Julius Caesar

02 Julius Caesar

Introduction

‘Julius Caesar’ is the story of a man’s personal dilemma over moral action, set against a backdrop of strained political drama. Julius Caesar, an able general and a conqueror returns to Rome amidst immense popularity after defeating the sons of Pompeii. The people celebrate Caesar’s victorious return and Mark Antony offers him the crown which he refuses. Jealous of Caesar’s growing power and afraid that he may one day become a dictator, Cassius instigates a conspiracy to murder Caesar. He realizes that to gain legitimacy in the eyes of the Romans, he must win over the noble Brutus to his side, for Brutus was the most trusted and respected in Rome. Brutus, the idealist, joins the conspiracy feeling that everyone is driven by motives as honourable as his own.

About the author:

William Shakespeare was an English poet, playwright, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s pre-eminent dramatist. Shakespeare produced most of his known work between 1589 and 1613. His early plays were primarily comedies and histories, and these are regarded as some of the best work ever produced in these genres. He then wrote tragedies until about 1608. Shakespeare wrote 17 comedies which include ‘The Merchant of Venice’ and ‘Much Ado about Nothing’. Among his 10 historical plays are ‘Henry V’ and ‘Richard III’. The most famous among his tragedies are ‘Hamlet’, ‘Othello’, ‘King Lear’ and ‘Macbeth’. Shakespeare also wrote four poems and a famous collection of Sonnets which was first published in 1609.

Summary

The first scene depicts the argument between Caesar and his wife Calpurnia. Calpurnia tries to stop Caesar from going to the senate as she is apprehensive of some mishap. She explains the bad omens which she saw in her dreams. In response, Caesar claims that a brave man should not be afraid of death because death is the ultimate truth. Calpurnia wants Mark Antony to convey the message that Caesar would not attend the meeting at senate and to give an excuse of Caesar’s sickness. Finally, Brutus tries to convince Caesar by giving a different and positive interpretation of the dreams which Calpurnia had. Thus, Brutus is able to take Caesar along with him to the senate.

 

All the courtiers and members of the senate sing paeans for Caesar. Caesar asks his fellows not to indulge in flattery. The discussion then veers on the banishment of Publius Cimber. Finally, all the men who are with Cassius take out their daggers and stab Caesar to death. When Brutus stabs Caesar, the latter is astonished that even his best friend had turned against him. After the assassination, Cassius wants the message to be conveyed to the people of Rome. He wants them to know that they have successfully ended tyranny and ensured freedom for the people of Rome.

 

Mark Antony arrives on the scene. Cassius and his men try to convince him by saying that Caesar was murdered for the good of Rome. They also assure Antony his due share in power. Antony seeks permission for taking the body of Caesar so that he can organize a public mourning. It is also agreed that Brutus would speak to the public to convey the message of protection of Rome’s liberty as a reason for the assassination of Caesar. After that Antony could take his time to speak whatever he wishes to speak about Caesar.

 

Brutus is the first one to speak to the people of Rome. He uses this opportunity to state his reasons for killing Caesar. After Brutus, Antony gives a speech to highlight that Caesar was kind to the public and was not ambitious as was claimed by Brutus. By giving many examples; Antony is able to motivate the gathered mass of people. He also reads out the will of Caesar which announces many freebies for the people. People then cremate the body of Caesar and begin the revolt against Cassius and Brutus.

Meanings of words and phrases

  • opinions of success – chances of success
  • stir out – move out
  • vanished – disappeared
  • stood on ceremonies – to pay much attention to omens and forecasts
  • horrid – unpleasant
  • whelped – to give birth to
  • fierce – violent or powerful
  • fiery – to show very strong feeling
  • squadrons – a unit of one of the armed forces, especially the air force or the navy
  • drizzled – to fall in light drops
  • hurtled – to move or cause to move at high speed
  • valiant – someone having great courage
  • augurers – someone who foretold events by interpreting omens
  • entrails – an animal’s intestines or internal organs, especially when removed or exposed
  • cowardice – lack of bravery
  • prevail – win someone over
  • spouts – a stream of liquid issuing from somewhere with great force
  • portents – a sign or warning that a dreadful event is likely to happen
  • imminent – something that is about to happen
  • interpreted – to understand in a particular way
  • cognizance – knowledge
  • puissant – someone having great power or influence
  • couchings and lowly courtesies – bending and bowing
  • cur – an aggressive or unkempt dog
  • repeal – to revoke a law or act
  • flattery – excessive and insincere praise
  • enfranchisement – liberation from imprisonment or slavery
  • tyranny – cruel and oppressive government or rule
  • pulpits – an elevated platform or high reading desk
  • little measure – a small piece of ground on which a body lies
  • bear hard – to bear a grudge against someone
  • reek – stench
  • in strength of malice – something that may appear to be hostile
  • conceit – to consider
  • modesty – understatement
  • good regard – serious consideration
  • cumber – burden
  • custom of fell deeds – terrible deeds shall become so familiar
  • censure – judge
  • disprove- contradict
  • envious- malicious
  • flood of mutiny- wave of violence
  • wit- intelligence

