What are the themes emphasized in the drama Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Julius Caesar is a political play written by William Shakespeare.  The play is based on actual events which took place in 44 B.C. Shakespeare portrays Caesar's assassination on the Ides of March by a group of conspirators who feared the ambitious leader would turn the Roman Republic into a tyrannical monarchy.

The play was written in 1599 during the reign of Elizabeth 1.  There were many questions concerning the heir to throne of England because the queen had no child. The government was in turmoil.  Shakespeare asks his audience to watch Julius Caesar and think about the parallels between ancient Roman history and the contemporary politics.

Many motifs were illustrated in the play.  These themes focused on issues which the conspirators faced as well as Caesar and Marc Antony.

Part of the impetus of the play speaks to the political disorder found in Rome. The people are so fickle that they support whoever is speaking at the time. Regicide always undermines the normal affairs of the government and civil disorder ensues.

Brutus:What means this shouting? I do fear the people
Choose Caesar for their king.
Cassius: Ay, do you fear it?

Ambition is certainly at the heart of the drama. Caesar was ambitious. He did want to be king of Rome. What kind of ruler he would have been will never be known.  Brutus became a part of the conspiracy because he feared Caesar’s ambition to be the monarch of Rome.  Antony refers to Caesar’s ambition several times to exemplify his lack of it.  Cassius certainly was ambitious because he thought himself better than Caesar and just as deserving of the crown.

Why, man, he [Caesar] doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs 

Logic versus passion develops as Cassius and Brutus give their reasons for desiring the death of Caesar.  Cassius detests Caesar for personal reasons.  He thinks that Caesar is weak, sick, and unworthy; he believe that Caesar is certainly no better. Brutus, on the other hand, uses logic to decide his reasons for murdering Caesar.  His decision is based on history and the fact that Caesar might become too powerful.

Antony’s and Brutus’s orations also illustrate this theme. When Brutus speaks to the crowd, he uses logic and is basically without emotion. At the time, his oratory is successful.  However, when Antony and all of his passion, grief, hatred, and fury speaks to the Roman people, they are so incensed that they want to kill all of the conspirators when they find them.

The fates and omens expose the superstitious nature of the Roman people as well as the English audiences.  Shakespeare uses the Soothsayer as a means to foreshadow the death of Caesar.  The eve of the Ides of March is a terrible day and night. Casca tells Cassius of the strange portents that had gone through the streets of Rome:

 A common slave—you know him well by sight--Held up his left hand, which did flame and burn...Against the Capitol I met a lion, who  gazed at me. 

The fortune tellers have examined the entrails of a sacrificed animal and found that it did not have a heart which would symbolize the lack of a leader.

Each of the themes added to the authority of the drama as a political play and the characterization of those who would commit regicide.  As in all tragedies, Brutus is killed, and Antony establishes himself as part of the new government

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Julius Caesar

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