About the Author
William Shakespeare is considered by many critics to have been the most consummate playwright the English language has ever known. Though he was well known in the 17th and 18th centuries, the widespread admiration for his skill as a dramatist and poet that bordered on idolatry is seen only from the 18th century onwards. Shakespeare was born in Stratford-Upon-Avon in 1564. While it is known that he went to the local grammar school, there are big gaps in our knowledge of his life as a young man. He married Anne Hathaway in 1582 and his three children were born soon after.
Shakespeare‘s creative life can be divided into distinct stages.
During the early stage he wrote the romantic comedies like Twelfth Night, Much Ado About Nothing, Love’s Labours Lost, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Taming of the Shrew and Merchant of Venice among others. Most of the Histories were also written during this period.
The mature period of his creativity saw the writing of the great tragedies. Shakespeare’s own life has seen tragic happenings like the death of his son aged 11. The gloomy tragedies, which see the death of the hero through the consequences of tragic flaws that mar life, are not enlivened by comedy. The characters are so deeply evil that there is no redemption for them.
The last stage saw plays that have the theme of reconciliation. There is great suffering and sorrow in the early parts but at the end there is reconciliation and regeneration. Winter’s Tale, The Tempest and Measure for Measure are some of the plays of the last period. Shakespeare also wrote a large number of sonnets - 154. It has not been conclusively proved who these recipients were; that only adds to their mystery.
The play opens with the triumphal return of Caesar after defeating Pompey. Caesar is so admired, that workers dressed in their finery throng the streets to welcome him. Some of the tribunes who see this are less than happy as Caesar is so popular among the common people that he could almost be king. As Caesar’s entourage winds in, a Soothsayer shouts out to him the first warning,” Beware the Ides of March”, but in this victorious mood, Caesar ignores the call and moves on. While this is going on Brutus and Cassius voice their misgivings about the chance of Caesar being crowned king. Cassius plans to fan the unease in Brutus’s mind.
On the day of Lupercal, after the race, Mark Antony offers Caesar a crown but he refuses it though with growing reluctance. Brutus and Cassius listen to this account of Casca with dismay. That night, Rome is witness to a series of supernatural happenings. Brutus finds some letters planted by Cassius where the citizens urge him to act as Caesar is growing too powerful. Brutus believes the letters are genuine and plans of killing Caesar before harm comes to Rome arise in his mind. When Cassius and the other conspirators arrive in Brutus’ house, the plot to kill Caesar takes shape.
The next day, when the conspirators plan to kill him, Calpurnia, Caesar’s wife pleads with her husband not to go to the Senate as she has had bad dreams that portend danger. But Caesar refuses to listen to her and leaves. On his way, Caesar again hears the Soothsayer repeat his warning but ignores it again. A citizen also hands him a letter that contains the names of the conspirators but Caesar does not believe he is in danger. At the senate, the conspirators gather around Caesar and kill him. Mark Antony who has been led away returns to find Caesar lying dead. He vows revenge and uses the opportunity to deliver the funeral oration to incite the crowd against the conspirators.
Antony joins with Octavius, Caesar’s adopted son, and attacks Cassius and Brutus who have led their armies to the border of Rome. Cassius and Brutus suffer reverses and both kill themselves. At the funeral of Brutus, Antony is magnanimous and calls him the “noblest Roman”.
When the play opens, the workers and labourers in Rome are out in their finery to welcome Caesar as he returns from yet another successful campaign with the spoils of war. Some of the tribunes who watch this merry making are less than pleased as they do not like Caesar’s popularity among the common people. They set about removing the decorations. When Caesar’s victory procession winds into the city, there is wild cheering but amidst that a Soothsayer calls out a warning to Caesar to “Beware the Ides of March”. This is the first such warning that comes to Caesar and Ides of March are not far away but he is in such a triumphant mood that he ignores the call and moves on accepting the cheers of the people. Brutus and Cassius see in this adulation cause for worry as Caesar is being treated like a king rather than a Roman general. Brutus is too much of a republican to approve of that, but Cassius is plain jealous. Cassius plans to take advantage of the unrest in Brutus’s mind.