Character Sketches:

Julius Caesar

A great Roman general and senator, Caesar recently returned to Rome in triumph after a successful military campaign. While his good friend Brutus was worried that Caesar might aspire for dictatorship over the Roman republic, Caesar seemed to show no such inclination, declining the crown several times. Yet while Caesar may not be unduly power-hungry, he did possess his share of flaws. He was unable to separate his public life from his private life, and, overwhelmed by the general public’s increasing idealization and adoration of his image, he ignored ill omens and threats against his life. Also, his arrogance took the better of him, eventually leading to his brutal assassination by his own senators.

Brutus

A supporter of the republic, he strongly believed in a government guided by the votes of senators. While Brutus loved Caesar as a friend, he opposed the rise of any single man to the position of dictator, and he feared that Caesar aspired to be a dictator. Brutus’ inflexible sense of honour made it easy for Caesar’s enemies to manipulate him into believing that Caesar must die in order to preserve the republic. While the other conspirators acted out of envy and rivalry, only Brutus truly believed that Caesar’s death would benefit Rome. Unlike Caesar, Brutus was able to separate completely his public life from his private life; by giving priority to matters of state, he epitomized Roman virtue. Torn between his loyalty to Caesar and his commitment to the state, Brutus maybe called the tragic hero of the play.

Antony

Antony is Caesar’s friend and confidante. After Caesar’s assassination, Antony claims loyalty to Brutus and the conspirators in order to save his own life. Later, however, when speaking a funeral oration over Caesar’s body, he spectacularly persuades the audience to withdraw its support of Brutus and instead condemn him as a traitor. With tears on his cheeks and Caesar’s will in his hand, Antony engages masterful oratory to stir the crowd to revolt against the conspirators.

Conclusion of the play:

The conspirators were alarmed by the tumult caused by Antony’s speech. They were forced to flee from Rome and finally, from Italy. At this point, Antony, together with Caesar’s adopted son, Octavius, and a wealthy banker, Lepidus, gathers an army to pursue and destroy Caesar’s killers.

 

For months together, they looked for the conspirators and their armies into the far reaches of Asia Minor. When finally they decide to stop at the town of Sardis, Cassius and Brutus were found quarrelling bitterly over finances. However, their differences are resolved, and they plan to face the battle with the forces of Antony, Octavius, and Lepidus. Instead of holding to their well-prepared defensive positions, Brutus orders an attack on Antony’s camp on the plains of Philippi. Just before the battle, Brutus is visited by the ghost of Caesar. The spirit warns him, but Brutus’ courage is unshaken and he goes on.

 

The battle raged. At first, the conspirators seemed to have an upper hand.  But in some confusion, Cassius is mistakenly convinced that all is lost, and he kills himself. Now since the leader was lost, the forces were quickly defeated. Brutus finds himself fighting a hopeless battle. Unable to face the prospect of humiliation and shame as a captive, he too commits suicide.

 

As the play ends, Antony delivers a tribute over Brutus’ body, calling him the noblest Roman of them all. So eventually, Caesar’s murder had been avenged, order had been restored, and, most important, the Roman Empire had been preserved.

Theme

The play ‘Julius Caesar’ deals with people’s short memory of the service rendered by great heroes for their country. All that Julius Caesar did for his country was forgotten by the conspirators and he was punished for his ‘over-ambition’. The play highlights human weaknesses like hunger for power, over-ambition, jealousy and ingratitude. The play also brings out the mob’s fickle-mindedness and irrational approach. On the whole, the play conveys the message that in the field of politics, worldly wisdom, practical approach and psychological insight is a must. Nobody should be taken on the face value. Acting impulsively can be injurious. One needs to keep one’s cool during crisis.

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