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Julius Caesar: Two Views of the Play

From Julius Caesar. Ed. Frances Andrew Purcell and Lucius Michael Somers. Chicago: Scott, Foresman and Co.

(a) As a Political Play

The central idea of the play, considered politically, is the decay of republicanism in Rome and the rise of Caesarism. In the First Scene the populace give unconscious evidence of the growing spirit of monarchy. This they manifest when they cry out in the Third Act:
Let him be Caesar.
Caesar's better parts
Shall now be crown'd in Brutus.
The nation is calling for a representative in whom it may put supreme and unlimited confidence. Roman imperialism began under Julius Caesar, and assumed definite form in the absolute military monarchy of his grand-nephew, Octavius Augustus.

"Nothing did so much to set the people in love with royalty, both name and thing, as the reflection that their beloved Caesar, the greatest of their national heroes, the crown and consummation of Roman genius and character, had been murdered for aspiring to it .... We can all now see, what he alone saw then, that the great social and political forces of the Roman world had long been moving and converging irresistibly to that end .... The great danger of the time lay in struggling to keep up a republic in show, when they already had an empire in fact." — Hudson. 1

(b) As a Tragedy of Character

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. He committed a crime to prevent, as he thought, a greater crime, and by so doing he brought upon himself and his country greater evils than those he had sought to avert. "The stain of assassination adheres to Brutus, a crime which no political duty, no apposite duty whatever, can outweigh. This stain cleaves closer to the 'lover' of Caesar than to Caesar's personal enemy, Cassius, and to him, therefore, to Caesar's good angel, the spirit of the murdered man subsequently appears, as his evil and revenge-announcing genius." Gervinus 2

1. Hudson, Henry Norman, born at Cornwall, Vermont, 1814; died 1886. An American Shakespearean scholar.
2. Gervinus, Georg Gottfried, born at Darmstadt, Germany, 1805; died 1871. A German critic and Shakespearean writer.


How to cite this article:
Shakespeare, William. Julius Caesar. Ed. Frances Andrew Purcell and Lucius Michael Somers. Chicago: Scott, Foresman and Co, 1916. Shakespeare Online. 15 Dec. 2013. < >.


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Quote in Context

This was the noblest Roman of them all;
All the conspirators, save only he
Did what they did in envy of great Caesar;
He only in a general honest thought
And common good to all, made one of them. (5.5.68-72)

"These lines are often quoted as Shakespeare's actual opinion of Brutus; but they are spoken by Antony, to whom they appropriately belong, and to nobody else. It is by no means certain that Shakespeare's own views are to be found always in the utterances of his characters. The dramatic poet expresses his convictions in the action, in the collision, and, above all, in the catastrophe. Judging by this standard, we should most decidedly aver that the above lines did not express Shakespeare's personal opinion. Both Antony and Brutus, therefore, have quite the same intellectual standpoint, though differing much in their outward lives; but the one was true to it, the other was not. Brutus ought to have acted as Antony, to be faithful to his deepest convictions, and to have remained friendly or at least indifferent to Caesar. Cassius alone can intellectually slay Caesar." (J. D. Snider. The Tragedy of Julius Caesar by Shakespeare) Read on...

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Did You Know? ... Unlike many of Shakespeare's other plays, which were printed in quarto form during his lifetime, Julius Caesar seems to have been first published in 1623, in the First Folio edition of Shakespeare's works. More on the First Folio...


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