After the race that marks the festival of Lupercal, at a function held to honour Caesar, Mark Antony hands over a crown to Caesar thrice, but all three times he refuses it but with increasing reluctance. When Casca narrates this incident to Brutus and Cassius, they take it as evidence that Caesar is ready to become king of Rome. That night, Rome witnesses a terrible storm and many supernatural happenings are reported by people. At home, Brutus finds letters planted by Cassius which exhort Brutus to take action against Caesar as he is growing too powerful. Brutus thinks these letters are genuine and his mind considers the possibility of killing Caesar before he becomes king. Soon Cassius and the other conspirators who think alike arrive there and the plan to assassinate Caesar takes shape. Portia, Brutus’ wife, knows that her husband is disturbed about something but he gets away without divulging the plans to kill Caesar.
The next day, which is when Caesar is to be killed, Calpurnia has bad dreams that portend misfortune for Caesar. She wishes him to stay at home but a conspirator Decius urges otherwise and in disregard of her wishes, Caesar leaves. The Soothsayer again calls out his ‘Beware of the Ides of March’ warning, as that day is the Ides of March. A citizen (Artemadorus) who has come to know of the conspiracy hands over a letter that contains all the names of the conspirators. But Caesar is supremely confident that no harm can come to him and continues walking. At the steps, all the conspirators are present. One leads Antony away on some pretext. As Caesar ascends the steps, the conspirators encircle him and strike him down. Antony comes back to see Caesar dead.
He swears revenge on the conspirators and cleverly uses the opportunity given to him to make the funeral oration to incite the citizens against Brutus and Cassius. They are forced to run away. Antony joins hands with Octavius, Caesar’s adopted son. They meet the combined armies of Brutus and Cassius at the borders of Rome. Brutus hears that Portia has killed herself fearing defeat. Though disheartened, he prepares for war. At night, the ghost of Caesar appears to him and indicates revenge. At Pompey the armies meet. On getting the wrong news that Titinius is dead, Cassius commits suicide. A rout is expected which Brutus cannot face and he too commits suicide.
The charge the conspirators bring on Caesar is that that he is ambitious and he desires absolute control over Rome. His own behavior substantiates this charge to a large extent: he considers himself a figure who will live forever in Rome and in the minds of Romans. He paints a larger than a life image praising his own steadfastness and his unchangeable decisions.
I rather tell thee what is to be feared
Than what I fear, for always I am Caesar. (Act2, Sc2)
It is this belief in his own permanence that proves to be his undoing. He refuses to heed the warnings of the Soothsayer and he treats his wife’s forebodings with impatience. He vacillates between his wife’s counsel and the praise that Decius heaps on him which finally wins him over. The prospect of being crowned is too glorious to be missed. Decius knows Caesar’s vanity and he fuels it.
Caesar’s public and the private personas merge as he thinks his body is as immutable as his immortal public status
“But I am constant as the northern star, Of whose true-fix'd and resting quality There is no fellow in the firmament.”
To some extent, his belief in his own immortality proves right as at the end of the play we see Brutus attributing his troubles to Caesar’s control over his life even after his death. In a mystic manner that goes beyond understanding, he decides the outcome of war. Caesar’s dire warning to Brutus that they will meet again at Philippi weakens Brutus’ resolve.
The Romans valued physical power more than intelligence in a leader. In this respect, Caesar was a flawed personality. Cassius picks on these frailties of Caesar as proof that he is unfit to be their king. Caesar’s arrogance in not giving audience to the soothsayer and Artemadorus is proof enough of his arrogance.
His judgement of character as seen is his appraisal of Cassius, (“lean and hungry look”) is accurate. He seems to have observed Cassius carefully to come such a perfect conclusion.
“He hears no music.
Seldom he smiles, and smiles in such a sort
As if he mocked himself and scorned his spirit
That could be moved to smile at anything.” (Act1, Sc2)
Calpurnia is Caesar’s wife. While the other female character Portia is refined and grave with a class and culture, Calpurnia seems to be more commonplace though one cannot fault her concern for her husband’s welfare. Caesar treats his wife with ill-concealed impatience at best of times. During the Lupercal race, he exhorts her to stand close and touch Antony as he runs, as the belief was that barren women would be blessed with children by doing so.
