Julius Caesar Tragic Hero

Does Julius Caesar possess the traits of a tragic hero ?

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Since Julius Caesar only appears in three scenes in Shakespeare's play, there is not enough development of this character for him to be the real tragic hero of the drama. Nevertheless, he does possess certain tragic characteristics:

1. He is of noble stature. Having patrician roots as the son of Aurelia and Gaius Julius Caesar has risen as a great general. As the play opens, Caesar has been named dictator perpetuus, but when Marc Antony offers him a crown, Caesar refuses it three times as the Romans watch.

2. His downfall comes as a result of his hamartia, or act of injustice. This act is committed prior to the action of the play as Caesar has defeated Pompey and then returns to Rome in the first scene.  His celebration of triumph over Pompey arouses skepticism and uneasiness in the Romans because triumphs were reserved for foreign conquests, and because Caesar and Pompey were part of a triumvir at one time. This action and his apparent desire for absolute power are what cause Casca to say that the senators "

Mean to establish Caesar as a king
And he shall wear his crown by sea and land,
In every place save here in Italy (1.3.86-88)

Cassius, too, speaks of Caesar's desire for power,

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 dishonorable graves. (1.2.141-144)

3. The hero's fall is his fault. Caesar's pride will not allow him to heed the warnings of the seer to "Beware the Ides of March," nor to comply with his wife's pleas to remain home because of her portentous dreams after Decius arrives and reinterprets Calpurnia's dreams and taunts Caesar by suggesting that the senators will say that he is afraid.

4. The hero's misfortune is not completely deserved. It becomes apparent that Cassius is envious of Caesar's power, as are others among the conspirators. Even Caesar himself recognizes Cassius as a threat,

Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look;
He thinks too much: such men are dangerous. (1.2.200-201)

5. The tragic fall is not complete loss. When Caesar turns as Brutus stabs him and says, "Et tu, Brute?" he realizes that he has exceeded his reign for someone as noble as Brutus and as close to him to wish to assassinate him.

While the death of Julius Caesar arouses compassion for him, it does not produce the emotional release and sympathies at the end of the play as does the death of Brutus. Caesar's death leads to civil disorder, instead.

amysor | Student

Julius Caesar being a 'tragic hero' is quite debatable. It depends on your persepective on Caesar, and whether or not if you feel that he deserved to die or not. 

I do see Julius Caesar as a tragic hero. Yes, he was a dictator, but his accomplishments proved that he cared for Rome. Maybe he would have become power hungry, but that cannot be proven since he was murdered by Brutus and the conspirators. His death was a tragedy, as he was one of the best leaders in Roman history.

Shakespeare himself states that the tragic hero is Brutus. This is reasonable. For Brutus truly believed that Caesar will corrupt Rome, so for the welfare of Rome, he killed Caesar. He was the only noble conspirator, as Marc Antony put it

This was the noblest Roman of them all:

All the conspirators save only he

Did that they did in envy of great Caesar;

He only, in a general honest thought

And common good to all, made one of them.

His life was gentle, and the elements

So mix'd in him that Nature might stand up

And say to all the world 'This was a man!'

Brutus did kill Caesar to help Rome, it it was tragic that he died in the end. For more information about Julius Caesar by Shakespeare, visit the enotes.com study guide!