Explain the complexities of Julius Caesar. 

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare does not feature Caesar as the main character. In fact, Caesar's role is minor; and after Act III,Scene i, he is not seen again.  He does come back to haunt Brutus in Act IV.

Caesar is a complex person.  Caesar was intelligent, militarily brilliant, and popular among the Roman Republic.  His battles transformed  and built the Roman Empire.  At one time, Pompey and Caesar were friends.  Because of  a disagreement, Caesar decided to attack Pompey.  He and his soldiers  crossed the Rubicon River.  He chased Pompey and his army into Egypt where Pompey was assassinated. 

Caesar became enamored by Cleopatra. He stayed with her for a while and they had a son.  Finally, he returned to Rome. When Caesar returned to Rome, he was made dictator for life and celebrated as father of his country. 

After a short period, Caesar would go to Spain and engage Pompey’s sons in battle.  Again, Caesar was victorious.  He returned to Rome and paid off the debts of the government.  He changed the Senate by reforming the laws.

His personality was also complex.  He was moody.  At different times,  he was reasonable, superstitious, compassionate, and overconfident.

I am constant as the northern star, 
Of whose true-fix'd and resting quality 
There is no fellow in the firmament

He arrogantly ignores warnings from the soothsayer and his wife. 

Caesar knows that he will be made Emperor of Rome when he goes to the Senate.  The date is March 15, 44 B.C. As Caesar foolishly talks about his power, Casca steps forward and is the first to stab Caesar.  After twenty-six wounds, the great Caesar falls dead. 

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billdelaney's profile pic

William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Shakespeare had a peculiar problem in writing Julius Caesar. He has a lot of male characters all dressed pretty much alike and has to give each of them a distinguishing characteristic in order to enable the audience to tell them apart. Walt Disney had a similar problem with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. In the original story in Grimms Fairy Tales the dwarves were all exactly alike, but Disney gave each one a distinguishing characteristic to make them all different. So we all remember Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Dopey, Sneezy, and one other. This may seem like a frivolous comparison, but that was pretty much what Shakespeare did with his characters in Julius Caesar. There are only two females in the play, and they have relatively small parts. The characteristics Shakespeare handed out to the male characters are not necesssarily those possessed by the real Roman men in real life. But how could anyone really know what the real men had been like 1600 years ago?

Shakespeare made Brutus noble but egotistic, Cassius greedy and miserly, Casca blunt and rude, Antony cunning, Octavious young and hotheaded. Caesar, according to Shakespeare, is a smooth, arrogant, pompous, ambitious fathead. Brutus says Caesar was ambitious. There seems to be no doubt of that. Caesar's main distinguishing characteristic is probably ambition. It is what gets him killed. It is the reason the others want to assassinate him and the reason his wife Calpurnia can't persuade him to stay at home on the Ides of March, when she is having terrible dreams and the sky is full of ominous signs and the augurers report unfavorable findings--and anybody with good sense would stay at home.

Shakespeare personally believed that all humans have mixed good and bad characteristics. His Julius Caesar is no exception. His Caesar is intelligent, courageous and charisimatic, but he is intoxicated with ambition and self-love.

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