Julius Caesar is about political beliefs and war and is full of conflict. What are some ways Shakespeare increases conflict through character and language?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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From beginning to end,  the characters of Julius Caesar establish their differences of opinions about Caesar:

  • Flavius and Marcellus express their dislike and distrust for Caesar as they deride the crowd for celebrating Caesar's victory over his former ally Pompey. They are later arrested for tearing down the decorations and images of Caesar. 
  • Cassius expresses his envy for Caesar in scene 2 of Act I and hints of Caesar's tyranny to Brutus as he says that people wish Brutus would perceive this unrestrained power,

And groaning underneath this age's yoke

Have wished that noble Brutus had his eyes (1.2.66-67)

  • As he continues, Brutus uses persuasive language to convince Brutus that Caesar is desirous of absolute power over Rome.  Flattering Brutus, Cassius offers to be his "looking-glass" and show Brutus what he does not know about Caesar, arguing that he is as concerned about honor as Brutus. He tells Brutus that Caesar has "now become a god" and others must bow to him. Urging Brutus, Cassius argues,

Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves that we are underlings. (1.2.145-147)

  • Cassius uses the testimony of Casca to further convince Brutus that Caesar should not become emperor; Casca relates how Caesar displayed signs of being ill.
  • After Brutus returns home, he walks in his garden, wondering if Caesar will continue to be honorable and just if he is granted the power of kingship. In Act II, scene 1, Brutus is idealistic and exhibits poor judgment; he concludes that Caesar is like

... a serpent's egg
Which hatch'd would as his kind grow mischievous,
And kill him in the shell.  (2.1.32-34)

  • And so, Brutus considers that Caesar must be stopped. The next day as Caesar prepares to leave, his wife Calpurnia begs him not to go to the Senate because she has had terrible dreams and she fears for his life. With bravado, Caesar fatalistically argues that he must go.

Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once. (2.2.33-34)

  • Comparing himself to a lion, he tells his wife that the gods must fear him.  And seeking to lure Caesar to the forum, one of the conspirators, Decius, tells him that Calpurnia's dream is all "amiss" and convinces Caesar that he was foolish to have listened to his wife.
  • After Caesar is killed, Brutus offers a convincing speech that Caesar was desirous of tyrannical power. However, Antony's rhetorical powers supersede those of Brutus, and he successfully brings the honor of Brutus and the conspirators into question. In Act III, employing antitrosphe, Antony questions whether Caesar was, indeed, ambitious as Brutus has said, and he casts aspersions upon Brutus's character,

...what weep you when you but behold
Our Caesar's vesture wounded? Look you here,
Here is himself, marr'd, as you see, with traitors. (3.2.203-207)

  • With his stirring words, Antony rouses the plebians and a riot begins, which in turn leads to civil war.  Brutus and Cassius, then, with their armies fight against the triumvirate of Octavius Caesar, Lepidus, and Marc Antony.  Antony and Octavius become counterpoints to Brutus and Cassius as the two pairs of men argue and disagree about military strategies.  When, for instance, Cassius wants to wait for the enemy to march to them instead of making their troops march to Philippi, Brutus disagrees. Likewise, Octavius and Antony disagree about the betrayal of Antony with Antony saying his nephew is "unmeritable."




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