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How does Shakespeare's use of language in Julius Ceasar elicit response to social...

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blessme | Student, Undergraduate | eNoter

Posted January 14, 2013 at 1:38 AM via web

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How does Shakespeare's use of language in Julius Ceasar elicit response to social structure and political culture in the 20th century?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted January 14, 2013 at 6:17 AM (Answer #1)

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The 20th century is notable for a number of tragic events that unfortunatley paint humanity in a very negative light. The Second World War is a classic example, when so many lives were lost, and this of course followed in the wake of the Great War, which changed attitudes to war forever. One aspect that is clearly tied in with this play is the rise of dictators whose power is so absolute that they can lead their country into a hugely damaging war and carry out policies that are not questioned, no matter how questionable those policies actually are. Classic examples of such characters are Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini, and the language used by Cassius to describe Ceasar and his power certainly evokes memories of these historical figures and the power that they wielded. Note how Cassius portrays Ceasar in the following quote from Act I scene 2:

Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world

Like a Colossus, and we petty men

Walk under his huge legs, and peep about

To find ourselves dishonourable graves.

Clearly, there is an element of irony in the words of Cassius here, and the audience realises that he has his own purpose for describing Ceasar in this way, but it does capture the dangers of bestowing too much power on one individual, as they become like a giant, shadowing all others and unstoppable. The image of a Colossus "bestriding the narrow world" perfectly captures the impact of such political dictators as Stalin and Hitler, whose power made the world feel at times too small for them. They leave a legacy of the dangers of power that perfectly captures the themes of this play that is so much to do with power and its insidious corruption and the way that the common people suffer as a result.

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