On the night before the assassination, Calpurnia’s sleep is disturbed.
“Nor heaven nor earth have been at peace tonight.
Thrice hath Calpurnia in her sleep cried out,
“Help, ho! They murder Caesar!””
She has been troubled by horrific dreams were she sees Caesar’s body riveted with holes from which spout blood. Calpurnia avows that she has not believed in omens till the day, but this is different and she is shaken to the core. This is her interpretations of her dreams.
“When beggars die there are no comets seen.
The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.”
She just about manages to convince Caesar not to venture out to the Senate when Decius comes in and offers a different interpretation that praises Caesar and is more in keeping with Caesar’s opinion of himself.
When Brutus takes the decision to kill Caesar, by his own admission, he has no solid grounds to do so. He says that he "knows no personal cause to spurn at him"; he has not "known when his affections sway'd more than his reason"; but he bases his life altering decision on this: "he would be crown'd: how that might change his nature, there's the question". So, purely on the suspicion that when crowned, Caesar could turn into a dictator; Brutus becomes part of the conspiracy.
Brutus is a model for mankind: he is gentle, cultured, learned and an ideal husband and senator. Even when he plans the killing of Caesar, he says that they should be like “sacrificers not butchers”. He is every inch a patriot who thinks only of what is best for Rome. His flaw lies in associating with people well below his rank who are able to manipulate the disquiet in his mind. Cassius is led only by jealousy; given a chance he would happily be king himself. Most of the other conspirators have personal grievances against Caesar. It is Brutus alone who kills Caesar for a cause that is noble enough to warrant such action.
After the deed has been done, Brutus tries to reason with the citizens of Rome as to why Caesar had to be killed. He is out of his elements when it comes to understanding popular emotion; which is Antony’s forte. Brutus makes a few errors of judgement even before the assassination. Cassius wants Antony also killed as he knows the power of his eloquence but Brutus votes him down. Again though Cassius stands against Antony rendering the funeral oration, Brutus grants him permission with weak riders.
At the end, it is Antony in a fine eulogy, who pays the best tribute to this noble soul:
“This was the noblest Roman of them all: All the conspirators save only he
Did that they did in envy of great Caesar;He only, in a general honest thought
And common good to all, made one of them.” (Act5, Sc5)
The best analysis of Cassius’s character comes from Caesar. He deeply mistrusts him and that “lean and hungry look” of his. Caesar notices that Cassius broods all the time,
“He thinks too much. Such men are dangerous.”
There is more on such lines: Caesar is not given to fear,
“Yet if my name were liable to fear,
I do not know the man I should avoid
So soon as that spare Cassius.”
Cassius is often used to thwart Brutus’ innate nobility. It is not surprising that Brutus and Cassius have differences soon after the assassination. Cassius does not have many principles to govern his life, unlike Brutus. When Brutus learns of Cassius’ underhand dealings, he questions him. But Cassius is aggrieved at that. What is a little corruption among friends is his reply.
What does Cassius have against Caesar? It is limited to his contempt for Caesar’s physical weakness, and his searing jealousy for Caesar’s popularity. Cassius’ dislike for Caesar is intuitive; principles are not part of it. He turns one friend against another and yet ironically his own end comes after unconfirmed reports Titinius’ death.
Cassius is impulsive yet calculating. When he finds that he can further his plot by working on the unease that lies in Brutus’ mind, he sets to work. Brutus is not suspicious by nature but Cassius instinctively fears the potential for danger that Antony represents. So he wants him killed too. There he is overruled, like he is at the funeral of Caesar. He fears Antony’s power to sway the masses but his objections are overruled by the idealistic Brutus.
Antony springs to action only after the killing of Caesar. Until then he is content to hover in Caesar’s shadows living an indulgent life: “for he is given to sports, to wildness and much company.” This is Brutus’ comment when Cassius broaches the subject of killing Antony along with Caesar. Antony is not a great judge of character. When Caesar offers a brilliant analysis of Cassius, Antony tells Caesar that Cassius is a noble Roman who need not be feared.
