How are free will and fate shown in the drama "Julius Caesar" by William Shakespeare?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Destiny or fate versus free will –this is one of the many philosophies that William Shakespeare examines in Julius Caesar.  The drama promotes the idea that fate and free will can survive side by side. Shakespeare  allows the theme of fate and free will to wind its way into the assassination of one of the most famous people from ancient history.

Cassius despises Caesar, alleging that Caesar is weak, womanish, and ill.  Believing that he is just as deserving as Caesar, Cassius purports that there should be a return to a different attitude toward life: one that is more noble, self-determined, and unrelenting.

In Act 1, Scene ii, Cassius refuses to accept Caesar as the ruler of Rome.  According to Cassius, Caesar’s rising power cannot be attributed to luck, fate, or destiny.  To Cassius, the senators and men in power are allowing this to happen:

Men at sometime are masters of their fates

The fault dear Brutus in not in our stars

But in ourselves, that we are underlings…

Those who have power can no longer be passive or cowardly.  They must assert themselves. Caesar’s crowning is not some mystical occurrence incurred by the stars; on the other hand, it is the inability of men to prevent it from happening.

Brutus based his decision to join the conspiracy on possibilities.  Caesar might become too powerful.  Caesar could forget the people who helped him too gain power.   The assassination should go forward before Caesar has the chance to do something wrong. In other words, Brutus takes destiny into his own hands and goes forward to kill Caesar without any proof that he would do wrong to the Roman people.  He followed the advice of Cassius.  Men are masters of their own fate.

Cassius decides to kill himself based on an incorrect assumption.  He thought that Titinius had been taken captive by the enemy.  Actually, the soldiers were celebrating a victory by Titinius.  Again, Cassius follows his own advice and kills himself too soon. Cassius takes his fate into his own hands and he again makes the wrong choice.

Rather than letting fate takes its course, Brutus also decides to take his own life.  He kills himself by running on his own sword and fails to allow destiny to play itself out.

Throughout the play, fate was displayed in the many prophecies and omens that the characters encounter.  Many of the struggles by the powerful characters come from trying to overcome the forces outside of their control.  Cassius bares his chest and tells the gods to strike him if what he planning is not their will.  Caesar, Cassius, and Brutus---they all succumb to their fate.

Caesar’s chooses his free will and ignores his destiny.  The soothsayer warns Caesar more than once: “Beware the Ides of March.” Caesar does not like the looks of the soothsayer so he chooses to ignore his strong warning.  He even taunts the soothsayer on the day of his death by indicating that the soothsayer did not know what he was talking about in his warning.  His wife warned him not to go.  The prophets told him about the animal with no heart. How many ways could he be told not to go to the senate!  In his arrogance, he follows his free will and dies. 

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Julius Caesar

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