In 1599, when Julius Caesar was first performed, Queen Elizabeth I, the Tudor Queen, was in the final years of her 45-year reign (1558–1603). It was a period of history called the “Age of Discovery,” a time of scientific growth, a rebirth of the arts, and exploration of the recently discovered continents of North and South America. Historical plays were popular during Shakespeare’s lifetime and people were eager to learn about worlds other than their own. A play like Julius Caesar taught them about Roman history, and at the same time, provided them with a mirror of their own society—a peacetime monarchy after a hundred years of warfare and before the Civil War that began in 1642.
Elizabeth’s reign was one of the most secure known by the English in hundreds of years. But her throne came under attack from Roman Catholic plots to replace the Protestant monarch with a Catholic. While Shakespeare was writing Julius Caesar, Elizabeth’s own favorite, the Earl of Essex rebelled in 1601, intending to replace the Queen’s Secretary of State, Sir Robert Cecil, with a group of young aristocrats. His plan failed. But even more damaging attacks on the idea of monarchy came from loyal Puritans. Radicals like Peter Wentworth and John Field wanted democracy and called for “liberty, freedom and enfranchisement,” words echoed in Shakespeare’s play.
Like Julius Caesar, Queen Elizabeth had no heirs to follow her on the throne. In...
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Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*Rome. Capital of the ancient Roman Empire in which the bulk of the play is set. The various settings within the city used in the play are represented sparsely on stage; most of the Roman scenes are set in outdoor places, particularly public streets. The Elizabethan theater was a nonrealistic theater that operated within a context of narrow stage conventions. Only a small bit of scenery might be used to suggest place; for example, a single bush or shrub might suggest a forest, while a throne might suggest a palace. It was mainly spoken dialogue that identified, described, and specified settings for the audience.
That Shakespeare intended Rome, and by extension the Roman Empire, as an example for Elizabethan England there can be no doubt. Most of the literature of his age, including drama, modeled itself on Roman examples. Even the theaters, their stages, and theatrical presentations were modeled partly on the Roman stages and such ancient dramatic conventions as were known. The Roman Republic was an ideal to most of the educated elite; however, the concept and institutions of such a government seemed beyond them. Roman history and the Latin language were part of the formal English education of that time, and English rhetoricians were fond of likening Elizabethan England to Rome. A goodly portion of Shakespeare’s audiences would have known something about the history of Julius Caesar and would have admired him. Like Elizabeth I,...
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Act I, Scene 1: Questions and Answers
1. How does Shakespeare use humor in the opening scene?
2. A pun is a play on words, two words that sound alike but have different meanings. Find two examples of puns in the opening lines of the scene.
3. How does Shakespeare show the political conflict in Rome?
4. What is the reason the cobbler tells Flavius and Marullus he is leading the people through the street?
5. What is the real reason the people are out in the street?
6. What about Pompey is revealed in this scene?
7. What information is given about Caesar?
8. How does the scene show the fickleness of the crowd?
9. Shakespeare often uses comparisons...
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Act I, Scene 2: Questions and Answers
1. How is Caesar’s power indicated in the scene?
2. What was the soothsayer’s warning?
3. What reason does Brutus give Cassius for his coolness towards him?
4. What two stories does Brutus tell about Caesar?
5. What does Cassius compare Caesar to in lines 142–45?
6. What reasons does Caesar give Antony that Cassius is dangerous?
7. Why does Casca say Caesar fell?
8. What does Brutus mean when he says Caesar has the “falling sickness”?
9. What does Cassius mean when he says, “But you, and I / And honest Casca, we have the falling sickness”? (266–67)
10. How does Cassius plan to...
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Act I, Scene 3: Questions and Answers
