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,...
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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 (metaphor and simile) and figurative language. What is the comparison Flavius makes in the final lines of the scene?
10. What are the intentions of Flavius and Marullus as the scene ends?
1. His characters pun, or play with word meanings. They use words that sound alike but have different meanings.
2. The word “cobbler” has two meanings, shoemaker and bungler. A “mender of bad soles” is a reference to shoemaker. This is a play on the word “souls.” An awl is a leather punch. It is used with the word “all.” Recover means to repair, as in repair shoes. Recover also means to get better as from an illness.
3. He does this by opening the play with a confrontation...
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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 trick Brutus into joining the plot against Caesar?
1. When he tells Antony to touch Calphurnia in the race, Antony says, “When Caesar says ‘Do this,’ it is performed.”
2. The Soothsayer warns, “Beware of the ides of March.”
3. Brutus says that he has some private matters on his mind that are troubling him.
4. Caesar challenged Cassius to a swimming race, and Cassius had to save his life. He also saw Caesar with the fever in Spain, crying like “a sick girl.”
5. He compares Caesar to a giant statue, under whose legs Romans must walk.
6. He is too thin. He is lean and hungry for power. He doesn’t sleep. He reads. He is an observer. He...
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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 pressure on Brutus at the end of Act I?
1. He passed a lion walking in the streets of the Capitol.
2. A slave with his hands on fire was not burned. Men on fire were walking through the streets.
3. An owl, the bird of night, sat hooting in the marketplace at midday.
4. The gods are either at war or are trying to destroy the world.
5. He is going to the Capitol in the morning on the ides of March.
6. He is unafraid because he is an honest man. He even dares the lightning to strike him.
7. He says the gods are warning Romans against Caesar.
8. The other conspirators are assembled at Pompey’s Porch and they are awaiting Cassius....
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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?
1. Brutus justifies killing Caesar for the good of Rome, fearing that he may abuse his power.
2. The letters urge him to “speak, strike and redress,” to act against Caesar.
3. The men have their hats pulled down and their cloaks pulled up so their faces are hidden.
4. Brutus feels their cause is good enough to bind them together, and if it is not, they might as well go home and wait for death to take them.
5. He says Cicero will never follow what someone else began.
6. Their cause would seem too bloody, and they would be considered murderers. He thinks Antony is not dangerous.
7. He says he will use flattery.
8. He tells them...
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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?
1. A storm is raging and Calphurnia had a dream that Caesar was murdered.
2. She wants him to stay at home. Calphurnia is afraid for his safety because of the unusual events that are going on and because of her dream.
3. Caesar’s response is, “Cowards die many times before their deaths; / The valiant never taste of death but once.”
4. The augurers could not find a heart in the beast they sacrificed and they want Caesar to stay at home.
5. Caesar tells Decius that he is staying home because Calphurnia wants him to.
6. Calphurnia dreamed a statue of Caesar was spouting blood and Romans were washing their hands in it.
7. Decius interprets Calphurnia’s dream in a...
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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 Portia he plans to do?
9. What is Portia’s wish for Brutus?
10. How does Portia try to cover up being overheard by Lucius?
1. He provides Caesar with two possibilities of saving his life: through Artemidorus’ letter or the soothsayer.
2. Artemidorus warns Caesar to be on his guard if he is not immortal.
3. He means that overconfidence on Caesar’s part opens the way to conspiracy and death.
4. He will wait on the street as a suitor looking for some political favor and present the letter to Caesar when he passes.
5. Portia does not make her intentions clear.
6. She is afraid she will not be able to keep Brutus’ plans a...
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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?
1. He says because it is personal business it can wait. He puts affairs of state before personal matters.
2. Popilius Lena wishes him good luck in their enterprise and then he goes and talks to Caesar.
3. He thinks Metellus is trying to flatter him into changing his mind. Caesar says he cannot be swayed.
4. He says no harm is intended toward anyone else and they shouldn’t be afraid.
5. Brutus tells the conspirators to bathe their hands and swords in Caesar’s blood to mark them as the men who killed Caesar and gave their country freedom.
6. First he says he wants to die by Caesar if they intend to kill him. Then when he realizes he will be allowed to live, he...
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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?
1. Caesar was ambitious and Brutus says he killed him because he loved Rome more than Caesar.
2. They want to erect statues in his honor and make him king.
3. Caesar was too sensitive and cried when he saw the poor crying. “Ambition should be made of sterner stuff.” (Sc. 2, 101) Also, Caesar refused the crown three times when Antony offered it to him on the feast of Lupercal.
4. He uses the words “honorable men” repeatedly, twisting the meaning so the crowd understands that he means the exact opposite.
5. He uses the phrase “brutish beasts,” a pun on Brutus’ name and his bestial behavior in killing Caesar.
6. He points out the rips in the cloak and describes...
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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 making a list of people to be killed in order to tighten their control in Rome.
2. Lepidus agrees to have his brother placed on the list if Antony agrees to condemn his own nephew.
3. He sends him for Caesar’s will. They plan to reduce what Caesar left to the Roman citizens.
4. He thinks Lepidus is fit to be sent on errands, but not fit to be one of the three most powerful men in the world.
5. Antony needs Lepidus to gain favorable public opinion.
6. He compares him to a mule that carries a load from one place to another and then is turned loose to graze. He also compares him to his horse.
