Index of Shakespeare Plays on DVDs, Including Four Productions of Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar
A Study Guide
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Type of Work
Key Dates
Plot Summary
Figures of Speech
Ominous Number Three
Speech Patterns
Historical Irony
Study Questions
Essay Topics
Complete Free Text
Shakespeare Biography
Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...© 2003..

Type of Work

.......Julius Caesar is a stage play in the form of a tragedy centering on the death of Julius Caesar and the downfall of one of his killers, Marcus Brutus. Because the drama recounts actual historical events, it may also be referred to as a history play. 

Key Dates

Date Written: 1598-1599. 
First Performance: Probably 1599 at the Globe Theatre.
First Printing: 1623 as part of the First Folio, the first authorized collection of Shakespeare's plays.

.......Shakespeare based the play on “Caesar,” a chapter in Parallel Lives, by Plutarch (46?-120?), as translated by Sir Thomas North from Jacques Amyot’s French version. The French version was a translation of a Latin version of Plutarch’s original Greek version. Shakespeare may also have borrowed ideas from Dante’s Divine Comedy (in which Brutus and Cassius occupy the lowest circle of hell) and Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (in which “The Monk’s Tale” presents Caesar as a victim rather than a villain).

.......The play begins in Rome on February 15, 44 B.C., and ends in Philippi, Greece, in 42 B.C. when Cassius and Brutus commit suicide after battling the forces of Mark Antony and Octavian. Part of the action is also set in the camp of Brutus and Cassius near Sardis (in present-day Turkey). 


Protagonist: Brutus
Antagonists: Antony, Caesar 
Foil of Brutus: Cassius 

Julius Caesar: Triumphant general and political leader of Rome. Although he is highly competent and multi-talented, he is also condescending and arrogant. In his conversation, he frequently uses the third-person "Caesar" instead of the first-person "I" to refer to himself and also sometimes substitutes the kingly "we" for "I."  He depicts himself as a man of unshakable resolve, but he proudly and recklessly ignores warnings about his safety. Rumors abound that he plans to be crowned king. Historically, evidence to support the view that Caesar sought elevation to a throne is inconclusive. 
Marcus Brutus: Roman senator and praetor who helps plan and carry out Caesar's assassination. Historically, Marcus Junius Brutus (84-42 B.C.) enjoyed a reputation in his day among Roman republicans as a noble and fair-minded statesman. However, his opponents—notably supporters of Caesar—regarded him as a traitor. First, Brutus sided with Pompey the Great against Caesar when the Roman Civil War started in 49 B.C. After Caesar defeated Pompey at Pharsalus, Greece, in 48 B.C., he pardoned Brutus and appointed him governor of Cisalpine Gaul in 46 B.C. and a praetor of Rome in 44 B.C. But Brutus turned against Caesar a second time, helping to lead the conspiracy that led to Caesar’s assassination in 44 B.C. Brutus believed the action was necessary to prevent Caesar from becoming dictator-for-life, meaning that all power would reside in Caesar and not in the delegates representing the people. In Shakespeare’s play, Brutus’s nobility and idealism gain the audience’s sympathy. But in the ancient Roman world of power politics, characterized by perfidy and pragmatism, it is his virtues that doom him. His downfall and death are the real tragedy of the play, not the death of Caesar.
Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony): A member of the ruling triumvirate after the assassination of Julius Caesar. Marcus is also known as Mark Antony, or simply Antony. He is cunning and pragmatic, a thoroughgoing politician who can wield words just as effectively as he wields weapons. Antony is a main character in another Shakespeare play, Antony and Cleopatra.
Gaius Cassius Longinus: Clever and manipulative senator who persuades Brutus to join the assassination conspiracy. Unlike Brutus, Cassius is no idealist; his primary motivation for conspiring against Caesar appears to be jealousy. Though small-minded and mean-spirited early in the play, he later displays courage and a modicum of honor on the field of battle.
Octavius Caesar (Octavian): Grandnephew of Julius Caesar and a member of the ruling triumvirate after the assassination of Julius Caesar. Octavius, also known in history books as Octavian, later became emperor of Rome as Augustus Caesar.
Marcus Aemilius Lepidus: A member of the ruling triumvirate after the assassination of Julius Caesar. Because he is weak, he is easily pushed aside.
Cicero, Publius, and Popilius Lena: Roman senators. Cicero, a supporter of republican government, is killed by the supporters of Caesar in the aftermath of Caesar's assassination. However, Cicero did not take part in planning or carrying out the assassination.
Publius Servilius Casca: One of the leading conspirators against Caesar. According to the Greek biographer Plutarch, Casca was the first of the conspirators to stab Caesar, plunging a dagger into his back. 
Other Conspirators: Casca, Trebonius, Ligarius, Decius Brutus, Metellus Cimber, Cinna. (Note: At least 59 conspirators participated in the actual assassination of Caesar in 44 B.C.)
Tribunes: Flavius and Marullus
Artemidorus: Teacher of rhetoric who attempts to warn Caesar that  Brutus, Cassius, and others have turned against him. 
Soothsayer: Seer who warns Caesar to beware of the ides of March (March 15). Shakespeare does not name the soothsayer. However, in ancient texts by Plutarch and Suetonius, the soothsayer is identified as an astrologer named Spurinna. 
Poets: Cinna and an unnamed poet.
Friends of Brutus and Cassius: Lucilius, Titinius, Messala, Young Cato, Volumnius.
Servants of Brutus: Varro, Clitus, Claudius, Strato, Lucius, Dardanius.
Servant of Cassius: Pindarus.
Calpurnia: Julius Caesar's wife.
Portia: Brutus's wife.
Minor Characters: Senators, citizens, commoners, soldiers, guards, attendants, messenger.

