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Discuss parallels between Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and the historical examples you...

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chasem227 | eNotes Newbie

Posted July 16, 2013 at 7:28 PM via web

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Discuss parallels between Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and the historical examples you researched. (Do research, and learn about some historical events that are like things that happen in the play. How are they "parallel," or similar?) 

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted July 18, 2013 at 11:48 PM (Answer #1)

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Shakespeare himself knew very little about Roman history. For his play Julius Caesar he drew heavily on Plutarch. According to the Cyclopedia of World Authors (see reference link below):

In medieval and later times Plutarch was one of the most widely read Greek authors, chief attention being accorded to his Parallel Lives. That collection, first printed at Florence in 1517, has the distinction of having provided William Shakespeare, through Sir Thomas North’s 1579 English translation of the Amyot French version, with the plots of Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, and (in part) Timon of Athens.

You should only need to refer to three of Plutarch's biographical pieces for your research. These are The Life of Julius Caesar, The Life of Brutus, and The Life of Antony, all of which are readily accessible online. The last few pages of The Life of Julius Caesar describe Caesar's assassination in vivid detail, and it is very easy to see how Shakespeare borrowed his assassination scene from Plutarch. Plutarch also describes Calpurnia's dreams and all the various omens mentioned by characters in Shakespeare's play.

The best description of the argument that took place between Brutus and Cassius, as used by Shakespeare in Act 4, Scene 3, is to be found in Plutarch's The Life of Brutus, even including the intrusion by the eccentric poet. Antony's behavior after the assassination is described and interpreted by Plutarch in The Life of Antony.

Plutarch also relates how Antony turned the mob against the conspirators in The Life of Antony.

As Caesar's body was conveying to the tomb, Antony, according to the custom, was making his funeral oration in the market-place, and, perceiving the people to be infinitely affected with what he had said, he began to miingle with his praises language of commiseration, and horror at what had happened, and, as he was ending his speech, he took the under-clothes of the dead, and held them up, showing them stains of blood and the holes of the many stabs, calling those that had done this act villains and bloody murderers.

The Life of Julius Caesar is the longest of the three biographies, but it is not the most useful for discussing Shakespeare's play because so much of it is devoted to Caesar's truly amazing exploits before he became a politician in Rome and began the rise to power which cost him his life. So it is not really necessary to read the entire Life of Julius Caesar.

The Life of Brutus is the most useful for finding information about true historical events which Shakespeare dramatized in his play. The Life of Antony is quite short but full of useful information, including the events that took place after Antony's speech had aroused the Roman citizens and forced the conspirators to flee the city. This biography contains a section explaining how Antony, Octavius, and Lepidus formed a triumvirate.

A long period of time elapsed before Antony and Octavius finally met with Brutus and Cassius for the showdown battle at Philippi. Shakespeare skipped this period entirely and creates the impression that the battle occurred shortly after the conspirators fled. But Brutus and Cassius both had to raise armies and also to raise money to pay their soldiers.

You may find it fascinating to look at the real history behind Julius Caesar and to see how closely Shakespeare followed Plutarch in creating his play. I believe that you can use Plutarch for all the research you will need to refer to in your paper.

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