7. Octavius says Lepidus is an experienced and brave soldier.
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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’ friendship seems to be cooling down.
2. He doesn’t want their troops to see them fighting.
3. Brutus disregarded letters Cassius wrote in defense of Lucius Pella, who was accused of taking bribes.
4. Brutus sent to Cassius for money to pay his soldiers and his request was denied.
5. Brutus says he is so honest that Cassius’ threats mean nothing and pass him by like the idle wind.
6. He tells them to “Love and be friends as two such men should be.” (Sc. 3, 150)
7. Between 70 and 100 senators, including Cicero, have been killed by Antony, Octavius, and Lepidus. Portia committed suicide by swallowing fire.
8. Brutus wants to march their armies from Sardis to...
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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 the battle to begin?
1. The enemy is preparing to attack before Antony and Octavius are ready.
2. Antony tells Octavius to fight on the left side of the field, but Octavius says no.
3. He calls them villains and flatterers.
4. Cassius tells Brutus he should have listened to him and killed Antony when they killed Caesar.
5. From the signs and omens he is sure they will lose.
6. The eagles that were perched on their battle flags flew away and were replaced by ravens, crows, and kites, birds that feed on dead bodies.
7. It is his birthday.
8. He condemned his father-in-law, Cato, for killing himself rather than live under...
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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 to ride and order his army to attack Octavius’ flank (wing).
2. He killed his own ensign (flag carrier) when the soldier retreated, causing Cassius’ troops to follow the flag.
3. Antony’s troops are in Cassius’ tents.
4. He says that he has bad eyesight.
5. Titinius is surrounded. He is taken and the soldiers shout for joy at his capture.
6. He asks Pindarus to kill him in exchange for his freedom.
7. He is killed on his birthday by the same sword that killed Caesar.
8. Brutus has won his battle, and he brings a wreath of victory to present to Cassius.
9. He kills himself with Cassius’ sword.
10. He doesn’t want his army to...
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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.
2. Lucilius tells his capturers that he is Brutus.
3. He offers them money and asks them to kill him.
4. He tells his men to treat Lucilius well and keep him safe because he wants him as a friend.
5. He uses the metaphor of a pit. His enemies have forced them to the edge and it is more noble to jump in than be pushed in.
6. Brutus is happy that in all his life his friends have been truthful and honest with him. The irony is that he was tricked by Cassius into joining the conspiracy against Caesar.
7. Strato holds his sword and Brutus runs onto it, stabbing himself.
8. He tells him that Brutus is safe from bondage (captivity), and that he was not conquered by his enemy. Brutus only...
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One of the major issues Julius Caesar deals with is the overthrow of a ruler. In this play, Shakespeare raises the question of whether this is ever justified and if so, under what circumstances. At the time Shakespeare was writing, a commonly held view on this topic was that the overthrow of any ruler—good or bad—was morally wrong. This view is prevalent in Dante's The Inferno (a part of a longer work completed between 1308 and 1321). In the poem, Dante (an Italian poet) put Brutus and Cassius in the lowest level of Hell as punishment for their rebellion. This concept was well-known in Shakespeare's time through literature such as The Inferno and through the views of England's rulers. The two English monarchs during Shakespeare's lifetime, Queen Elizabeth and King James I, shared the view that an attack on the ruler was deeply immoral and dangerous to the kingdom. James I felt that even a bad ruler should not be overthrown, for such a person was sent by God to test and mature the character of the Christian subject of the ruler. Hence, in no situations should the subject turn to rebellion. Both Elizabeth and James were the targets of plots against them, but both survived the plots.
A view opposite to the medieval one of Dante was put forward by some Renaissance thinkers in their writings. Two Renaissance writers who supported the overthrow of a tyrant ruler were the Italian political writer Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) and the...
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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 from the texture of the play as well as a balanced inner structure.
Dean, Leonard F., ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of “Julius Caesar.” Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1968. Informative collection of short articles by leading mid-twentieth century Shakespeare critics. Dean’s introduction gives an overview of earlier criticism. Various articles provide character studies, analyze language, and supply literary-historical background.
Thomas, Vivian. “Julius Caesar.” London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1992. Concise study of Julius Caesar that reflects various postmodernist approaches to Shakespeare while also providing a thorough analysis of the play’s...
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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.
Coles, Blanche. Shakespeare Studies: Julius Caesar. New York: AMS Press, 1969.
Daiches, David. Shakespeare, Julius Caesar. London: Edward Arnold, 1976.
Granville-Barker, Harley. Prefaces to Shakespeare. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963.
Hamer, Mary, ed. Julius Caesar. University Press of Mississippi, 1999.
Kiefer, Frederick. Fortune and Elizabethan Tragedy. San Marino: Huntington Library, 1983.
McCallum, M.W. Shakespeare's Roman Plays and Their Background. New York: Russell & Russell, 1967.
McElroy, Bernard. Shakespeare's Mature Tragedies. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973
Mehl, Dieter. Shakespeare's Tragedies: An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.
Nardo, Don, ed.
(The entire section is 248 words.)