Plot Summary
By Michael J. Cummings...© 2003
Editor's Note
.........The play begins in 44 B.C. It is February 15, the day of the annual Festival of Lupercalia, honoring Lupercus (also called Faunus), the Roman god of fertility. On this special day, Romans performed rites to promote the fertility of croplands and forests, as well as the fertility of women of child-bearing age. The Romans also commemorated the legend of the she-wolf that nurtured the mythological founders of Rome—Romulus and Remus, twin sons of Mars, the god of war. It was in the cave of Lupercus, on Rome’s Palatine Hill, that the wolf suckled the twin boys. Oddly, while glorifying the memory of the she-wolf during Lupercalia, the Romans also gave thanks to Lupercus for protecting shepherds’ flocks from wolves. In Shakespeare’s play, Lupercalia takes on even more significance, for it is the day when mighty Julius Caesar parades through the streets near the Palatine Hill in a triumphal procession celebrating his victory over Pompey the Great in the Roman Civil War. 
The Story

.........On February 15, the day of the annual Festival of Lupercalia, tradesmen gather in streets near the Palatine Hill in Rome to watch mighty Caesar as he passes by in a procession celebrating his triumph over Pompey the Great in the Roman Civil War. Two tribunes, Flavius and Marullus, reproach the tradesmen for their adoration of Caesar. Marullus cries, “You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things!” (1. 1. 27). Once upon a time, he says, the populace gathered to cheer Pompey as he passed in procession. Now, Marullus says, the same people are closing their shops to honor a man who “comes in triumph over Pompey’s blood” (1. 1. 43). Flavius and Marullus then chase the tradesmen home. The two tribunes distrust Caesar, thinking him ambitious and covetous of kingly power. However, their efforts against a handful of tradesmen do little to intimidate the thousands of others gathered to applaud the great general as he and his entourage make their way to the public games. 
.......Mark Antony, a military commander who fought against Pompey and later became a consul of Rome, is “running the course,” a Lupercalia ritual in which the runner strips naked and races through streets with a thong cut from a sacrificial goat. Along the way, the runner strikes any woman he encounters, thus ensuring her fertility. Caesar tells him to be sure to strike Calpurnia, the wife of Caesar, and Antony assures him that he will. From somewhere in the crowd, a soothsayer cries out to Caesar: “Beware the Ides of March” (1. 2. 23). When Caesar calls him closer, the soothsayer repeats his warning. Caesar says, “He is a dreamer; let us leave him: pass” (1. 1. 30). The soothsayer apparently knows what Caesar and his intimate friends don’t know: that prominent citizens are plotting against Caesar and may act against him one month hence, on the Ides of March (March 15), to prevent him from centering all power in himself. 
.......Observing Caesar at some distance is Gaius Cassius Longinus, a former military leader who serves as praetor perigrinus (a high judicial official who decides cases involving foreigners). He is a ringleader of the disenchanted Romans. Envious of Caesar’s power, Cassius tells another prominent citizen, Marcus Junius Brutus—a former military commander who now serves as praetor urbanus (a high judidical offical who decides cases involving Roman citizens)—that Caesar has become much too powerful:

Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves. (1. 2. 143-146) 
.......Among those accompanying Caesar on the festive day is Casca, a friend of Cassius. As Caesar’s entourage leaves the games, Cassius urges Brutus to pull Casca aside and ask him for a report on what Caesar and his friends did during the games. When Brutus does so, Casca gives this account:
.......Mark Antony offered Caesar a crown. Well aware that accepting it might anger the crowd, Caesar refused it. Antony offered it two more times, and Caesar twice more refused it—each time with greater reluctance than before. Then he suffered an epileptic seizure but recovered moments later. Nearby, the Roman senator Cicero (a political opponent of Caesar) spoke to his friends about what had taken place, and they smiled and shook their heads. But his comment was in Greek, and Casca did not understand it. At any rate, one thing seems clear: Caesar wants to be crowned, when the time is right. 
.......Cassius presses Brutus to take part in an assassination plot against Caesar. The perceptive Caesar, meanwhile, smells trouble from Cassius when he looks upon him. “Yond Cassius,” he tells Mark Antony, “has a lean and hungry look. / He thinks too much: such men are dangerous” (1. 2. 204-205). Cassius works hard to win over Brutus to his deadly ways and, through crook and hook, eventually convinces him that Caesar must die. Brutus is a sincere, highly respected man of principle; if he says Caesar must go, Cassius knows, other disenchanted Romans will surely follow his lead. Cassius is right. After other citizens learn that Brutus has sided against Caesar, they decide to follow his lead. On March 14, the conspirators meet in Brutus’s orchard to make final plans to kill the Great One in the Capitol the next day, the Ides of March. After the meeting, Portia, Brutus’s wife, notices a change in her husband’s demeanor, saying “You have some sick offence within your mind” (2. 1. 288), and prods him to reveal his thoughts. But Lucius, the servant of Brutus, interrupts their conversation to present a visitor Ligarius, and Portia leaves the room. Ligarius then pledges his support for the plot against Caesar. 
.......The night is violent: Thunder booms, lightning strikes. Caesar’s wife, Calpurnia, dreams that something terrible is about to smite her husband and begs him not to go to the Capitol on the Ides. She tells him what she saw in the dream:
A lioness hath whelped in the streets;
And graves have yawn’d, and yielded up their dead;
Fierce fiery warriors fought upon the clouds,
In ranks and squadrons and right form of war,
Which drizzled blood upon the Capitol;
The noise of battle hurtled in the air,
Horses did neigh, and dying men did groan,
And ghosts did shriek and squeal about the streets.
O Caesar! these things are beyond all use,
And I do fear them. (2. 2. 21-30 )
.......Caesar says, “Cowards die many times before their deaths; / The valiant never taste of death but once” (2. 2. 37-38). Thus, because he is not a coward and because he does not fear death, which he says “will come when it will come” (2. 2. 42), he refuses to change his plans. But after Calpurnia prevails on him further, Caesar agrees to stay home, saying, “Mark Antony shall say I am not well” (2. 2. 63). However, one of the conspirators, Decius, comes to Caesar’s house while night yields to day and persuades him to go the Capitol as planned, telling him that his wife’s dream was misinterpreted.
.......The image of blood she saw, Decius says, means “that from you [Caesar] great Rome shall suck / Reviving blood. . .” (2. 2. 97-98). Caesar says, “How foolish do your fears seem now, Calpurnia!” (2. 2. 115). At eight o’clock, other conspirators—Cassius, Brutus, Ligarius, Metellus Cimber, Casca, Trebonius, and Cinna—enter to escort Caesar to the Capitol. Caesar tells them he will be speaking at the Capitol for an hour and says, “Be near me, that I may remember you” (2. 2. 138). Trebonius replies, “Caesar, I will,” then completes his statement with an aside, speaking only loudly enough for the other conspirators to hear: “and so near will I be / That your best friends will wish I had been further” (2. 2. 139-140). 
.......Out on the streets, Artemidorus, a teacher of rhetoric who has come into knowledge of the conspiracy, is reading to himself from a paper. It says,
Cæsar, beware of Brutus; take heed of Cassius; come not near Casca; have an eye to Cinna; trust not Trebonius: mark well Metellus Cimber: Decius Brutus loves thee not: thou hast wronged Caius Ligarius. There is but one mind in all these men, and it is bent against Cæsar. If thou beest not immortal, look about you: security gives way to conspiracy. (2. 3. 3)
.......Artemidorus then posts himself along the route to the Capitol to await Caesar. Nearby is the soothsayer. When Caesar approaches, he tells the soothsayer that “The Ides of March are come” (3. 1. 3), as if to point out that the day of the dire events predicted by the soothsayer has arrived, but nothing has happened. However, the soothsayer responds, “Ay, Caesar, but not gone” (3. 1. 4). Artemidorus then importunes Caesar to read his message. However, Decius Brutus also asks Caesar to read a document—a suit on behalf of Trebonius. When Artemidorus interrupts, trying again to get Caesar’s attention, Caesar becomes irritated and ignores him. He then enters the Senate building.
.......Inside, Metellus Cimber approaches him to beg mercy for his banished brother, a pretense that allows him and the other conspirators to draw close in apparent support of Cimber but, in actuality, to post themselves at dagger distance. Caesar arrogantly rejects Cimber’s plea, saying the decree against Cimber’s brother is final. Brutus, Cassius, and Cinna also speak up for Cimber’s brother. But Caesar, comparing his own constancy to that of the North Star (the brightest in the constellation of Ursa Minor) and his immovability to that of Mount Olympus, brushes aside their pleas. Casca then stabs Caesar and the other conspirators join in, stabbing him again and again. As he dies, Caesar looks up and sees his old friend Brutus among the conspirators. “Et tu, Brute?” (3. 1. 87), he says. (The words are Latin for “And you, Brutus?”) Obviously, Caesar is pierced to his heart with the knowledge that the noble  Brutus was among the assailants. After Caesar dies, Cinna shouts, “Liberty! Freedom! Tyranny is dead! / Run hence, proclaim, cry it about the streets” (3. 1. 88-89). At a suggestion of Brutus the conspirators bathe their hands in Caesar’s blood so that they can show the people of Rome that a tyrant is dead and liberty rules. Cassius thinks the generations to come will remember them as heroes who liberated Rome. 