When Antony finds that the man whom he had dismissed as a noble Roman and Caesar’s closest friend Brutus are behind the assassination, he vows revenge and he promises to do all that is required to achieve his goal. He becomes the ideal politician; gone are his playful ways and his love for sport. He works on his oratorical skills. He tailors his words for maximum effect. He plays upon the mood of the people wringing out their tears of pity for Caesar who he declares loved the people of Rome so much: “When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept”. His trump card is Caesar’s will in which he bequeaths his riches for the people of Rome. This is his master stroke and this he keeps for the last.
Having placed the body of Caesar at a vantage point in front of the citizens, he appeals to their emotion of pity. He presents Caesar as an unarmed man who was struck dead by people whom he most trusted. He praises Brutus at every breath even when he means just the opposite. By the time he is done, the people are baying for Brutus’ blood and he and Cassius have to flee. Antony cleverly joins hands with Octavius and makes a mark as an able general marshalling his troops. To Antony’s credit it must be said that he holds nothing back when delivering Brutus’s eulogy. He recognizes that he has none of his morality or nobility.
She is the gentle, understanding wife of Brutus. She realizes that all is not well with him and is concerned. She is upset that he will not consider her his equal and share his problems with her. When she insists on an answer,
“You stared upon me with ungentle looks.
I urged you further, then you scratched your head
And too impatiently stamped with your foot
Yet I insisted; yet you answered not,
But with an angry wafture of your hand
Gave sign for me to leave you.” (Act2, Sc1)
She is too intelligent to be satisfied by the weak excuses he makes. Yet he loves her dearly. When news of her suicide comes to him in the theatre of war, he is sick at heart (“O Cassius, I am sick of many griefs.”) and it shows in the flare of anger when he accuses Cassius of corruption. Brutus is far away, too far to have prevented this rash action. Fearing that Mark Antony and Octavius will be victorious and Brutus defeated, she holds hot coal in her mouth and kills herself.
The Elizabethans were people who believed in omens, portents and prophecies; throughout the play, they would have watched eagerly trying to find inner meaning in what was being enacted on the stage. Sometimes characters misinterpret signs and suffer as a consequence. The larger plans of fate are crystallized through prophecies and omens; hence the audience would have listened to the Soothsayer’s warning with much eagerness. Shakespeare was a master at stagecraft who without the benefit of special effects would have had to depend on these ruses to build atmosphere. The audience would not know when Caesar was to die but each instance an omen is spoken of would have heightened their anticipation.
Omens could be interpreted in two ways. They could be meant to announce fate or they could serve as a warning of what could happen if characters go against nature. Thus, when Rome witnesses a ghastly night when supernatural events stalk routine, it is interpreted as nature’s way of cautioning the conspirators. Indeed all of them meet their tragic ends soon after the assassination.
Calpurnia puts it succinctly when Caesar refuses to pay heed to her pleas not to go to the Senate,
“When beggars die there are no comets seen.
The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.”
She feels that the heavens have issued their warning, now it is for man to be cautious. All night, her dreams have been full of images of blood. She feels that they are undeniably connected to his death.
Brutus is so wracked with the guilt of killing Caesar that though he does not voice it, his guilt appears as the ghost of Caesar who promises to get even with him at Philippi. “To tell thee thou shalt see me at Philippi”. Ghosts appear to foreshadow the grip of some great emotion as in Hamlet and Macbeth. In all three plays the main characters are guilty of treason. Admittedly, Caesar is no king but he was the chief ruler of Rome.
Idealism is personified by Brutus. This makes it difficult for him to live in an imperfect state. Brutus’s idealism is so pure tat it renders him defenseless against the likes of Antony and Cassius. Cassius knows that he can work on Brutus’ mind as he is of more malleable fabric.
Brutus misgivings about Caesar’s ambition to rise to the position of a monarch are without any concrete evidence as he himself confesses.
“……. for my part
I know no personal cause to spurn at him
But for the general. He would be crowned.
How that might change his nature, there’s the question.”
But Brutus’ vision for Rome is so idealistic that he cannot conceive of any possibility that the republican nature of that state will ever be changed. Brutus’ nature comes into conflict with Cassius’ as the latter’s grabbing opportunistic nature surfaces several times in the play. Take the question of sparing Antony when Caesar is killed. Cassius literally wants to kill two birds with one stone as he feels that Antony is capable of mischief. But Brutus says that they are not “butchers but sacrificers”. Brutus’ speech to the people of Rome is so couched in reasoning and logic that they do not know what to make of it. Antony’s impassioned appeals coming at its heels are able to sway them instantly.