1. Why does Casca have his sword drawn?
2. What two “supernatural” events does Casca describe to Cicero?
3. What unusual “natural” event does he tell about?
4. Why does Casca think these unusual things are happening?
5. What information about Caesar is revealed in their conversation?
6. How is Cassius’ conduct in the storm different from Casca’s?
7. How does Cassius interpret all that is happening in Rome?
8. What news does Cinna bring to Cassius?
9. Why does Casca think it is important for Brutus to join with them in the plot against Caesar?
10. How does Cassius plan to put extra...
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Act II, Scene 1: Questions and Answers
1. What reason does Brutus give in his soliloquy for killing Caesar?
2. What do the letters addressed to Brutus say?
3. Why can’t Lucius identify the men with Cassius?
4. Why does Brutus oppose the idea of swearing an oath?
5. Why does Brutus object to Cicero joining the conspiracy?
6. Why does Brutus oppose killing Mark Antony?
7. How does Decius plan to get Caesar to the Capitol?
8. What advice does Brutus give the conspirators as they leave his house?
9. Why does Portia think she is strong enough to share in Brutus’ plans?
10. How does Caius Ligarius prove his high regard for Brutus?...
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Act II, Scene 2: Questions and Answers
1. Why is Caesar concerned when the scene begins?
2. What is Calphurnia’s request of Caesar?
3. What is Caesar’s response to Calphurnia’s concern he might be killed?
4. What was the result of the sacrifice performed by the augurers?
5. What reasons does Caesar give Decius for staying home?
6. What was Calphurnia’s dream?
7. How does Decius use flattery to get Caesar to change his mind?
8. How does Decius interpret Calphurnia’s dream?
9. What does Trebonius say when Caesar tells him to stay by?
10. What is the irony in Caesar’s last lines in the scene?
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Act II, Scenes 3 and 4: Questions and Answers
1. How does Shakespeare add the element of suspense in these two short scenes?
2. What is Artemidorus’ warning?
3. What does Artemidorus mean when he says, “Security gives way to conspiracy”? (Sc. 3, 7–8)
4. How does he plan to give Caesar his letter?
5. Why doesn’t Lucius carry out Portia’s request?
6. What does Portia mean in her aside, “O constancy, be strong upon my side; / Set a huge mountain ‘tween my heart and tongue. / I have a man’s mind but a woman’s might. / How hard it is for women to keep counsel!” (Sc. 4, 7–10)?
7. What does she tell Lucius to do?
8. What does the soothsayer tell...
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Act III, Scene 1: Questions and Answers
1. Why does Caesar not read Artemidorus’ letter?
2. Why does Cassius think their assassination plan has been discovered?
3. Why does Caesar get angry at Metellus?
4. What does Brutus tell the frightened senators after Caesar’s assassination?
5. How does Calphurnia’s dream come true?
6. What does Antony want from the conspirators?
7. What restrictions does Brutus place on Antony when he allows him to speak at the funeral?
8. What does Antony predict in his soliloquy?
9. What information does the messenger bring to Antony?
10. What are Antony’s intentions as the scene ends?
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Act III, Scenes 2 and 3: Questions and Answers
1. How does Brutus justify the killing of Caesar to the people of Rome?
2. What is the crowd’s reaction to Brutus’ speech?
3. What two reasons does Antony give to prove Caesar wasn’t ambitious?
4. How does Antony use irony in his funeral speech?
5. What is the pun Antony uses in line 114 of Scene 3?
6. How does Antony use Caesar’s cloak to manipulate the crowd?
7. How does Antony say that Caesar died?
8. What is the news that the messenger brings to Antony at the end of the scene?
9. Why is Cinna out on the streets?
10. What is the excuse the mob uses to kill Cinna?
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Act IV, Scene 1: Questions and Answers