.......Mark Antony’s servant arrives with a message: Although Antony loved and served Caesar, he does not love Caesar the dead man; he loves Brutus the living man. Brutus, believing the message was sent in good faith, sends the messenger back to tell Antony that Brutus holds no grudge; Antony may move freely about without coming to harm. Antony himself arrives on the scene shortly thereafter and shakes the bloody hands of the conspirators, saying, 
Friends am I with you all and love you all,
Upon this hope, that you shall give me reasons
Why and wherein Caesar was dangerous. (3. 1. 241-243)
.......Clever Antony, however, has no intention of allying himself with Brutus and Cassius. Later, in the Forum, Brutus wins over a mob with a speech explaining that even though Caesar had his good points he suffered from a fatal flaw, ambition—ambition for power—that would have enslaved the citizens. Brutus says he had no choice but to rid Rome of Caesar and thereby win freedom for everyone. Antony comes forth with Caesar’s body, and Brutus tells the mob to listen to what he has to say, no doubt expecting Antony to endorse the action of the conspirators. Antony’s speech begins as if he indeed approves of the assassination of Caesar: He acknowledges that Caesar was ambitious and praises Brutus as noble. But Antony then begins to laud Caesar as a man who promoted the people’s welfare:.
He hath brought many captives home to Rome
Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill:
Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept: 
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff. (3. 2. 67-71)
.......Antony shows the people the bloody garment Caesar was wearing when he died, pointing out the slits opened by the plunging daggers. Then he discloses provisions of the will: Caesar bequeathed the people seventy-five drachmas each and left them his private walks, arbors, and orchards to use for their pleasure. One citizen shouts, “Most noble Caesar! We’ll revenge his death” (3. 2. 222). Having lost the support of the mob, Brutus and Cassius flee the city. Civil war erupts. On the streets, angry citizens attack a poet who has the misfortune of bearing the same name as one of the conspirators, Cinna. When he informs them that he is Cinna the poet, not Cinna the conspirator, one citizen shouts, “Tear him for his bad verses, tear him for his bad verses.”
.......Antony forms a new government with two other leaders, Octavian and Lepidus; all three share power. While Brutus and Cassius raise armies of loyalists and make camp at Sardis (in present-day Turkey) on the Aegean coast, Antony and Octavian lead their forces to Philippi (modern Filippoi), near the Aegean coast in northern Greece. 
.......Meanwhile, Brutus has received word that his wife, Portia, believing all was lost for her husband and herself, committed suicide by swallowing hot coals. Messala, a soldier under Brutus, then reports that he has received messages saying that Antony, Octavian, and Lepidus have purged Rome of their political enemies, killing 100 senators, including one of the Senate’s greatest orators and statesmen, Cicero, a proponent of republican government. Cicero played no part in the conspiracy against Caesar; he simply had the misfortune of being on the wrong side in Roman politics. 
.......When Brutus and Cassius confer on war plans, Cassius argues in favor of waiting for the forces of Antony and Octavian to come to Sardis; the march will weary them and make them easy prey. But Brutus argues for attack, noting that the enemy is increasing its forces daily while the forces of Cassius and Brutus are already at their peak strength and can only decline. Brutus says, “There is a tide in the affairs of men, / Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune” (4. 3. 249-250). Cassius yields, agreeing to attack at Philippi, and the two men retire for the evening. During the night, the Ghost of Caesar appears to Brutus, but Brutus does recognize it as such. Identifying himself as “Thy evil spirit” (4. 3. 327), the Ghost says Brutus will see him again at Philippi. 
.......At Philippi, Cassius and Brutus ride forth and meet Octavian and Antony for a parley, but only insults come of it. Later, Cassius tells Messala he has seen ill omens. Cassius says that
                     ravens, crows and kites,
Fly o’er our heads and downward look on us,
As we were sickly prey: their shadows seem
A canopy most fatal, under which
Our army lies, ready to give up the ghost. (5. 1.97-101)
.......The armies clash, and the forces of Antony and Octavian eventually gain the upper hand. When Cassius’s friend Titinius is captured, Cassius decides it is time to end his struggle and orders another soldier, Pindarus, to kill him—with the same weapon Cassius used against Caesar. Elsewhere on the battlefield, Brutus orders Clitus to kill him, but he refuses to do so. Brutus gives the same order to Dardanius; he also backs away. Before asking a third man, Volumnius, to help him die, Brutus tells him that the Ghost of Caesar appeared to him—first at Sardis, then at night on the Philippi battlefield—an omen signifying that all is lost. He then asks Volumnius to hold his sword while he runs on it, but Volumnius, too, refuses to be an instrument in the death of his commander. Finally, Brutus talks a fourth soldier, Strato, into holding the sword at the proper angle. Brutus falls on it and dies. After Antony and Octavian come upon his body, they pay him homage:
ANTONY  This was the noblest Roman of them all:
All the conspirators save only he
Did that they did in envy of great Caesar;
He only, in a general honest thought
And common good to all, made one of them.
His life was gentle, and the elements
So mix’d in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world ‘This was a man!’ (5. 5. 76-83)
OCTAVIUS   According to his virtue let us use him,
With all respect and rites of burial.
Within my tent his bones to-night shall lie,
Most like a soldier, order’d honourably.
So call the field to rest; and let’s away,
To part the glories of this happy day. (5. 5. 84-89)