In the battle field when Cassius and Brutus have to present a united front, Cassius wrangles with Brutus who reminds him
Remember March, the ides of March remember.
Did not great Julius bleed for justice' sake?
The great Julius Caesar was killed in the name of justice and high morals. Brutus hates the idea of making money illegally and so he retorts,
“I had rather be a dog and bay the moon
Than such a Roman.”
Antony appreciates these fine qualities of Brutus so much that he refers to him as the “noblest Roman.
Public and Private Identities
Public and private identities are one of the themes that Shakespeare works on throughout the play. Most public figures have a private life that is often at variance with the public one or one that is unknown to the world at large. The public persona of Caesar was that of Colossus striding the civilized world but Cassius’s comments on his physical infirmities opens a private side that was kept hidden. After the Lupercal festival, Caesar easily faints when surrounded by swarming Romans.
Caesar dismisses the warning uttered by the soothsayer as that of a dreamer’s but when Calpurnia has her horrible dreams he calls for the priests
“Go bid the priests do present sacrifice Sc2)
Nowhere is the contrast between the private and public self more evident than in the assassination scene. Caesar wakes up complaining of the terrible night he has spent disturbed by Calpurnia crying out in sleep about Caesar being murdered. Though impolite about giving in to her entreaties, when the priests prophesy trouble, he is in two minds about going. It is this conflict that Decius is able to exploit since Caesar thinks of himself as above fear and death.
In Brutus, the public and private identities merge. He is an idealist at home as he is outside. The opinion of people matter to him but he will not stoop to earn regard. He is scrupulously honest and will not tolerate dishonesty in anyone.
Oration is a game changer in “Julius Caesar”. Both Brutus and Antony know the importance of having the citizens on their side. Brutus in his idealistic way believes that once he speaks to them, they will not waver. However, Cassius sees the danger in letting Antony speak; but he is overruled. Brutus appeals to their reason and Shakespeare puts his words in prose. “Censure me in your wisdom, and awake your senses that you may the better judge”. Antony on the other hand, appeals to their emotions. He lays the body dramatically for all to see still bleeding from the 33 stab wounds. He describes them so that everyone realizes the unfair manner in which the unarmed Caesar was killed by the conspirators.
There is cynicism and sarcasm in Antony’s speech. Under a promise not to blame the conspirators, he damns them with false praise. He repeats the words, “Brutus is an honourable man” so often with such inflexions that the most ardent Brutus supporter is bound to disbelieve what the words literally mean. Brutus so believes that the crowd is with him and will see the events that led to Caesar’s slaying as he sees them, that he leaves with these lines, “If then that friend demand why Brutus rose against Caesar, this is my answer: not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more”. This cold reasoning works well until Antony speaks; when he finishes, all hell breaks loose. The reading of Caesar’s will, reserved for the last for maximum effect, is his trump card. Will a man who was so ambitious and power hungry, will his last coin to the common people of Rome? Will a man who cared only for power shed tears with the citizens when they are in sorrow?
Conflict is a major theme in ‘Julius Caesar’ and it exists in many forms in the play. Caesar is only one among equals but there is conflict in the way people treat him as special. When he comes back victorious, they give themselves a holiday, giving him the respect that is normally reserved for a king. Tribunes, some out of plain jealousy like Cassius and others out of idealistic notions like Brutus, cannot stomach it. This conflict gives rise to the conspiracy where they righteously decide to do away with Caesar before he is crowned king. On his part, Caesar thinks that he is immortal and constant as the “North Star”.
On a domestic front, there is conflict between Portia and Brutus and Calpurnia and Caesar. Portia wants equal status as a wife; she wants her husband to open up and share his concerns. Calpurnia has worries that she shares with her husband but he will not hear of it.
After the assassination the conflict that was till now limited to a war of words spills into the battlefield. In the sphere of war, there are conflicts within conflicts. Brutus objects to Cassius’s dishonesty with money and the conflict spills into the open threatening the partnership.
