How does Shakespeare set Caesar up for his death in the play Julius Caesar?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

That Julius Caesar will die at the end of William Shakespeare’s 1599 play Julius Caesar is no mystery.  The real-life Julius Caesar (100 to 44 BC) was in fact considered a great military leader with dictatorial aspirations for which he was assassinated on the steps of the Roman Senate.  Shakespeare’s play, of course, is his own account of the manner in which that assassination transpired.  Between the play’s opening and its climax, therefore, one is treated to the playwright’s depiction of the political intrigues and machinations that may very well have occurred in the days leading up to Caesar’s death at the hands of his one-time friends and colleagues.  In his play, Shakespeare wastes no time establishing the atmosphere in which the assassination will take place.  Act I, Scene I opens with two Roman high-ranking Roman officials, tribunes, walking through Rome’s streets and engaging “commoners” in idle chatter.  These officials, it will soon be revealed, are concerned about Caesar’s growing ambitions and popularity among the masses.  Flavius and Marullus, the tribunes, inquire of some of these commoners the reason for their neglect of their businesses, and receive an answer that confirms their already well-founded suspicions:

FLAVIUS

But wherefore art not in thy shop today?
Why dost thou lead these men about the streets?

Second Commoner

Truly, sir, to wear out their shoes, to get myself
into more work. But, indeed, sir, we make holiday,
to see Caesar and to rejoice in his triumph.

MARULLUS

Wherefore rejoice? What conquest brings he home?
What tributaries follow him to Rome,
To grace in captive bonds his chariot-wheels?

That the commoners’ growing infatuation with Caesar poses a threat to the established order is confirmed by Flavius and Marullus upon departing the commoners with whom they were speaking:

FLAVIUS

It is no matter; let no images
Be hung with Caesar's trophies. I'll about,
And drive away the vulgar from the streets:
So do you too, where you perceive them thick.
These growing feathers pluck'd from Caesar's wing
Will make him fly an ordinary pitch,
Who else would soar above the view of men
And keep us all in servile fearfulness.

Immediately following this exchange between Flavius and Marullus, the scene shifts to Caeasar and his entourage similarly engaging commoners in the street, only this time with an indication of events to come:

CAESAR

Who is it in the press that calls on me?
I hear a tongue, shriller than all the music,
Cry 'Caesar!' Speak; Caesar is turn'd to hear.

Soothsayer

Beware the ides of March.

CAESAR

What man is that?

BRUTUS

A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March.

CAESAR

Set him before me; let me see his face.

CASSIUS

Fellow, come from the throng; look upon Caesar.

CAESAR

What say'st thou to me now? speak once again.

Soothsayer

Beware the ides of March.

CAESAR

He is a dreamer; let us leave him: pass.

With this exchange, Shakespeare has both further established the sense of foreboding regarding Caesar’s fate and indicated that the Roman leader will remain blind to the intrigues that surround him.

Throughout Julius Caesar, Shakespeare makes the audience a witness to the conspiracies that ultimately result in Caesar’s assassination and in the final sense of betrayal the mortally wounded leader feels as he takes his final breath.  The machinations that transpire, especially the efforts among the most committed conspirators, members of the Roman Senate, to convince Marcus Brutus, the most honorable among Caesar’s inner circle, to participate in the assassination, occupy most of the play.  That Brutus has chosen, perhaps, unwisely will become evident in the events that follow the assassination, as revealed with Marc Antony’s funeral oration for the recently-departed Caesar.

tishmah | Student

With an air of arrogance and oodles of courage , Julius Caesar sets out to the senate even after being warned time and again. He is completely unaware that he is being plotted against by the members of the senate. Casca , Brutus  , Cinna and all others whom Caesar calls his  friends (just for the sake of it) , deceive him and he is murdered in the capitol. And alas! The treacherous  act of murder is justified to the Romans as "Death of Tyranny" .

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Julius Caesar

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