Idealism exacts a high price. Brutus has respect, a comfortable home, a loving wife, friends. Yet he willingly risks everythingand ultimately loses everything, including his lifeto live up to his ideals. This motif  is a major one in history and literature. Socrates took poison rather than recant his beliefs; Christ was crucified after spreading His message of love and peace. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake, and Thomas More beheaded. In Shakespeare's King Lear, the noblest character, Cordelia, is ordered hanged by the villainous Edgar. In Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities, Sidney Carton goes to the guillotine to save the life of the husband of the woman Carton loves. 
Pride is the harbinger of destruction. Julius Caesar well knows that Cassius poses a threat to him. In Act I, Caesar, upon noticing Cassius in a crowd, tells Antony: “Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look. / He thinks too much: such men are dangerous” (1. 2. 204-205) In other words, Cassius is hungry for revolution, reprisal, against the man he envies; he would bring him to ruin. Nevertheless, Caesar says he does not fear Cassius, “for always I am Caesar” (1. 2. 222), meaning he is the greatest of men and therefore invincible. And so, in the plumage of his pride, Caesar makes himself an easy target for Cassius and his other enemies. A Bible verse encapsulates Caesar’s haughtiness: Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. (Prov. 16. 18.)
Great political ambition breeds great political enmity. The conspiracy against the politically ambitious Caesar begins to form after other government leadersin particular, Cassiusperceive him as power-hungry.
Deceit wears the garb of innocence. While conniving behind Caesar’s back, his enemies pretend to be his friends.
Recognize and heed warnings. “Beware the ides of March,” a soothsayer tells Caesar (1. 2. 23). But Caesar ignores the warning. He also brushes off the threat he perceives from Cassius  Later, he ignores the warnings of his wife, who tells him of many omens that bode ill for him if he leaves home on March 15 (the Ides of March) to go to the senate. Apparently, in his arrogance, Caesar believes he is invulnerable to the machinations of the conspirators; he is an Achilles without a weak spot. 
Words are powerful weapons. Daggers kill Caesar, but it is the suasion of Cassius and others that seal his fate. And it is the rhetoric of Mark Antonyin particular, in his funeral orationthat turns the people against the conspirators. 
One man’s hero is another man’s villain. Caesar and Brutus are each a villain and each a hero, depending upon the philosophical and moral vantage points of the observers. As Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine observe: "Many people in the Renaissance were passionately interested in the story of Caesar's death at the hands of his friends and fellow politicians. There was much debate about who were the villains and who were the heroes. According to the fourteenth-century Italian poet Dante, Brutus and Cassius, the foremost of the conspirators who killed Caesar, were traitors who deserved an eternity in hell. But, in the view of Shakespeare's contemporary Sir Philip Sydney, Caesar was a rebel threatening Rome, and Brutus was the wisest of senators. Shakespeare's dramatization of Caesar's assassination and its aftermath has kept this debate alive among generations of readers and playgoers."Mowat, Barbara, and Paul Werstine, Eds. The New Folger Shakespeare Library: Julius Caesar. New York: Washington Square Press, Published by Pocket Books, 1972 (Page ix).

