Hamlet Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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Why is the death of Julius Caesar mentioned in the play "Hamlet"?

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Shakespeare's play 'Julius Caesar' was likely composed at around the same time as 'Hamlet', and therefore it is likely that the subject matter for the one was in Shakespeare's mind when writing the other. Scholars are unsure which came first, though common consensus today seems to be that 'Julius Caesar' came just before 'Hamlet'.

Some scholars have also argued that Richard Burbage, known to be the first actor to play Hamlet, was also the first Brutus in 'Julius Caesars', and thus his interchange with Polonius in Act 3, Scene 2 (when Polonius claims 'I did enact Julius Caesar') might be an in-joke, particularly if the actor playing Polonius also played Caesar in Julius Caesar.

Whether this is true or not is unknown: but of course, the reference to Burbage/Hamlet murdering Polonius/Caesar is an ominous foreshadowing of Polonius' murder by Hamlet later in the play, in the closet scene.

Another echo between the two plays comes when, in the...

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frizzyperm | Student

(briefly: Hamlet's on the cusp of adulthood. His comfortable life is blown away and tragedies surround him. He desparately tries to understand this new reality. He falls into a deep depression. People seem false. The world seems cold. Death fascinates him. He contemplates suicide.)

Hamlet's a student of the early renaissance. He goes to 'modern' Wittenburg University (Mother disapproves of it) His parents are more medieval, uninfluenced by Greco/Roman civilisation. (Rome in 150AD was far in advance of Denmark in 1600. The idea of a previously glorious civilisation was fascinating, mysterious, scary) 

Julius Ceasar must seem a demi-god to Prince Hamlet; an all-powerful ruler of a vast, cultured, long-vanished empire. Yet, for all his power, Julius was murdered by his best friend, Brutus ('Brutal' comes from him). This betrayal echoes his own father's betrayal; his mother's; his friends'; his girlfriend's and, perhaps most importantly, the world's betrayal of his beliefs.

He compares Ceasar in life, to mud in death. What's the point, if the ruler of the world is killed by his friend and turns to mud?

Imperious Caesar, dead and turn'd to clay,
Might stop a hole to keep the wind away.

O, that that earth, which kept the world in awe
Should patch a wall to expel the winter's flaw!

It's a terrifying vision of death. Nothing Endures. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!

lit24 | Student

The death of Julius Caesar is mentioned thrice in "Hamlet."

1.In ActI sc.1. Horatio tells Bernardo and Marcellus that in ancient Rome just before Julius Caesar was assasinated "The graves stood tenantless and the sheeted dead/Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets."  The appearance of the ghost is a bad omen and Horatio warns that something evil will soon befall the nation, for young Fortinbras of Norway in violation of an earlier treaty is about to invade Denmark.

2. In ActIII sc 2. when Hamlet is getting ready to stage his play Polonius remarks :"I did enact Julius Caesar: I was killed i' the/Capitol, Brutus killed me." This clearly proves that the same actor who played the role of Julius Caesar is now playing the role of Polonius.  It supplies important internal evidence in dating "Hamlet."  It helps the critics to establish that "Hamlet" was premiered in the same season that "Julius Caesar" was staged. But more importantly, there is the sharp  ironic contrast in the character and  death of Julius Caesar the emperor and Polonius the sly courtier: Polonius is killed in the bedroom of the queen in ActIII sc.4: "Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell!"

3. In Act V sc1 at the  cemetery Hamlet tells Horatio: "Imperious Caesar, dead and turned to clay/Might stop a hole to keep the wind away," cynically emphasising the wothlessness of all human life and its endeavours.