What is the significance of the simile: "How like a deer strucken by many princes dost thou here lie," in Julius Caesar, Act 3, scene 1?

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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The quote passage noted from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar is part of an extended metaphor in Act Three, scene one.

This portion of the play marks the meeting of Caesar's murders with Antony. Antony looks at the body of his emperor, dead at the hands of those who professed to love him, as does Antony himself. The men, Brutus among them, meet with Antony (at Antony's request) and promise to try to explain what they have done—why they have killed Caesar. Before Antony condemns them, they wish to be heard.

Antony reflects on what the conspirators have done, his own position now in the state of Rome, and his love for Caesar. Then he looks to the body of Caesar; first he apologizes to him. He compares the dead man to a deer ("hart") who was mighty and majestic. Caesar (like a hunted animal) was surrounded by hunters (his murders). They wear his blood, and it stains the floor, evidence of what they have done. And now, he looks like an animal caught in the hunt, killed by many hunters ("princes")—bearing their fatal wounds, and notes that the world Caesar lived in was like the woods to a deer, and that Julius Caesar loved that world. This speech praises Caesar.

Pardon me, Julius! Here wast thou bay'd, brave hart,
Here didst thou fall, and here thy hunters stand, (220)
Sign'd in thy spoil, and crimson'd in thy lethe.
O world, thou wast the forest to this hart,
And this, indeed, O world, the heart of thee.
How like a deer strucken by many princes
Dost thou here lie! (225)     (III.i.219-225)

At first, when Antony sees the lifeless body of Caesar in the scene, he wonders that the conspirators may not kill him also, but Brutus explains that while they loved Caesar, they hated more the wrongs they perceived had been exercised against the empire of Rome. They ask Antony to listen to them, and Antony seems to accept what they have done. His hand did not kill Caesar (not being a part of the conspiracy), and he admits he loved the man. However, he does not move to punish Caesar's killers—rather he shakes hands with them, which seems to indicate his acceptance of what they have done. The speech noted above expresses Antony's deep sense of loss over the death of Caesar; however, he privately promises to kill the murdering conspirators, proving again his devotion to the dead emperor.

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