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.......The climax of a play or another literary work, such as a short story or a novel, can be defined as (1) the turning point at which the conflict begins to resolve itself for better or worse, or as (2) the final and most exciting event in a series of events. There are three key events in Julius Caesar that each appear to qualify as the climax: first, the meeting of the conspirators at which they approve the plan to kill Caesar; second, the assassination of Caesar; and, third, the deaths of Cassius and Brutus, ending all hope of retaining republican government. However, only one of these events appears to meet the requirements of both parts of the definition of climax—the assassination of Caesar. Nevertheless, it is not unreasonable to argue that either of the other two events is the climax, as many Shakespeare scholars have done. 

Figures of Speech

.......Julius Caesar ranks among Shakespeare's finest plays, in part because of its highly effective imagery. Among the many and varied figures of speech in the play are the following: 

Anaphora With Metaphor, Alliteration, and Hyperbole

    You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things! (1. 1. 27)
    In a metaphor, Marullus compares commoners to inanimate objects. The line also contains alliteration (stones, senseless) and hyperbole and paradox (the spectators have less sense than senseless things).
    Anaphora: repetition of you
    Metaphor: comparison of spectators to inanimate objects
    Alliteration: stones, senseless
    Hyperbole: exaggeration saying that the spectators have less sense than senseless things
Simile With Hyperbole and Alliteration
    Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world 
    Like a Colossus, and we petty men 
    Walk under his huge legs and peep about 
    To find ourselves dishonourable graves. (1. 2. 143-146) 
    In a simile, Cassius likens Caesar to a colossus (giant); in a hyperbole, he exaggerates Caesar’s size. The line also contains alliteration (we and walk; his and huge).
    Simile: Likening Caesar to a colossus (giant)
    Hyperbole: exaggeration of Caesar's size
    Alliteration: we, walk; his, huge
    I know he would not be a wolf, 
    But that he sees the Romans are but sheep: 
    He were no lion, were not Romans hinds. (1. 3. 111-113) 
    Casca, addressing Cassius and Brutus, compares Caesar to a wolf and a lion and the Roman citizens to sheep and hinds.
    Since Cassius first did whet me against Caesar, 
    I have not slept. (2. 1. 66-67)
    Brutus compares himself to a knife that Cassius has sharpened (did whet).
Apostrophe, Personification, Alliteration, Hyperbole
                                                      O conspiracy, 
    Shamest thou to show thy dangerous brow by night, 
    When evils are most free? O, then by day 
    Where wilt thou find a cavern dark enough 
    To mask thy monstrous visage? Seek none, conspiracy; 
    Hide it in smiles and affability: 
    For if thou path, thy native semblance on, 
    Not Erebus itself were dim enough 
    To hide thee from prevention. (2. 1. 86-94)
    Brutus uses apostrophe and personification, addressing conspiracy as if it were a person, as well as alliteration (thou and thy; where and wilt; mask and monstrous). In an allusion, he refers to Erebus, the Greek god who personified darkness. In a hyperbole, he says that not even the darkness would be dim enough to hide the conspiracy unless appropriate measures are taken to conceal it
    Apostrophe and Personification: Addressing conspiracy as if it were a person
    Alliteration: thou, thy; where, wilt; mask, monstrous
    Allusion: Erebus, a reference to the Greek god who personified darkness; also, the dark passage through which the souls of the dead pass from earth to Hades
    Hyperbole: exaggeration saying that not even the darkest of places, Erebus, would not be dim enough to hide the conspiracy unless appropriate measures are taken to conceal it
Irony in the Funeral Oration

.......Mark Antony's funeral oration in Act III, Scene IIbeginning with "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears"is ironic throughout. Though Antony says that he comes to bury Caesar, not to praise him, he praises Caesar for swelling the treasuries of Rome, sympathizing with the poor, and three times refusing the crown Antony offered him. At the same time, Antony praises Brutusone of Caesar's assassinsas an honourable man even though the tenor of his speech implies otherwise. Near the end of the speech, Antony says, "O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts, / And men have lost their reason." The word brutish occurs after Antony has mentioned Brutus by name nine times. It seems brutish is a not-so-oblique reference to Brutus.
Ominous Number Three

.......The number three appears to symbolize baleful occurrences. Consider the following events involving the number three:

    Mark Antony offers Caesar the crown three times.
    The conspirators break up their meeting at three o'clock.
    Calpurnia, Caesar's wife, cries out three times in her sleep Help, ho! they murder Caesar!
    Cassius tells Casca that Brutus is almost won to the conspiracy, saying, "Three parts of him is ours already."
    Antony, belittling Lepidus, says, "Is it fit, the three-fold world divided, he should stand one of the three to share it?
In ancient times, the number three was sometimes associated with Pluto (Greek: Hades), the god of death.
Speech Patterns

