How does Shakespeare make Julius Caesar dominate after his death in the play The Tragedy of Julius Caesar by Shakespeare?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Tragedy of Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare presents a conundrum as to who is the protagonist of the play.  Many literary critics have decided that Brutus is the dominant character in the play.  His character becomes the heroic figure from the beginning to the last lines of the play.  After all, the character of Caesar dies after the third act. 

To answer the question, Caesar’s authority over the play ends when he is killed.  However, this does not mean that the audience does not feel the presence of Caesar after his death.  His name and spirit pervade the entire play.  He just does not control the actions or dialogue of the play. 

Here are some important moments that occur after the death of Caesar.  Remember that mentioning his name does not overshadow the person who is speaking or the incident that is happening.

*Antony speaks over the body of Caesar and promises that he will avenge his death.

 And Caesar's spirit, ranging for revenge
With Ate by his side come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines, with a monarch's voice
Cry 'Havoc!' and let slip the dogs of war,
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial.

The impetus here is that Antony will create chaos and the conspirators will regret their part in the assassination.

The funeral oration by Antony finds him using the body of Caesar as a tool to gain sympathy and engage the crowd’s fury over the grotesque murder and needless carnage.

Cassius again mentions Caesar in Act IV, Scene iii when he pulls his dagger to kill himself because he believes that Brutus no longer thinks of him as his friend and cohort. 

If that thou best a Roman, take it forth;

I, that denied thee gold, will give my heart.

Strike, as thou didst at Caesar, for I know,

When thou didst hate him worst, thou lovedst him better

He tells Brutus to stab him as he did Caesar because Cassius believes that Brutus loves Caesar better.

Another part of this scene which is probably the most impressive, especially to Brutus, comes when the evil spirit visits Brutus.  It should be noted that Caesar’s name is not mentioned as the ghost; however, he must look like Caesar, given that Brutus becomes so upset by his visit.  The ghost warns Brutus that he will see him at the battle in Philippi.

In Act V, Scene i, the generals meet before the battle to express their reasons for fighting and to accuse the conspirators of their horrific deeds. Antony uses the name and assassination of Caesar to inspire his men; in the reverse, the assassins can do nothing but throw meaningless words at their attackers.

Caesar’s name and spirit never leave the play, though Caesar is never the dominant figure in the play. His murder is the central focus; however, the character himself has little to say or do in the play. His scenes are really confined to Act II, Scene ii, and then Act III, Scene i, right before his death.

As Antony summarizes at the end of the play, Brutus is the man!

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Julius Caesar

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