What is the theme of Julius Caesar?
The theme of this historical play is confined to actual history. Shakespeare, following Plutarch, is trying to create the sense that the audience is actually present at events taking place in ancient Rome. The theme might be described as: These are the real men who took part in the assassination of the famous Julius Caesar and the events that followed his death. Since they all would be dressed alike in costumes supposedly like those of ancient Romans, Shakespeare had a special problem with distinguishing one from another. He gave each of them distinctive human characteristics to make them seem real and to make them different from each other. For instance, Julius Caesar is a great man but rather pompous and speaks of himself in the third person. Cassius is selfish and miserly but courageous and worldly wise. Brutus is solemn and noble but standoffish and conceited. Cassius is an extravert, Brutus an introvert. Casca is rude and abrupt but dependable. Antony is deceitful but loyal to his friend Caesar; he is both emotional and shrewd. Octavius is young and hotheaded. Throughout the play, the actors are constantly calling each other by name. This is to help the audience distinguish one from the other. A good example of this is in Act II, scene 2, where Caesar is being called upon by the group who will escort him to the Senate House and then murder him.
What, Brutus, are you stirred so early too?
Good morrow, Casca. Caius Ligarius,
Caesar was ne’er so much your enemy
As that same ague which hath made you lean.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
See, Antony that revels long anights
Is notwithstanding up. Good morrow, Antony.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Now, Cinna. Now Metellus. What, Trebonius!
I have an hour’s talk in store for you.
If it were not for their very human traits it would be difficult to tell all these men apart. But Shakespeare, although using English and iambic pentameter, manages to create the illusion that we have traveled back in time and are witnessing great historical events.
Shakespeare, who is often described as the apogee of Renaissance theatre, has presented before his reader, the numerous themes of Julius Caesar in a heart capturing way.The few themes of the play differ from one another in numerous aspects.
The friendship between Antony and Julius Caesar is very well exposed through Antony’s interminable monologue. Through his heart piercing, emotional talk, Antony succeeds in changing the mindset of even the strongest admirers of Brutus.
“I shall not find myself so apt to die
No place will please me so, no means of death
As here by Caesar”. This line itself shows his devotion for a dead friend. Friendship is indeed a major theme of the play.
The deep rooted jealousy of one of the Roman noble men, Cassius is well portrayed through various lines.”Ye Gods, it doth amaze me so
A man of such feeble temper should
So get the start of the majestic world
And bear the palm alone”
It is evident that he could not tolerate Caesar rising above him. The hidden envy in his heart gets transpired through the above told line.
The greed for power is found not only in Cassius but also in many other gentle men, of which the gentlest Roman- Brutus is one. He remarks “I do fear the people chose him for king”. The ‘fear’ points out that he was upset about Caesar becoming King. Frustrated with the situations around, he comments
“Brutus had rather be a villager
Than to repute himself a son of Rome
Under these hard conditions as this time
Is likely to lay upon us”. Cassius, keen on brainwashing Brutus in order to achieve his greedy wish of grabbing power, says
“Why man, he
Doth bestride the narrow world
Like a colossus and we petty men
Walk under its huge legs, and peep about
To find ourselves dishonorable graves”
What Brutus had repaid to Caesar’s love for him was clear betrayal. The reward for his love was a stab from Brutus. When Caesar cries, “Et tu Brute, then fall Caesar”, even the eyes of the reader becomes moist. Brutus had cheated not only his good friend, but also his own wife who loved him more than herself. As Brutus kept everything secret from her, Portia burst out owing to tension. It was merely because of his cruel deeds that Brutus lost his loving wife.
However, amidst all these bad qualities, honesty too peeps out as a theme. Brutus is the only honest and just man in the whole play. He stands with justice whatever happens. This is proved through these lines- “Did not Caesar bleed for justice’s sake?
What villain touched his body that did stab
And not for justice?......
………shall we now
Contaminate our fingers with base bribes?
…I had rather be a dog and bay the moon
Than such a Roman”
Like in his other plays, superstition prevails in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar too.
“A lioness hath whelped in the street,
The graves have yawned and yielded up their dead Fiery, Fiery warriors fight upon the clouds”. These descriptions shout out aloud that peace was lacking and that early Romans payed heed to all such signs of nature.
Apart from the above mentioned themes, there are some more to be mentioned. Tragedy, misused power, ambition, loyalty and pride are some other minor themes of the play.