How does blank verse poetry connect to Shakespeare's Julius Caesar?
In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, there are two forms of speech used throughout the play: verse and prose. Further, the verse employed is blank verse, which is poetry composed of unrhymed lines all written in the same meter, usually iambic pentameter. In iambic pentameter, a regular line of the meter contains ten syllables with the heavier stresses placed on every other syllable. An iamb is a metrical foot made up of one unstressed syllable and one stressed syllable, and pentameter refers to the number of iambs within a line. Therefore, iambic pentameter contains five pairs of alternating unstressed and stressed syllables. An example taken from Julius Caesar is below:
Cassius: Brutus, / I do / observe / you now / of late
I have / not from / your eyes /that gen/ tleness
And show / of love / as I / was wont / to have. (I. ii. 34-36).
In the above example, the five iambs are separated by slashes and the stressed syllables are in bold. Shakespeare often uses iambic pentameter in his plays and sonnets because the rhythm closely mimics the natural inflection of the English language. Yet, Shakespeare typically uses blank verse for his refined or important figures, such as nobility or aristocrats, and uses prose for commoners, plebeians, or unbridled emotional outbursts. Thus, as seen in the above example, Cassius, a Roman noble, speaks in blank verse.
Therefore, blank verse poetry connects to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar because it distinguishes and provides commentary on the social statuses of the characters. Perhaps one of the most pivotal scenes where blank verse has a significant role is in Act 3, Scene 2, when Brutus addresses the commoners after Caesar’s death. Brutus, a Roman nobleman, traditionally talks in blank verse, but when he stands before the masses, he changes his speech to prose. He begins, “Be patient till the last. Romans, countrymen, and lovers! Hear me for my cause, and be silent that you may hear. Believe me for mine honor, and have respect to mine honor that you may believe” (III. ii). Brutus’ decision not to use iambic pentameter when speaking suggests he is trying to identify with the commoners and use their language to express his genuine love for Rome. He states, “If then that friend demand why Brutus rose against Caesar, this is my answer: not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more” (III. ii).
Conversely, Antony’s speech opposes Brutus’, and he uses the noble language of blank verse to address the masses. The following is an excerpt from his speech:
I come / to bury / Caesar, / not to / praise him.
The e/vil that / men do / lives af/ter them;
The good / is oft / interr/ ed with / their bones. (III. ii. 73-75)
The significance of Antony’s blank verse is found in the contrast with Brutus’ prose. Not only does Antony use a nobler language, he makes the audience question Brutus’ speech and intentions, which leads the crowd to seemingly endorse Antony more than Brutus. Thus, another important element of blank verse in Julius Caesar comes in the miscalculation of Brutus to tailor his language to his audience because iambic pentameter denotes education, status and power.