.......Literary critic Mark Van Doren wrote the following about the speech patterns in Julius Caesar:

    Julius Caesar is least notable among Shakespeare's better plays for the distinctions of its speech. All of its persons tend to talk alike; their training has been forensic and therefore uniform, so that they can say anything with both efficiency and ease. With Marullus's first speech in the opening scene the play swings into its style: a style which will make it appear that nobody experiences the least difficulty in saying what he thinks. The phrasing is invariably flawless from the oral point of view; the breathing is right; no thought is too long for order or too short for roundness. Everything is brilliantly and surely said; the effects are underlined, the i's are firmly dotted. Speeches have tangible outlines, like plastic objects, and the drift of one of them to another has never to be guessed, for it is clearly stated."—Van Doren, Mark. Quoted in Twentieth Century Interpretations of Julius Caesar. Leonard F. Dean, Ed. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1968.
Historical Irony

.......It is believed that a surgical incision had to be made through the abdominal wall and uterus of the mother of Julius Caesar in order to extract him at birth. This belief gave rise to the term "Cesarean birth" (or "Caesarean birth"). Thus, a knife was used to give Caesar life, and many knives were used to end his life.

Study Questions and Essay Topics

  • A soothsayer tells Caesar to beware of the ides of March [March 15]. What is a soothsayer?Does the soothsayer really know the future? Or is he merely a good political analyst (or psychologist) who can see trouble coming? 
  • Is Antony motivated more by personal ambition or love for Caesar? 
  • Who is the villain in the play? Is there a hero? 
  • If you had lived in 44 B.C., Caesar's last year in power, would you have sided with Caesar or Brutus? 
  • If Antony were to give his funeral oration in this technological age, where would he deliver it? 
  • Do you believe assassination of a head of state can ever be justified? 
  • Give examples of 20th Century leaders killed by assassins. Explain why these leaders were targets of assassins. 
  • What was everyday life like for an ordinary citizen of Rome? 
  • Oratory—especially Antony's funeral oration—plays an important role in this play. How important for a politician in ancient Rome was the ability to speak skillfully in public? Did young Roman nobles receive special training in oratory? 
  • Write an essay explaining the role and status of women in Caesar's time. 
  • Was Brutus a villain or a hero? Even though he led the conspiracy against Julius Caesar, Marcus Junius Brutus (84-42 B.C.) enjoyed a reputation in his day among Roman republicans as a noble and fair-minded statesman. However, his opponents—notably supporters of Caesar—regarded him as a traitor. First, Brutus sided with Pompey the Great against Caesar when the Roman Civil War started in 49 B.C. After Caesar defeated Pompey at Pharsalus, Greece, in 48 B.C., he pardoned Brutus and appointed him governor of Cisalpine Gaul in 46 B.C. and a praetor of Rome in 44 B.C. But Brutus turned against Caesar a second time, helping to organize and lead the conspiracy that led to Caesar’s assassination in 44 B.C. Brutus believed the action was necessary to prevent Caesar from becoming dictator-for-life, meaning that all power would reside in Caesar and not in the delegates representing the people. Was Brutus a traitorous villain or selfless hero? In an argumentative essay, take a stand on this question. Use the facts of history—as well as interpretations of these facts, including Shakespeare’s depiction of Brutus—to support the thesis. 
  • In an essay, compare and contrast the common people of ancient Rome with the common people of modern America, Britain, or another country. 
  • In an essay, compare and contrast Cassius and Brutus. 
  • Omens and the whims of fate play a role in Julius Caesar. Write an expository (informative) essay that explains the attitude of the typical ancient Roman toward charms, omens, gods, the whims of fate, and the supernatural in general. 
Plays on DVD (or VHS) 
Play Director Actors
Antony and Cleopatra (1974) Trevor Nunn, John Schoffield Richard Johnson, Janet Suzman
Antony and Cleopatra BBC Production  Jane Lapotaire 
As You Like It (2010)  Thea Sharrock Jack Laskey, Naomi Frederick
