Julius Caesar Appearance

What was the physical appearance of Julius Caesar, both historically and in Shakespeare's play?

 

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There are more clues to the physical appearance of the historical Julius Caesar than there is of the character from Shakespeare's play. These descriptions come from Roman historians such as Suetonius, quoted in the other educator's answer. We also have some clues as to what he looked like from ancient...

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There are more clues to the physical appearance of the historical Julius Caesar than there is of the character from Shakespeare's play. These descriptions come from Roman historians such as Suetonius, quoted in the other educator's answer. We also have some clues as to what he looked like from ancient Roman coins, busts, and statues. These, particularly the statues, show a glorified version of the Roman general and dictator, but they can still be informative. What we can tell is that he had receding hair, was relatively thin, and had a prominent nose. He would also have been cleanly shaven, as was the style for Romans during his period.

Shakespeare does not provide too many clues as to how he wanted Julius Caesar portrayed physically. He does emphasize his physical ailments, such as his partial deafness of which there is no historical proof. He also includes Caesar's tendency to suffer from seizures. There is a debate among historians as to whether or not Caesar suffered from this "Curse of Apollo."

Both historically and in Shakespeare, we can be pretty sure as to how Julius Caesar dressed. When leading his army, he would have worn the armor and uniform of a Roman general. This would have included a wool tunic with short sleeves, leather and steel armor plates, and likely a red cape. When in public in Rome, Caesar would have worn a toga. This long semicircular piece of linen cloth was draped in a specific way over the body and signified nobility and high status. To draw even more attention to Caesar's high station, his toga would likely have had a red or purple stripe. Caesar was criticized by his contemporaries for the way he wore his toga. According to Sulla, Caesar wore his toga "badly belted," and Cicero complained that he allowed the garment to trail along the ground.

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A bust that experts believe is of Caesar that was found in the Rhone River near Arles, France, in 2007 shows a realistic man with close-set eyes, a large nose, and a strong face. This bust is thought to have been carved two years before Caesar's assassination, while all other portraits were created after his death. Coins with Caesar's portrait that were minted during his lifetime show him with a skinny face, furrowed neck, protruding nose, and prominent chin. Suetonius wrote that Caesar was so embarrassed by his baldness that he used to comb his thinning hair forward from the back and delight in wearing a wreath to cover his bald spots. In his Life of Caesar, Suetonius also wrote that Caesar had a fair complexion and a full face with dark eyes. Some historians believe that Caesar suffered from epilepsy. 

In Shakespeare's play, Caesar is described as a broken-down man. He says to Anthony in Act I, scene II, "Come on my right hand, for this ear is deaf." In the same scene, Casca says of Caesar, "He fell down in the market-place, and foamed at mouth, and was speechless." This implies that Caesar has some sort of disease that sounds like epilepsy. Caesar is portrayed as a weak and ailing man in Shakespeare's play. 

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Good question! The Roman historian Suetonius writes of Caesar that he

...is said to have been tall of stature with a fair complexion, shapely limbs, a somewhat full face, and keen black eyes; [...] He was somewhat overnice in the care of his person, being not only carefully trimmed and shaved, but even having superfluous hair plucked out, as some have charged; while his baldness was a disfigurement would troubled him greatly, since he found that it was often the subject of the gibes of his detractors...

They say, too, that he was remarkable in his dress; that he wore a senator's tunic with fringed sleeves reaching to the wrist, and always had a girdle over it, though rather a loose one; and this, they say, was the occasion of Sulla's mot, when he often warned the nobles to keep an eye on the ill-girt boy.

There are also (search in Google Images) lots of busts and statues which give us an idea of what the real Caesar looked like.

Shakespeare's Caesar is an old man, deaf in one ear and with some eyesight problems. He also "has the falling sickness" - suffers from epilepsy: a trait that some historians think he might have in common with the historical period. But Shakespeare, as ever, doesn't tell us a huge amount about his appearance!

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