Politics and Authority
The crux of Julius Caesar is a political issue that was as urgent in Shakespeare's Elizabethan England as it was in Caesar's day. It revolves around the question of whether the killing of a king is justifiable as a means of ending (or preventing) the tyranny of dictatorship and the loss of freedom. Brutus strikes Caesar down is the name of liberty, fearing that absolute power and Caesar's view of himself as more than a mere mortal will enslave Rome to the will of a single man. This was a problem with which the educated members of Shakespeare's society grappled, with those believing in a divine right of kings to rule pitting themselves against the claim that regicide is warranted when liberty is at stake. Brutus, at least, seems to be motivated by this Republican doctrine. It is important to note that none of the conspirators are champions of popular rule. Indeed, Brutus fears that the people will anoint Caesar as their absolute monarch (I.ii.77-78). The violent actions of the base mob confirm his view of the common people as an irrational body capable of surrendering their liberty (and that of Rome's nobles) to Caesar.
Immediately after Caesar is slain, Brutus proclaims to his fellow conspirators that "ambition's debt is paid" (III.i.82). Ambition is in fact a central theme of the play. Its centrality is underscored by Mark Antony's use of the word "ambition" in his funeral oration for Caesar. He asks the crowd the rhetorical question: "Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?" after recounting that Caesar enriched the public coffers and wept when the poor cried. If this was "ambition," Mark Antony argues, then it should be made of "sterner stuff." Having secured the people's tacit assent to the view that Caesar was not ambitious, Mark Antony then points out that Brutus claims that Caesar was ambitious and that Brutus is an "honorable" man (III.ii.90-95). The discordance here leads to the conclusion that Brutus and others were wrong about Caesar and that they are, therefore, not honorable men. Caesar, as Shakespeare clearly shows, was in fact ambitious. He is lured by Decius into coming to the Senate by the prospect of his being crowned king. Ironically, though, the most ambitious of the play's characters is not Caesar or Brutus, but Mark Antony, who exploits the situation at hand to become a member of the ruling triumvirate along with Julius Caesar's heir apparent Octavius (Augustus...
(The entire section is 1064 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Julius Caesar Themes. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
The depiction of Roman politics is a major issue in Julius Caesar. The nature of this concern lies in the question of whether Caesar's assassination should be considered murder or a justifiable action. One argument maintains that Shakespeare portrayed Caesar as a contemptible despot with a seemingly limitless appetite for conquest. Brutus joins the conspirators because he fears that the Roman republic will be destroyed if Caesar becomes king. From this perspective, Julius Caesar can be interpreted as a conflict between liberty and tyranny in which the conspirators' assassination of the would-be dictator is noble and just. A contrary reading asserts that Shakespeare created a benevolent, if somewhat vain, leader in Caesar, who is brutally murdered by envious traitors who manipulate Brutus's republican ideals to give their cause some credibility. This interpretation is manifested in the character of Antony, who remains loyal to Caesar and avenges his murder by rousing the Roman populace against the conspirators. Antony's and Brutus's use of rhetoric, or persuasive language, has a decided effect on the dramatic action in Julius Caesar. Particularly in their opposing funeral speeches in Act III, scene ii, the two men present different verbal strategies, though their goals are in some ways similar. In his oration, Brutus's principal technique is to imply that the commoners must choose between mutually exclusive...
(The entire section is 757 words.)