As You Like It (1937)  Paul Czinner Henry Ainley, Felix Aylmer
The Comedy of Errors BBC Production Not Listed
Coriolanus BBC Production  Alan Howard, Irene Worth
Cymbeline Elijah Moshinsky Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, Helen Mirren
Gift Box: The Comedies BBC Production Various
Gift Box: The Histories BBC Production Various
Gift Box: The Tragedies BBC Production Various
Hamlet (1948)  Laurence Olivier Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons
Hamlet (1990)  Kevin Kline Kevin Kline
Hamlet(1991)  Franco Zeffirelli Mel Gibson, Glenn Close
Hamlet (1996)  Kenneth Branagh Kenneth Branagh, 
Hamlet (2009) Gregory Doran David Tennant, Patrick Stewart, Penny Downie
Hamlet (1964)  John Gielgud, Bill Colleran Richard Burton, Hume Cronyn
Hamlet (1964)  Grigori Kozintsev Innokenti Smoktunovsky
Hamlet (2000)  Cambpell Scott, Eric Simonson Campbell Scott, Blair Brown
Henry V (1989)  Kenneth Branagh Kenneth Branaugh, Derek Jacobi
Henry V( 1946)  Laurence Olivier Leslie Banks, Felix Aylmer
Henry VI Part I BBC Production Peter Benson, Trevor Peacock
Henry VI Part II BBC Production  Not Listed
Henry VI Part III BBC Production  Not Listed
Henry VIII BBC Production John Stride, Claire Bloom, Julian Glover
Julius Caesar BBC Production  Richard Pasco, Keith Michell
Julius Caesar (1950)  David Bradley Charlton Heston
Julius Caesar (1953)  Joseph L. Mankiewicz Marlon Brando, James Mason
Julius Caesar (1970)  Stuart Burge Charlton Heston, Jason Robards
King John BBC Production  Not Listed
King Lear (1970) Grigori Kozintsev Yuri Yarvet
King Lear (1971) Peter Brook Cyril Cusack, Susan Engel
King Lear (1974)  Edwin Sherin James Earl Jones
King Lear (1976)  Tony Davenall Patrick Mower, Ann Lynn
King Lear (1984)  Michael Elliott Laurence Olivier, Colin Blakely
King Lear (1997)  Richard Eyre Ian Holm
Love's Labour's Lost (2000) Kenneth Branagh Kenneth Branagh, Alicia Silverstone 
Love's Labour's Lost  BBC Production) Not Listed
Macbeth (1978)  Philip Casson Ian McKellen, Judy Dench
Macbeth BBC Production  Not Listed
The Merchant of Venice BBC Production Warren Mitchell, Gemma Jones
The Merchant of Venice (2001)  Christ Hunt, Trevor Nunn David Bamber, Peter De Jersey
The Merchant of Venice (1973) John Sichel Laurence Olivier, Joan Plowright
The Merry Wives of Windsor (1970)  Not Listed Leon Charles, Gloria Grahame
Midsummer Night's Dream (1996)  Adrian Noble Lindsay Duncan, Alex Jennings
A Midsummer Night's Dream  (1999) Michael Hoffman Kevin Kline, Michelle Pfeiffer
Much Ado About Nothing (1993)  Kenneth Branaugh Branaugh, Emma Thompson
Much Ado About Nothing (1973)  Nick Havinga  Sam Waterston, F. Murray Abraham
Othello (2005)  Janet Suzman Richard Haines, John Kaki
Othello (1990)  Trevor Nunn Ian McKellen, Michael Grandage
Othello (1965)  Stuart Burge Laurence Olivier, Frank Finlay
Othello (1955)  Orson Welles Orson Welles
Othello (1983)  Franklin Melton Peter MacLean, Bob Hoskins, Jenny Agutter
Ran  (1985) Japanese Version of King Lear  Akira Kurosawa Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Terao
Richard II (2001)  John Farrell  Matte Osian, Kadina de Elejalde
Richard III (1912)  André Calmettes, James Keane  Robert Gemp, Frederick Warde
Richard III - Criterion Collection (1956)  Laurence Olivier Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson
Richard III (1995)  Richard Loncraine Ian McKellen, Annette Bening
Richard III BBC Production  Ron Cook, Brian Protheroe, Michael Byrne
Romeo and Juliet (1968)  Franco Zeffirelli Leonard Whiting, Olivia Hussey
Romeo and Juliet (1996)  Baz Luhrmann Leonardo DiCaprio, Claire Danes
Romeo and Juliet (1976)  Joan Kemp-Welch Christopher Neame, Ann Hasson
Romeo and Juliet BBC Production  John Gielgud, Rebecca Saire, Patrick Ryecart
The Taming of the Shrew Franco Zeffirelli Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton
The Taming of the Shrew Kirk Browning Raye Birk, Earl Boen, Ron Boussom
The Taming of The Shrew Not Listed Franklin Seales, Karen Austin 
The Tempest Paul Mazursky John Cassavetes, Gena Rowlands
The Tempest (1998) Jack Bender Peter Fonda, John Glover, Harold Perrineau,
Throne of Blood (1961) Macbeth in Japan  Akira Kurosawa Toshirô Mifune, Isuzu Yamada
Twelfth Night (1996)  Trevor Nunn Helena Bonham Carter
Twelfth Night BBC Production  Not Listed
The Two Gentlemen of Verona BBC Production  John Hudson, Joanne Pearce
The Winter's Tale  (2005)  Greg Doran Royal Shakespeare Company
The Winter's Tale BBC Production  Not Listed