How does Shakespeare create suspense in Julius Caesar?
One way in which Shakespeare creates suspense is through plot development. Since the play is based on historical events, the audience is already aware that Julius Caesar will be assassinated. However, Shakespeare is able to create suspense by concealing the exact events that lead to Caesar's death and incorporating various elements and situations that each play an integral role in Caesar's decision to arrive at the Capitol. At the beginning of the play, Julius Caesar is warned by a soothsayer to "Beware of the Ides of March," and the audience anticipates Caesar's decision to travel to the Capitol, where the hostile conspirators await him (1.2.103). Shakespeare continues to create suspense through Caesar's reluctance to arrive at the Capitol against his wife's will and the warnings from the soothsayer. In act 2, scene 2, Caesar's wife begs him not to leave his estate and elaborates on the numerous bad omens she has witnessed. Calphurnia also tells her husband about her foreboding, horrific dream, where the senators were bathing in his blood. Caesar initially agrees to stay home, and the audience feels relieved that the conspirators will miss their initial opportunity to slay him. However, Shakespeare once again increases the suspense when Decius is able to convince Caesar to make the trip to the Capitol, which will seal his fate.
In the next scene, Artemidoris writes Caesar a letter warning him about the dangerous senators. At the beginning of act 3, scene 1, the soothsayer repeats his warning regarding the Ides of March, and Artemidoris hands Caesar the important letter, which has the potential to save his life. Here, Shakespeare once again creates suspense, as the audience wonders if Caesar will take the time to read the letter before he is surrounded by hostile conspirators. Tragically, Caesar chooses to ignore Artemidoris's letter by saying, "What touches us ourself shall be last served" (1.3.9). Once Caesar refuses to read Artemidoris's letter, the audience realizes that he has missed his numerous opportunities to thwart their plans and will surely die at the Capitol.
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The facts of Julius Caesar’s assassination are a matter of historical record; consequently, even before the play begins, Shakespeare’s audience knows Caesar’s fate and how it consumed him on the ides of March, 44 B.C. How then does the playwright manage to create and sustain suspense? The answer lies in the difference between suspense and surprise. An unexpected event surprises, but suspense is created when an audience wonders how an event will come to pass and what will happen in the interim. Thus the suspense in the play is achieved by Shakespeare’s turning history into drama. Caesar’s assassination is historical fact, but the play is fiction, and through plot and character development, Shakespeare generates suspense that keeps an audience engaged.
The first moment of suspense occurs in an episode of plot development in Act I, Scene ii when the Soothsayer calls out to Caesar from the crowd. Caesar is about to leave, but hearing a voice call his name, a voice so insistent it is “shriller than all the music,” he pauses. “Beware the ides of March,” the Soothsayer warns Caesar ominously, making the audience wonder how Caesar will respond. The suspense is heightened when Caesar orders that the Soothsayer be brought before him. “Let me see his face,” he commands. Standing before Caesar, the Soothsayer repeats his warning, and the suspense is sustained until Caesar decides not to question him and then dismisses him as a “dreamer.”
Act II, Scene ii illustrates clearly the difference between surprise and suspense and how Shakespeare creates and sustains suspense through character development. The audience knows Caesar will be murdered in the Senate the following...
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