But do we really need a blurb/summary for Julius Caesar? (Other than the fact that there isn’t one.)
[SPOILER ALERT] “Et tu, Brute? Then fall Caesar.”
There’s nothing like a good English class to teach the many aspects of a Shakespearean play!
So Angela and I have decided that November will be Classics month! Now, on Wikipedia the definition of a “classic book” is a “book accepted as being exemplary or noteworthy, either through an imprimatur such as being listed in any of the Western canons or through a reader’s own personal opinion.”
Or in my opinion, a “really old book that everyone still likes.”
Let’s get down to it, shall we?
(In which a history lesson, English lesson, and play review are incorporated into one)
The Tragedy of Julius Caesar was written in the 16th century, but was about Caesar’s death in 44 BC. So what compelled Shakespeare to write about something so long ago? It basically reflects the political concerns of England during the time. More specifically, the inability of Queen Elizabeth to produce an heir to the throne.
The play starts off with the death of Pompey and the civilians of Rome celebrating Caesar’s triumph. We are given three characters to observe:
- Caesar, who thinks Brutus is a chill dude (I mean, he let him live after Brutus fought on Pompey’s side and kept his mom as his mistress) and is suspicious of Cassius.
- Cassius, who persuades Brutus into joining his plot to assassinate Caesar using pathos (emotion), ethos (credibility), and logos (logic). (But seriously guys, I’d like to have Cassius on my side in a debate.)
- Brutus, who is conflicted over his love for Caesar [cue bromance noises] and his loyalty for the Roman Republic (which would not stand if Caesar becomes dictator).
Then we have the cast of characters starting with “C,” which include but are not limited to:
- Cicero (conspirator)
- Casca (conspirator, first to stab Caesar)
- Cassius (conspirator)
- Cinna (conspirator)
There are more conspirators but I just thought having the “C’s” pointed out would look cool. There’s also the ol’ archetypical soothsayer that comes in warning Caesar about ill tidings that (unsurprisingly) Caesar ignores. Speaking of ill tidings, a bunch of omens are mentioned in the play in Act 2. While Casca is seriously freaking out over a comet storm (that apparently happened in real life too), an owl in the open day, and a tame lion lurking about the Capitol, Cicero and Cassius welcome the omens.
Despite the play being called The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, Caesar dies relatively soon into the story. A lot of the action happens after his death, including Marc Antony’s compelling speech and the suicides of important characters, as well as the battle that led to Octavius’ victory. This leads us to the question: Who was the tragic hero in this play? Julius Caesar, the title character, or Brutus, the character that faced the most inner turmoil due to his decisions?
Yeah so you can think whatever you want on the above erotema (rhetorical question), but in my opinion they both exhibit characteristics of a tragic hero, soooo.
Along with the fairly easy to follow plotline is the beautiful language that Shakespeare uses. I’ve read Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet and enjoyed them, but learning the depth which Shakespeare writes makes it a whole ‘nother story. I guess you don’t really appreciate the stuff that happens behind the scenes until you learn it.
For example, Antony’s opening speech at Caesar’s funeral is:
“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!”
If I had read that a month ago, I would’ve been like, “cool story bruh” and read through the rest of the speech. However, there are a multiplicity of rhetorical devices in this one line. A tricolon is presented in “Friends, Romans, countrymen,” as they are three parallel ideas, along with an asyndeton, or omission of conjuctions. The first three words also symbolize a climax, as not only are the words increasing in syllables but also in important. Finally, “lend me your ears” is both a metaphor (in borrowing one’s ear) and metonymy (having ears represent hearing). Who knew one sentence could contain that much rhetoric, eh?
Another interesting note is the title of the lovely book The Fault in Our Stars (and movie) by John Green is based off of a quote from this play.
“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,/But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”
– Act 1, Scene 2, Line 140-141
Going back to the story, the Romans, with their mob mentality, follow along to the tune Antony’s playing to get back at the conspirators. It gets kinda crazy, because some of the citizens kill this dude called Cinna the Poet, who had the same name as one of the conspirators even though he wasn’t him. (Poor guy) Nah man but Antony is totally ruthless, planning whom to kill and getting the Roman citizens on his side. Scary as heck.
So now we have a battle going on with Octavius and Antony vs. Cassius and Brutus. Death ensues, Brutus is an honourable man (which is repeated many times throughout the play, both sarcastically and literally), and the winner is…
well, you should know unless you haven’t read the play. In that case, read it!
There’s seriously so much I can go on about this play guys, but words won’t do it justice until you’ve actually read it.
“This was the noblest Roman of them all.”
– Act 5, Scene 5, Line 68
(Btw, the movie’s pretty cool too, considering it came out in 1953. Also, Marlon Brando as Antony, yaaas.)