William Shakespeare employed many literary techniques and devices to enhance his dramas. These are especially notable in his tragedies. He often paired together the literary devices of ethos, pathos, and logos to give his audience deeper insights into his major characters.
Ethos is often used to demonstrate to an audience the general disposition of a major player in a drama. Without specificity, the playwright communicates the nature of a character in a play. Shakespeare routinely uses ethos in Julius Caesar. For example, in Act I of the play, ancient festival games are being played to ensure fertility. The Romans are also honoring Caesar as the new Roman leader after Pompey was killed. Mark Antony is participating in a run during the games. Caesar publically notes that his wife Calpurnia is sterile. As Antony passes by, Caesar tells him to touch Calpurnia as a cure for infertility:
Forget not in your speed, Antonius,
To touch Calpurnia; for our elders say,
The barren, touched in this holy chase,
Shake off their sterile curse.
Without specifically telling the audience, the message is clear. Caesar is superstitious. Shortly thereafter, a soothsayer warns Caesar to “Beware the Ides of March,” but he ignores the advice. Shakespeare’s use of ethos cleverly demonstrates something significant about Caesar’s disposition.
Pathos allows authors to express passions, suffering, or very deep emotional feelings. It is a literary device that evokes pity or sympathy from an audience. Shakespeare does not tell his audience how his characters feel, he shows their feelings. For example, in Act II, although Brutus loves Caesar, he decides that he must kill him as a sacrifice for the betterment of Rome. However, he deeply regrets the action he must take:
It must be by his death: and for my part,
I know no personal cause to spurn at him,
But for the general. He would be crown’d:
How that might change his nature, there’s the question . . .
And therefore think him as a serpent’s egg
Which hatch’d, would, as his kind grow mischievous;
And kill him in the shell.
Brutus is not taking part in the conspiracy because he thinks Caesar is a bad man. Rather, he hopes to prevent tyranny from coming to Rome.
Logos is Greek meaning “logic.” In Julius Caesar, Shakespeare uses logos to convince his audience of the reason and logic his characters employ when making their arguments. For example, when the conspirators hatch their plan to murder Caesar, they realize they might be unable to lure him to the Capitol because he is superstitious and has been warned:
But it is doubtful yet
Whether Caesar will come forth today or no;
For he is superstitious grown of late
Nevertheless, Decius convinces them that logic will prevail: Caesar wants to be crowned and is certain the Senate will do so if he appears. He will be ridiculed if he fails to go to the Senate, which will thwart his goal of ruling Rome:
Never fear that: if he be so resolved,
I can o’ersway him, for he loves to hear
That unicorns may be betray’d with trees,
And bears with glasses, elephants with holes,
Lions with toils, and men with flatterers.
But when I tell him he hates flatterers,
He says he does, being then most flattered.
Let me work;
For I can give his humour the true bent,
And I will bring him to the Capitol.
There are many examples of ethos, pathos, and logos found in Julius Caesar that should be reviewed. Shakespeare uses those literary devices quite effectively in his tragedies and further exploration is well worth the effort.