassinate Caesar?

Shakespeare deliberately emphasized that the motivations of conspirators are highly variable. Most of the

minor members of the cabal are moved by personal grudges. Cassius, by contrast, takes part in the conspiracy

against Caesar owing chiefly to his envy of the lofty and undeserved stature accorded to Caesar as a demigod.

Brutus, however, has no personal grudge against Caesar, nor does Brutus resent Caesar's stature in the eyes of

the people. His principal concern is that Caesar will transform Rome from a quasi-Republic into a

dictatorship. Although Julius Caesar is stymied in this regard, Roman history bore out Brutus's analysis.

Why does Shakespeare insert the death of the poet Cinna

into Julius Caesar?

In Act III, scene iii, we briefly encounter the minor character of a poet who unfortunately has the same name

as one of Caesar's assassins, Cinna. Having dreamt of dining with the slain Caesar, Cinna is intent upon

staying out of the mayhem that Mark Antony has stirred up, but despite his misgivings, "something" leads him

forth. The frenzied plebian mob interrogates him mercilessly and it is evident that they are predisposed to

harm him. When he insists that he is not Cinna the politician but Cinna the poet, one of the plebians exclaims,

"tear him for his bad verses" (III, iii. l.30), and the mob drags him to his death. The killing of this incidental

character is meant to intensify the sense of chaos that has taken hold of Rome with the death of Julius Caesar.

The connection is reinforced by Cinna's following a pattern similar to Caesar; he senses danger but is

nonetheless drawn into harm's way.

What are we to make of Antony's funeral oration for Brutus?

It is ironic that Mark Antony, the Roman general whose funeral oration turns the people against Brutus and

the other "honorable" men is assigned the dramatic function of praising the fallen Brutus at the play's end.

Antony calls Brutus the "noblest Roman of them all," but his words thereafter suggest that the "all" in

question includes only the conspirators against Caesar. The conclusion of this brief speech, in which Nature

stands up to say of Brutus "`This was a man!'" (V, v, l.75) is oddly hollow. Antony is confronted with an

occasion that requires some sort of statement, but his praise for Brutus is oddly inaccurate (Brutus is not truly

"gentle") and couched is such broad generalizations that it could apply to virtually anyone.

Julius Caesar: FAQs 173

Julius Caesar: Bibliography and Further Reading

*If available, books are linked to Amazon.com

Blits, Jan H. The End of the Republic: Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1993.

Bloom, H. and Golding, W., eds. William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: Modern Critical Intepretations. New

York: Chelsea House, 1988.

Bradley, Andrew Cecil. Shakespearean Tragedy. New York: Penguin, 1992.

Bullough, Geoffrey. Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare: The Roman Plays. New York:

Columbia University Press, 1964.

Charney, Maurice. Shakespeare's Roman Plays: The Function of Imagery in the Drama.Cambridge: Harvard

University Press, 1963.

Coles, Blanche. Shakespeare Studies: Julius Caesar. New York: AMS Press, 1969.

Daiches, David. Shakespeare, Julius Caesar. London: Edward Arnold, 1976.

Granville-Barker, Harley. Prefaces to Shakespeare. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963.

Hamer, Mary, ed. Julius Caesar. University Press of Mississippi, 1999.

Kiefer, Frederick. Fortune and Elizabethan Tragedy. San Marino: Huntington Library, 1983.

McCallum, M.W. Shakespeare's Roman Plays and Their Background. New York: Russell & Russell, 1967.

McElroy, Bernard. Shakespeare's Mature Tragedies. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973

Mehl, Dieter. Shakespeare's Tragedies: An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Nardo, Don, ed. Readings on Julius Caesar. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999.

Nevo, Ruth. Tragic Form in Shakespeare. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972.

Paris, Bernard. Character As a Subversive Force in Shakespeare: The History and Roman Plays. Hackensack,

New Jersey: FDU Press, 1991.

Ribner, Irving. Patterns in Shakespearian Tragedy. London: Methuen, 1969.

Simmons, J. L. Shakespeare's Pagan World: The Roman Tragedies. Charlottesville: University of Virginia

Press, 1973.

Traversi, Derek. Shakespeare: The Roman Plays. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1963.

Whitaker, V.K. Mirror Up to Nature: The Technique of Shakespeare's Tragedies. San Marino: Huntington

Library, 1965.

Post a Comment