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Julius Caesar: Study Questions with Answers

Act 1

1) Why are the tribunes Flavius and Marullus so upset at the opening of the play?

The tribunes are angry that the working class citizens of Rome gather to celebrate Caesar’s victory, while forgetting Pompey, the Roman hero (and a part of the First Triumvirate that ruled Rome) who was killed in battle alongside Caesar. Their hostility toward Caesar serves to introduce the deep political divide that will become the central issue of the play.

2) What holiday are the Roman masses celebrating at the time of Caesar's return?

Caesar's triumph coincides with the feast of Lupercal, which was celebrated on February 15th. The festivities were in honor of Lupercus, the god of nature (Pan in Greek mythology).

3) Describe Caesar's encounter with the soothsayer.

As Caesar passes through the crowd the soothsayer cries out to him, warning him to "beware the ides of March." Caesar dismisses the soothsayer as a dreamer and continues on. Caesar’s encounter with the soothsayer foreshadows his assassination in the senate in 3.1. Note that in the ancient Roman calendar the "ides" was the fifteenth day of March, May, July, and October, and the thirteenth day of the other months. Gaius Julius Caesar was assassinated on March 15, 44 BC.

4) What is most significant about the meeting between Cassius and Brutus in 1.2.?

Cassius presents his best argument to convince Brutus, his close friend and brother-in-law, to conspire with him to assassinate Caesar. Brutus reveals he has concerns about the state of the Republic, but will not commit outright to join with Cassius.

5) How does Cassius trick Brutus into joining the conspirators?

Cassius fabricates a petition, pretending it is from the angry citizens demanding Caesar's removal, and he throws it in Brutus's window. The welfare of Rome drives Brutus, and Cassius knows Brutus will give the people what they desire.



Act 2

1) How does Portia prove she is worthy to hear the plans of her husband, Brutus?

Portia cuts herself in the thigh and suffers the pain of both the wound and the infection it causes in silence. Her show of bravery and self-control convinces Brutus she is "stronger than her sex" (2.1.296) and he agrees to confide in her, only to be interrupted before he has a chance.

2) After an ominous dream, Calpurnia begs Caesar to stay away from the senate and, at first, he agrees. What changes his mind?

Decius, a conspirator whose role it is to guarantee Caesar is in the Capitol that day, favorably interprets Calpurnia's dream and then chides Caesar for yielding to his wife's whims. Decius adds that the senate is planning again to offer Caesar a crown, and Caesar gives in to vanity. He leaves Calpurnia and accompanies Decius to the Capitol.

Act 3

1) What is the significance of Caesar's dying words, "Et tu, Brute? Then fall, Caesar!"?

The conspirators gather around Caesar and he sees his trusted friend Brutus among them. Stunned that Brutus is among his assassins, Caesar cries out, "and you too, Brutus?" This famous line is important because it sets Brutus apart from the other conspirators. There is no doubt that Brutus's self-serving and ambitious accomplices have committed an indefensible act, but with Caesar's final utterance we recognize that the self-sacrificing and noble Brutus has perpetrated the same heinous crime – his motivation is rendered immaterial. For this moment, Brutus the idealist becomes Brutus the murderer.

2) Who turns the people of Rome against Brutus?

After Brutus addresses the Plebeians, successfully assuring them that Caesar's murder was necessary to preserve their freedoms (3.2.13-37), Antony delivers his cleverly crafted speech in defense of Caesar. While making sure not to condemn Brutus and the conspirators, he argues that Caesar had no plan to turn Rome into a dictatorship. He reminds the crowd that Caesar was offered a "kingly crown" (3.2.102) three times and refused each time.

3) Describe the encounter between Brutus and Caesar's ghost.

Cassius retires for the evening and Brutus calls two of his servants, Claudio and Varro, to stay with him through the night. The boys quickly fall asleep and Brutus starts to read. With the flicker of the candle Brutus's eyes are distracted upward, to see the ghost of Caesar standing beside him. The ghost tells Brutus that they will meet again at Philippi and vanishes.

Act 5

1) Cassius asks Brutus what he plans to do if they should lose the battle. What is Brutus's response?

Brutus says that, since he finds the act of suicide cowardly and vile (5.1.104), he will have little choice but to be patient and yield to whatever fate dictates (5.1.106-08). He adds that he will never return to Rome as a prisoner. That Brutus nevertheless dies by his own hand at the end of the play adds to his tragedy.

2) How does Cassius die?

Cassius knows that he too will soon be captured by Antony and Octavius, and will certainly be dragged through the streets of Rome in chains. He orders Pindarus to hold his sword while he impales his chest on the blade.

3) Explain the significance of Antony's final speech, beginning with the line, "This was the noblest Roman of them all" (5.5.68).

Antony's speech serves to restore Brutus to the position of tragic hero. Antony can see in Brutus the morality he does not himself possess - the capability to act selflessly for the common good. Brutus's pride and political naivety have led to his destruction, but his ideals are etched into the memory of his enemies.

How to cite this article:
Mabillard, Amanda. Julius Caesar Study Questions. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/juliuscaesar/juliuscaesarstudyq.html >.
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Thoughts on Brutus

"By the close of the play we grow impatient of the prudish infallibility of Brutus; for we have seen how dogmatic he is in his decisions and how invariably he has been mistaken and committed a fatal blunder. As he falls we feel that virtue and high principle by itself is quite unfit to guide the larger issues of public action; they are too labyrinthine and crooked to suit honest purpose and clear intent, as far at least as public life is as yet constituted. The truly noble man should have no part or lot in spheres that need recurrent action or the management of varied characters." (J. Macmillan Brown. Julius Caesar: A Study. p. 101)
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The Themes of Julius Caesar ... "The central idea of the play, considered politically, is the decay of republicanism in Rome and the rise of Caesarism. ... The central idea of the play considered as a tragedy is that Good cannot come out of Evil. "Brutus is noble, wise, valiant, and honest," but he made shipwreck of his life by one great error." Frances Andrew Purcell. Read on...

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