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Julius Caesar Background on Play
Transcript of Julius Caesar Background on Play
Performed in the fall of 1599 at the newly built Globe Theatre
(Many believe that it was it first play acted at the Globe)
~based on the actual assassination of the great Roman statesman, general and author, Julius Caesar in 44 B.C.E., and the defeat of the conspirators on the battlefield of Philippi, Macedonia 2 years later (in 42 B.C.E.)
When the play begins, the people of Rome are happy to be recovering from a civil war.
(Caesar had just defeated the Pompeians)
Rome had been a republic for 500 years; there was definite opposition against returning to a monarchy.
Julius Caesar defeated the Pompeian forces of Titus Labienus and Pompey the Younger in the Battle of Munda.
Where do we start?
= citizens choose their leaders and the people have an impact on the government
In the Roman Republic the term
was not negative. A Dictator was given sole power for a specific limited period.
(Caesar made himself a dictator with no limit to his term and kept the title until his assassination)
Caesar's dictatorship had no time limit, which lead people to fear that he would claim the title of King.
This fear resulted in the plot to assassinate him.
The play explores the effects of civil unrest and struggles for political power.
It deals with conflicts between friendship and duty; and moral integrity and political strength.
the corruptive influence of power
the power of speech
the power of friendship
the power of omens/supernatural
Topics for the theme of the play include:
By definition, that means it is a
five act play,
ending in the
of most of the major characters.
: WHY a character acts in the way he/she does. It is something inside of them, their personality, that causes them to act as they do.
(Internal character motivation)
This play is a personal tragedy of the character of
Brutus is complex because he
kill Caesar for greed or envy.
(like many of the other conspirators, ex. Cassius)
Instead, he does so for the good of Rome, to save it – not from who Caesar is, but what he could become as King.
Characters of High Birth (includes exceptional beings / high birth or office / military leaders) -
Heroes cause their own downfall; their downfall is because of the hero’s own actions, not fate. -
Brutus is responsible for his own actions
Has a Tragic Flaw (an inclination towards one particular action; the tragic flaw ultimately results in the hero’s death) -
Brutus' devotion to Rome ultimately caused his death
Shakespearean Tragic Hero
(loyalty to a friend vs loyalty to his country)
Mark Antony suggests the war when he says:
Cry, ‘Havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of war
The conspirators vs. Caesar
(though Caesar is not really aware of the threat)
The civil war
that ravages Rome after Caesar's assassination
Let's kill him boldly, but not wrathfully; Let’s carve him as a dish fit for the gods, / Not hew him as a carcass fit for hounds
“So Caesar may, Then, lest he may, Prevent.” (2,1, 21-28)
Disturbances in nature coinciding with the Ides of March
When beggars die, there are no comets seen;/
The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes
Brutus vs society’s movement away from the Republic
Brutus’ comment [1.2]
I do fear, the people/Choose Caesar for their king.
A soliloquy is when a character is alone onstage and speaks his / her thoughts to the audience
They are effective for revealing a character’s private thoughts (thus they help reveal character)
They are also an effective means of providing important information to the audience
Well, Brutus, thou art noble. Yet, I see, Thy honourable metal may be wrought
From that it is disposed...
"It must be by his death, and for my part
I know no personal cause to spurn him
But for the general. He would be crowned..."
"O pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,
That I am meek, and gentle with these butchers!"
Omens, the Supernatural & Foreshadowing
The soothsayer’s warning to
Beware the Ides of March
Calpurnia’s dream of Caesar’s death (2.2)
The reader knows that Cassius sent the letters to Brutus anonymously (2.1) but Brutus believes that they are from the Roman citizens.
Caesar expects to be crowned King at the Senate, but instead he is assassinated (3.1)
Occurs when a writer or speaker says one thing but means its opposite
The theme of a piece of literature is its central idea which
can be stated in general terms.
Everything in this play is driven by a desire for increased power.
The Power of Speech:
Both Brutus’ and Antony’s funeral orations demonstrate the power of speech
It is what the conspirators use as a cover to blind Caesar from their plans.
The play is set in Ancient Rome, towards the end of the Roman Republic
Setting changes from city to battlefield
His comment to Cassius in 1.2 (“
poor Brutus, with himself at war
Brutus’s soliloquy (Act 2)
Portia's worry in 2.1 ("
It will not let you eat, nor talk, nor sleep
Caesar’s comment about Cassius:
Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look
It is also the personal tragedy
of the character
The augurers’ sacrifice does not bode well: there was no heart within the beast (2.2)
Caesar’s ghost appears twice to Brutus. The first time he warns “
…thou shalt see me at Phillippi
All of the above help to foreshadow events in the play, and to create an ominous atmosphere.
Occurs when the audience (or reader) knows something
that a character does not know
The audience knows about the threat to Caesar, but Caesar does not. Caesar says, “
And we, like friends, will straightaway go together
Unlike Caesar, we know that many of the men gathered are not his friends.
Occurs when what actually happens is the opposite of
what is expected or appropriate
It is ironic that Rome becomes a dictatorship after the death of Caesar; this is what Brutus was trying to avoid when he helped to assassinate Caesar
Antony repeats that Brutus is an “
”, but clearly he does not believe that he is (3.2)
Antony’s opening words of his funeral oration:
“I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him”
(ironic because he does intend to praise Caesar)
Antony says that, compared to Brutus, he is not an orator; but his speech clearly shows that he is (3.2)
Julius Caesar arrives from his military victory of
Pompey with a desire to be the ruler of Rome.
This desire for power ultimately leads to his death.
Octavius and Antony seek their own power structure.
The reader sees evidence of Antony’s corruption of power in 4.1
when he seeks to cheat Caesar’s will for his own gain.
Brutus appeals to the crowds' logic and reason through his speech.
He informs the crowd in a very straight forward way that Caesar was slain to free Rome
Its style is formal, yet it sways the crowd to Brutus’ side
He demonstrates his emotion to the crowd and openly express his sorrow at Caesar’s death.
He uses words / phrases like “
” and “
” to express his opinions.
His speech sways the fickle crowd. They completely switch to Antony’s side and cause anarchy in the streets, seeking revenge for Caesar’s death.
Brutus’ betrayal of Caesar’s friendship is evident with Caesar’s dying words,
Et tu, Brute?
” (3.1 84).
Antony uses the false promise of friendship with the
conspirators after Caesar’s death to enable him to revenge Caesar’s death.
Antony called Brutus’ participation in the assassination “
the most unkindest cut of all
Their downfall affects many people. -
civil war, Portia, Caesar etc.
Keep the characters straight:
Caesar’s adopted son and appointed successor; returns after Caesar’s death
Opposed to Caesar's rise to power;
tells the crown story
Convinces Caesar that Calpurnia misinterpreted her nightmares and that no danger awaited him at the Senate
(married to Portia)
(married to Calpurnia)