A brilliant strategist, soldier, and a puissant leader, Julius Caesar's name echoes throughout history. His march across the Rubicon River following his Gallic conquests as he disregarded the authority of the Senate is evidence of Caesar's egotism and desire for power as in the ensuing civil war he defeated the republican forces, among whom was his former friend Pompey, who fled to Egypt. Along his path to power, Caesar had various mistresses, among whom was Servilia Caepionis, the half-sister of Cato the Younger, who held an implacable distrust of Caesar. Because of this relationship, it has been considered historically possible that Brutus was Julius Caesar's son, a consideration which puts an interesting twist upon Caesar's assassination.
Because the history of Caesar would be known to many Elizabethans, this legacy assumes a role in understanding Shakespeare's drama and the admiration that many had for Caesar, who certainly added to the Roman coffers with his defeat of Gaul and his expeditions into Britain.
Within Shakespeare's play, there are allusions to Caesar's prowess and arrogance as in Act I when he parades the streets with Marc Antony to the adulation of the crowd. In addition, the envy of those such as Cassius is also comprehensible because of the many conquests of mighty Caesar, who has "now become a god" (1.2.116) to a majority of Romans. In his words to Brutus that Caesar has become tyrannical, Cassius argues that Caesar should not hold so elevated a position over others,
Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonorable graves.....
Brutus, and Caesar: what should be in that Caesar?
Why should that name be sounded more than yours?
Write them together, yours is as fair a name; (1.2.141-150)
Indeed, it is this perceived might of Caesar that persuades Brutus of the danger of tyranny, a power that corrupts. In his orchard, he debates with his tragic idealism and decides that power corrupts and the ambitious Caesar will become like the Colossus and look down on others. In other words, at this point he is the "serpent's egg."
When Marc Antony addresses the crowd after the assassination, Caesar's legacy of love for the Romans is revealed as Antony informs them of Caesar's provisions for the Romans in his will:
To every Roman citizen he gives....seventy-five drachmas....
And to your heirs forever: common pleasures
To walk abroad and recreate yourselves.
Here was a Caesar! When comes such another? (3.2.253-263)
Along with Antony's rhetorical powers, this news effects the civil war that ensues, a war that eventually defeats Brutus and Cassius at the hands of the new triumvirate.
Defeated also by the ghost of Caesar, who appears to him, issuing an omen, Brutus tragically acknowledges that he will again meet Caesar at Philippi, but he fails to heed the import of the supernatural force of the powerful Caesar. This tragic failure of Brutus compares Caesar's failure to heed the preternatural force of the Ides of March, a force like other preternatural happenings such as those of the heaven dropping fire and the lion loose in the capitol, along with Calpurnia's ominous dream.
Certainly, then, the mortal and immortal legacy of Caesar distinguishes him as a powerful force in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.