How does irony illustrate a theme in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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One point of bitter irony found in Julius Caesar concerns the fact that Brutus makes the choice to assassinate Caesar to free Rome from potential tyranny; however, by the end of the play, Mark Antony persuades the Roman people to side with him in his support of the now deceased Caesar, and Brutus loses the battle, resulting in his own suicide. Hence, the bitter irony is that while Brutus meant to protect Rome, he has actually left Rome in the same tyrannical hands as before.  This type of irony can be considered situational irony. Situational irony happens when an audience is led to expect a certain outcome but the exact opposite happens instead (Baker, "Critical Concepts: Situational Irony"). At the beginning of the play, the audience is led to side with the protagonist Brutus and believes he will be successful, but then soon sees his failures. This instance of situational irony certainly helps illustrate the central theme concerning whether or not killing a ruler can be justified as a means of eliminating tyranny (eNotes,"Themes"). Evidently, Shakespeare uses this situational irony to say that the answer to the question of whether or not it is justifiable is, "no." As Brutus demonstrates, just the mere act of assassinating a ruler does not guarantee success at eliminating tyranny.

It is extremely evident throughout the play that Brutus made the decision to assassinate Caesar for the benefit of all of Rome. Many times we see him reflecting on the need to do something drastic in order to protect Rome, such as when in the very first act he tells Cassius that he would rather have the status of a slave, which is the social status that a "villager" had, than see Caesar become crowned king over what should be the Roman republic, not monarchy, as we see in Brutus's lines:

Till then, my noble friend, chew upon this:
Brutus had rather be a villager
Than to repute himself a son of Rome
Under these hard conditions as this time
Is like to lay upon us. (I.ii.-178-81)

However, both tragically and ironically, even though Brutus succeeds in assassinating Caesar, he fails to secure the freedom of Rome. The fate of Rome falls instead into the hands of Mark Antony, the same person who offered Caesar a crown three times in the very first act of the play.

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amysor | Student, Grade 10 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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There is many forms of irony, but one of the most notable irony in Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare is verbal irony. Verbal irony is when you say something, but mean something else. For example, in Act III, Scene ii, Marc Antony keeps repeating that Julius Caesar was killed for his ambition and Brutus is an honorable man. Then he states the good that Caesar did. He is calling Brutus honorable, but he does not mean it as he shows what a terrible mistake it was to kill Caesar

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