How did Caesar’s behavior outside the Capitol just before he died affect your reaction to his death?

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ajmchugh's profile pic

ajmchugh | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted on

I agree with the previous posters that it's very difficult to have very much sympathy for Shakespeare's Caesar.  And because Caesar has so few lines in the play (relatively speaking), we don't get a very good understanding of his character. 

It's important to note that much of what we know about Caesar comes from Cassius, who clearly has his own agenda--and that the flaws and weaknesses Cassius points out are certainly not reasons to keep someone from ruling Rome.  (Cassius tells Brutus that at one point, Caesar almost drowned--and that he suffers from epilepsy.  While these, to the Romans, would be character flaws, modern audiences generally understand that these weaknesses don't warrant the hatred Cassius has for Caesar.)

Still, I think Shakespeare's construction of Caesar's character is certainly secondary in this play.  The decision to pity Caesar or feel he deserves his fate is purely personal.

mrerick's profile pic

mrerick | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted on

I'd agree with that.  By the time Caesar is done with his request denial and describing himself as the Northern Star, I'm ready for him to die already. 

One thing that has always bugged me about his actions outside the Capitol has been his reply to Artemidorus.  It just doesn't make sense to me that he would pass off the letter because it pertains to him.  Every bit of characterization that we've had has pointed to Caesar being self-centered and arrogant.  Why would he choose this particular time to ignore something about himself?  It just seems like WS made the action fit his plot instead of his character.  I've thought that the way Caesar has been portrayed to this point would cause him to immediately cease the procession and read the letter.  I don't believe that he'd have the sudden revelation of putting others first.

alexb2's profile pic

alexb2 | eNotes Employee

Posted on

I feel that Shakespeare sets you up to be at least somewhat less sympathetic to Caesar because of his actions prior to his death. If he had been modest, humble, kind, etc. right before his death the audience might have felt very different about his public murder. I think Shakespeare's purpose on having Caesar seem arrogant and slightly clueless before his death prepares the audience for the murder and helps cast in stark relief some of the reasons he is killed in the first place. What do you think?

amy-lepore's profile pic

amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Your reaction will differ as you interpret the text, but I for one have mixed feelings every time I read it.  I expect the death, since I know of the plans, and of course, I know it's going to happen (no matter how much I may wish for a different outcome as I truly admire Brutus' character despite his naive nature).

Caesar is flippant with the soothsayer outside the Senate.  He discounts the warning that the Ides of March is not yet over...this indicates his arrogance and superior attitude (which does not endear him to the audience). 

He also disregards the warning Artemidorus tries to give him by saying that personal business should be saved for last and moves on to Senate business.  This can be interpreted as short-sightedness on Caesar's part (is he convinced everyone loves him and that no harm will come?), that he truly is dedicated to his job (an admirable quality), or that perhaps he has an overinflated ego which comes from running the Senate (again, arrogance and a quality that most will not find endearing).

Caesar has no way of knowing, but his continued rejection of petitions is the signal of the conspirators to rush in and kill him.  

The reader will have to decide for him or herself if his/her reaction will be one of pity and humanity...no one deserves this sort of judgment or treatment...or one of acceptance since he caused his own downfall with his arrogance and self-importance.

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