1. Why are Antony, Octavius, and Lepidus together in the scene?
2. How does Shakespeare show their callousness?
3. Why does Antony send Lepidus to Caesar’s house?
4. What is Antony’s true opinion of Lepidus?
5. Why did Antony pick Lepidus as one of the new leaders of Rome?
6. What does Antony compare Lepidus to?
7. What is Octavius’ assessment of Lepidus?
8. What is Antony’s response to Octavius?
9. What news does Antony tell Octavius about Brutus and Cassius?
10. Why does Octavius agree with Antony’s plan to go after Cassius and Brutus?
1. They are...
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Act IV, Scenes 2 and 3: Questions and Answers
1. Why is Brutus concerned about Lucilius’ account of his meeting with Cassius?
2. Why does Brutus tell Cassius to come into his tent?
3. Why is Cassius angry with Brutus?
4. Why is Brutus angry with Cassius?
5. Why does Brutus say he is not afraid of Cassius’ threats?
6. What is the advice given to Cassius and Brutus by the poet?
7. What is the news from Rome?
8. What are Brutus’ and Cassius’ battle plans?
9. What reasons does Brutus give for his plan?
10. What does the ghost of Caesar tell Brutus?
1. It reaffirms Brutus’ feelings that Cassius’...
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Act V, Scene 1: Questions and Answers
1. What does Octavius report to Antony in the opening lines of the scene?
2. What is the cause of the disagreement between Antony and Octavius?
3. How does Antony insult Cassius and Brutus?
4. What is Cassius’ response to Antony’s insult?
5. Why is Cassius reluctant to fight the battle?
6. What are the omens he has observed?
7. Why would it be ironic if Cassius dies in the battle?
8. What is Brutus’ attitude concerning suicide?
9. What is Brutus’ response when Cassius asks if he is “contented to be led in triumph / Thorough the streets of Rome?” (119–20)
10. Why is Brutus anxious for...
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Act V, Scenes 2 and 3: Questions and Answers
1. What order does Brutus give Messala in the battle?
2. How does Cassius try to prevent the retreat?
3. What news does Pindarus bring the retreating Cassius?
4. Why does Cassius ask Pindarus to describe Titinius’ ride instead of doing so himself?
5. What does Pindarus describe?
6. What request does Cassius make of Pindarus?
7. What is ironic about the way Cassius dies?
8. What is the message Titinius has for Cassius?
9. How does Titinius show his high regard for Cassius?
10. Why does Brutus plan to send Cassius’ body to Thasos for burial?
1. Brutus tells him...
(The entire section is 217 words.)
Act V, Scenes 4 and 5: Questions and Answers
1. What happens to young Cato?
2. How does Lucilius try to confuse the enemy troops?
3. What does Lucilius request of the two soldiers?
4. What does Antony do when he recognizes Lucilius?
5. Why does Brutus say he wants to commit suicide?
6. What is the one thing Brutus says he is happy about before he dies?
7. How does Brutus die?
8. How does Strato answer Messala’s inquiry about Brutus?
9. How does Octavius restore order to Rome after the battle?
10. How does Antony regard Brutus at the end of the play?
1. He is killed in the battle.
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Bloom, Harold, ed. William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.” New York: Chelsea House, 1988. Nine essays on various aspects of the play by distinguished Shakespeare critics of the 1970’s and 1980’s, Marjorie Garber’s essay on the significance of dreams and Michael Long’s on the social order are particularly worthwhile.
Bonjour, Adrien. The Structure of “Julius Caesar.” Liverpool, England: Liverpool University Press, 1958. Sensitive, illuminating monographic study that sees Julius Caesar as a drama of divided sympathies. Brutus and Caesar are both heroic, both wrong; opposing motives and antithetical themes...
(The entire section is 249 words.)
Bibliography and Further Reading
*If available, books are linked to Amazon.com
Blits, Jan H. The End of the Republic: Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1993.
Bloom, H. and Golding, W., eds. William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: Modern Critical Intepretations. New York: Chelsea House, 1988.
Bradley, Andrew Cecil. Shakespearean Tragedy. New York: Penguin, 1992.
Bullough, Geoffrey. Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare: The Roman Plays. New York: Columbia University Press, 1964.
Charney, Maurice. Shakespeare's Roman Plays: The Function of Imagery in the Drama.Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1963.
(The entire section is 248 words.)