On a metaphysical level, there is conflict in the people’s mind. Whom to believe, Brutus or Antony? Was Caesar a villain or a hero? Did he deserve to die or was he unfairly killed? Public opinion so easily swayed by words spoken with passion affects them too.
Brutus is troubled and it reflects in his face, giving Cassius room to cleverly manipulate the former. Caesar speaks of himself in eternal terms, and Antony feeds his vanity, (“When Caesar says, “do this,” it is performed.”) but nowhere does he say he wants to be king. When Antony offers him the crown, he refuses it all three times though with increasing reluctance.
Even the idealistic Brutus, second to none in his love for Rome as a republic, has to admit the he has no actual grouse against Caesar save what could happen if ambition is not checked.
“He would be crowned.
How that might change his nature, there’s the question”.
The possibility of Caesar being crowned is real according to Brutus and Caesar could use his ambition like a ladder to climb to greater heights and become a tyrant.
Cassius is impelled by plain jealousy. He does not talk in metaphorical terms. He feels that Caesar is not fit to be king because he falls short of the Roman ideal of physical perfection. Cassius does not have to convince himself that assassination is the only way. Brutus argues with himself turning over the pros and cons.
For Shakespeare, overriding ambition is a cardinal sin, in Macbeth as in Julius Caesar. Julius Caesar is full of his own importance, he refers to himself as immortal, his comparisons are drawn from astronomy or the planets; all objects associated with timelessness.
There is friendship observed in Julius Caesar, but it is not the enduring kind. We barely see Caesar and Brutus in conversation. It is only the “Et tu Brute?” that tells of the depth of love that existed between these equals. Brutus sacrifices his friendship for what he tells himself is the good of Rome. For Caesar it is the betrayal of trust that is “the unkindest cut of all”. He would have trusted Brutus with his life and that trust has been abused.
On a completely different plain is the friendship that exists between Titinius and Cassius. Cassius had so much at stake, and in many ways, this is his war. He instigates the revolt that leads to Caesar’s assassination but as soon as he wrongly hears of the death of Titinius, he kills himself. Somehow this strikes as out of character with Caesar’s assessment of Cassius as lean and hungry, loving no music and with a twisted mocking smile.
“Such men as he be never at heart’s ease
Whiles they behold a greater than themselves,
And therefore are they very dangerous.”
There is no friendship in the relations between Antony and Octavius. It is a tactical move to gain upper hand and establish a triumvirate that will rule Rome.
Fate versus Free Will
One of the themes that run through the play is the question whether we are governed by an inexorable fate that will not let us change even a day in our lives or whether we are masters of lives having the free will to shape our destinies as we choose. Cassius believed that our miseries as well our joys are in our hands and not in our stars. We are masters of our fate so to blame the stars or fate for our misfortunes is to be passive and cowardly. These are his words: “Men at sometime were masters of their fates. / The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, / But in ourselves, that we are underlings”. This robust theory of being pro-active that people once followed is what he wants to return to. Cassius feels that the passivity that the tribunes who are “weak straws” display encourages Caesar to become ambitious.
On the other hand, there is Caesar talking about death in stoic terms: “It seems to me most strange that men should fear, / Seeing that death, a necessary end, / Will come when it will come”. Death is inevitable and all men die at a pre-destined hour, so why fear death as “Cowards die many times before their deaths”. Calpurnia is afraid that death may come to Caesar if he ventures forth. But Caesar says that he has never been one to quail in fright at the thought of the inevitable. For him it is not manly to display fear of death; he is ready to meet it head-on when the time comes.
The play is filled with omens and portends that appear at various stages. The characters interpret them according to their mental makeup. In Act1, Sc 3, Cicero says, “Men may construe things after their fashion, / Clean from the purpose of the things themselves”. The night before the assassination is a wild one by all accounts, told to the audience as interpretations as there are characters out there in the open. Cassius is so affected by the possibility of Caesar being crowned that he reads in the apparitions a dire warning from the Gods of the possible destruction if there is a coronation. It could well have been the God’s anger against the plot that Cassius himself hatches. Brutus cannot see through the forged letters that Cassius plants to further Brutus involvement. Brutus thinks they are genuine pleas from the people of Rome and plays into the hands of Cassius.
