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Notes on William Shakespeare & Julius Caesar

Notes on William Shakespeare, Elizabeth I, and the play, "Julius Caesar."

Chris Mikesell

on 24 March 2011

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Transcript of Notes on William Shakespeare & Julius Caesar

In 1599, when the play was first performed, Queen Elizabeth I had sat on the throne for nearly forty years, enlarging her power at the expense of the aristocracy and the House of Commons. As she was then sixty-six years old, her reign seemed likely to end soon, yet she lacked any heirs (as did Julius Caesar). As his chief source in writing Julius Caesar,
Shakespeare probably used Thomas North’s
translation of "Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble
Greeks and Romans," written in the first century A.D. Prior to the start of the play three men
-- Crassus, Pompey, and Caesar --
had ruled Italy as a triumvirate Then Crassus died in Turkey For a while Pompey and Caesar shared rule of Rome,
but Caesar had an army and Pompey didn't. Consequently,
Caesar won every dispute and Pompey, wanting the two to
be equal, insisted Caesar give up his army. Seeing this as a power play, Caesar killed Pompey and then Pompey's sons, so they couldn't claim positions of power. When the play opens, Caesar has just returned from killing Pompey's sons. However, while Shakespeare does focus on
these key political figures, he does not ignore
that their power rests, to some degree,
on the favor of the populace. Shakespeare followed Plutarch’s lead
by emphasizing how the actions of
the leaders of Roman society, rather than
class conflicts or larger political movements,
determined history. In an age when censorship would have limited direct commentary on these worries, Shakespeare could nevertheless use the story of Caesar to comment on the political situation of his day. Many feared that her death would plunge England into the kind of chaos that had plagued England during the fifteenth-century Wars of the Roses. P Notes on
Julius Caesar Contemporary accounts
tell us that Julius Caesar,
Shakespeare’s shortest play,
was first performed in 1599. It was probably the first play performed
in the Globe Theater, the playhouse that
was erected around that time in order to
accommodate Shakespeare’s increasingly
successful theater company. Julius Caesar takes place in ancient Rome in 44 B.C.
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