Cassius’s end too comes as a result of the misinterpretation of an event. Pindarus sees Titinius surrounded by troops and concludes that he has been captured by the enemy troops when in fact; he is reunited with his comrades. This wrong piece of news drives Cassius to take his own life. Antony is one who reads situations and the minds of the people well, manipulating the events to ensure his survival. He also ensures that Octavius arrives at the scene only when he wants him to be there. If Octavius had arrived earlier he would have stolen some of Antony’s thunder; that is what he does not desire.
The steadfastness with which both Brutus and Caesar cling to their own views can be considered a flaw. Brutus, once convinced that Caesar has to go, does not see any room for compromise. Brutus is honourable in his ideals, he wants the best for his beloved Rome but in the aggressive political atmosphere that existed in Rome with coalitions forming and dissolving, with friends turning into foes to survive, there was need to be flexible. It is Brutus’ inflexible adherence to his ideals of Rome being a republic that Cassius is able to exploit.
Equally rigid in his stance is Caesar; he refuses to heed the warnings uttered repeatedly by the soothsayer and displays indifference to Calpurnia’s dreams that has fatal consequences. He perceives himself as immutable, one who cannot be harmed in any way. Harm cannot touch him; he is so popular, what is there to fear?
Equally resolute, Caesar prides himself on his steadfastness; yet this constancy helps bring about his death, as he refuses to heed ill omens and goes willingly to the Senate, into the hands of his murderers. Just when he is at the brink of a compromise and reluctantly agrees to stay at home, Decius is able to remind him that compromise is only for the weak. Caesar will never want to be identified as being weak. The arrogance of power takes over Caesar finally.
In compromise and adaptability, Antony is second to none. When Caesar is alive, Antony spends his days basking in his presence, conforming to what Caesar wants to hear. Once Caesar is dead and the equation of power changes, Antony makes a show of siding with the conspirators. It is a dangerous game he is playing but he knows that if he can get the people to turn against the conspirators, he can buy time till Octavius arrives.
Different characters use rhetoric for different purposes in Julius Caesar. Right at the beginning, Cassius realizes that Brutus is disturbed by the citizen’s adulation for Caesar and the direction in which politics is moving. Cleverly using his power of speech, Cassius gets Brutus to agree to become a part of the conspiracy. Right at the beginning of the play in Act1 Sc2, Mark Antony shows the kind of absolute power that Julius Caesar has. “When Caesar says ‘Do this,’ it is performed,” meaning his word is law. No one dare question or go against his words.
Antony knows the power of his own words. So he bargains with Brutus for the privilege of making the funeral oration; the condition laid is that he will not blame them in any way. Antony agrees to this condition as he knows he can achieve a lot even by not blaming the conspirators. He praises Brutus at every breath by saying “Brutus is an honourable man” until the phrase looses all its real meaning and the citizens wonder whether it is true that he is honorable.
In contrast is Brutus’ speech in which he talks of Rome’s love for liberty for which it had become necessary to kill Caesar. Side by side with the power of rhetoric goes the fickle nature of the crowd. When Brutus speaks, they are with him, when Antony speaks, they switch sides with such promptness. Antony is cynical. By the end the commoners have been whipped into such frenzy, the conspirators have to flee to save their lives.
The corrupting influence of power is one of the main themes of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Caesar’s real power lies in the fact that the citizens treat him like royalty and Antony offers him the crown of Rome. This troubles Cassius as he feels Caesar does not deserve this veneration since he is physically weak and imperfect.
The objections that Brutus has are based on the republican character of the city state of Rome. Rome does not brook a king but now it looks like they may have one. There is a likelihood of Caesar turning into a despot once he becomes a king. To pre-empt that, he plans to kill him.
Caesar’s wife Calpurnia tries to prevent Caesar from going to the Senate as she feels that danger awaits him there, but such is the arrogance of power that he only answers her with impatience. He is not afraid of death as it has to come to him some day.
Much power lay in the hands of the people. The citizens do not fear or respect the tribunes Marullus and Flavius. Brutus is important to Cassius’ scheme of things as Brutus is popular with the plebeians. Antony can achieve what he plans only with the support of the citizens. Being a republic, the people wielded considerable power.